If films reflect society, as is often said, the transformation underway in India is unmistakable. Gone are the days when the heroine was mostly confined to her home, content to stay within the confines of a marriage and ceding the cinematic narrative to men.
Today’s heroine is fiercely independent and bold. She’s well able to look after herself, even, as in this year’s Queen, spunkily embarking on her honeymoon alone because she was jilted at the wedding. In Mary Kom, which is about the real-life champion Indian boxer, the heroine is shown as passionate about her career and interests. As The National reported yesterday, some of Bollywood’s biggest hits this year have strong female characters, starring in stories that revolve around them.
Not only is the image of woman changing in cinema, but women are increasingly joining the workforce and defining their own space. They are noisily protesting against injustice and demanding their rights.
It is good that Bollywood has taken part of this script on board, but what about that other, important bit: paying women the same as male actors? Right now, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan earn an average of 400 million rupees (Dh23.7 million) a film, and also receive a share of the profits, but equally popular actresses such as Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif get just a tenth of that.
This isn’t fair, especially when a female lead carries a film. Some say that things are bound to change, even if gradually, and more women-oriented films will tilt the scales. Others say the Hollywood way may be the answer, with stars getting a share of a film’s takings. How it happens matters less than that change comes to Bollywood, even if only at the pace that Indian society confronts its biases. The Hindi film industry has lagged behind reality for decades. Only now, is it sorting out the script. The next step will be equal pay for equal work for all the industry’s actors, irrespective of gender.