Indian audience and the film industry may have accepted films that have women as their protagonist but women and men being paid at par in Bollywood is still a pipe dream. Ask Aamir Khan about the gender pay disparity in the industry but the Secret Superstar producer doesn’t see it as a gender issue at all.
“There are films coming out with powerful women characters. Kangana Ranaut’s Queen had a powerful character, even her recent film, Simran, focused on the woman character. I have done two such films – Dangal and now Secret Superstar. I think we are moving in the right direction. We are showcasing women characters, their stories and their problems,” Aamir says.
After Dangal, Aamir Khan will be seen with Zaira Wasim in Secret Superstar.
He believes things are changing behind the camera too. “If you look at a crew in Bombay, women are doing all the important jobs and they are not looked at any differently from the men, their gender does not matter. Dangal crew was mainly women — we have directors of photography, we have directors, camerapersons. On film crews, it is fairly common to have women and men in equal,” he says.
He believes gender is immaterial as long as people come with the required talent. “By and large, I don’t see people differentiating between men and women in the industry. You will find women doing very important jobs, there are directors – Reema Kagti and Kiran Rao are there,” he says.
Making it more direct, we ask if Zaira Wasim – riding high on Dangal’s success and Secret Superstar’s protagonist – was paid more than him. Aamir’s role is smaller than Zaira’s in the film. “No. I would not have a smaller paycheque because I don’t take money upfront. For my last 10 films, I haven’t charged a fee, I take a percentage of profit. That is assuming the film will do well. Fortunately my films did well, but if it doesn’t work, I am the guy who takes the hit. I follow the oldest method of asking for money in performing arts. After you perform, take off your hat and ask for money, if you liked my work you will give money otherwise you will just leave.”
He further explained the economics of payment to artists as a producer: “In films, there are two kinds of levels of payment – one is for the work that you are doing. Now the work that I do is equal to any other actor and the length of the role is not important. I believe all people of the creative team should be paid equally and perhaps writer and director are the only ones who should be paid higher.”
“Now in this team, there are perhaps two of us who will be able to pull people in which the others are not able to, irrespective of whether I am a man or a woman. That is something unique that I am adding to the film and that is what we describe as stardom. That can be Salim-Javed or AR Rahman, anybody who has the ability to fill seats gets a bigger payment. The day she (Zaira) is able to pull more seats than me, I would be happy to give her a bigger pay cheque, In fact, as a producer I would want her to. As a producer, I don’t care if you are a man or a woman. You could be an animal, but if you can pull people in, I would want you get a bigger paycheque.”
Aamir then went on to elaborate on why women still get a much lower payment than their male counterparts. “Unfortunately, most of the stars in our country are males. That is also a result of our patriarchal society. Even as kids, we are told stories where gender roles are predefined. Adventure stories are always about boys who have leadership qualities and are the saviours. We are brought up to see males as heroes. We start planting these thoughts in our heads since childhood.”
He, however, is hopeful of change. “ There has to be a paradigm shift in that. I am someone who strongly believes in equality whether you are man or a woman. But ultimately in the economics of cinema anyone who pulls people in will be paid higher. There is no question about it,” he said.