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Strong female protagonists on a steady rise in Bollywood

With Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Piku proving to be big box office draws, we take a look at the emerging women power in the industry and the changing perception of female-oriented films…

The Hindi film industry is nothing like it used to be, say, a decade and half ago when heroines used to be cast in glamorous prop roles, playing second fiddle to the heroes. There is a burgeoning breed of actresses who have not only defied stereotypes and played a variety of lead roles to conviction, but have also managed to hold their own even alongside ‘more famous’ lead actors.

Last week’s release ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ is being proclaimed as a Kangana Ranaut film for her powerful dual performance. ‘Piku’, another film currently running in theatres, which stars Deepika Padukone in the titular role has received much applause from the critics and the audience alike. Even with the presence of stalwarts like Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan in the film, Dippy clearly held her own.

Coming a long way
In the ’80s and ’90s, filmmakers like Prakash Jha tried to make women-oriented films (Mrityudand), but they didn’t work at the box office. Now the tide has turned in the favour of actresses with filmmakers willing to explore strong female-centric subjects. Even the ‘heroines’ are willing and open to carry an entire film’s burden on their shoulders.

Gauri Shinde, who made her directorial debut with the highly acclaimed ‘English Vinglish’ (2012), was once quoted as saying that there was a popular perception that women-centric films are boring and righteous. “Unless more women get out on their own and decide what they want to watch, things will not change,” she had said.

Post ‘Kahaani’ (2012), Vidya Balan was hailed as the new hero of Bollywood – she had done ‘The Dirty Picture’ and ‘No One Killed Jessica’ the previous year. Media reports claimed Vidya then doubled her fee to R7 crore and there was buzz that she was paid more than her co-star Farhan Akhtar in ‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ (2014)

2012 also saw the release of Vidya Balan-starrer ‘Kahaani’ and the actress was hailed as the new hero of Bollywood – she had done ‘The Dirty Picture’ and ‘No One Killed Jessica’ the previous year with the spotlight firmly on her. Media reports claimed Vidya then doubled her fee to Rs 7 crore and there was buzz that she was paid more than her co-star Farhan Akhtar in ‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ (2014).

Even when Vidya debuted with Pradeep Sarkar’s ‘Parineeta’, she had emerged as a clear winner. “When I was making the film, I never thought of it as a women-centric movie but I believe many think otherwise,” Sarkar had said.

Madhuri Dixit, who did two women-centric films last year, was apparently paid less than her ‘Raja’ co-star Sanjay Kapoor in 1995 despite being a star then

Shoojit Sircar, who helmed ‘Piku’, had recently pointed out that he has stuck to non-conventional films since ‘Yahaan’ (2005). “I have been on my own path and tried to tell a story, which I feel is right. I am fortunate and thankful that the audience has given me that love for all my films. It’s not a change but yes people have been more receptive towards such films now,” he said.

Game changers
Last year saw over a dozen mainstream women-centric films, most of which proved to be successful at the box office. It started with ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ , a tale about two women (Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi) and their wacky love-lorn suitors (Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi). It was followed by ‘Highway’ (Alia Bhatt), ‘Gulaab Gang’ (Madhuri and Juhi Chawla) and the hugely acclaimed ‘Queen’ featuring Kangana Ranaut, which grossed Rs 61 crore in domestic markets, a rare feat for a woman-led film.

Kareena Kapoor was among the first few actresses who pledged to fight against pay disparity between heroes and heroines.

2014 also saw other commercially successful films like ‘Mary Kom’ (Priyanka Chopra) and ‘Mardaani’ (Rani Mukerji). And what’s a year without Vidya Balan? We saw her playing a detective and putting on many guises in ‘Bobby Jasoos’, which was produced by a female colleague, Dia Mirza.

The trend continues this year too. Anushka Sharma turned producer with ‘NH10′, an offbeat woman-centric thriller that got a big opening at the box office in March. Says the actress, “I think when you believe in something and the content is good, the audience will definitely give it a chance. People want to watch good films which tell a good story. So, I don’t think a film can be classified as male-centric or female-centric. However, when the content is good and it does well financially, it encourages filmmakers to experiment more with such subjects.”

Priyanka Chopra too, had raised her voice against it

Profit sharing
Earlier, it was only the male actors who got a part of the film’s profits. But Kareena Kapoor Khan was the first actress to break into that league with Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Heroine’ (2012). She had charged approximately Rs 8 crore, but many meetings later, she agreed to slash her price and go for profit sharing. The producers had worked out the deal in a way that she got Rs 8 crore out of the project.

Now we hear that Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has got into profit sharing for her comeback film, ‘Jazbaa’. Trade expert Amod Mehra says, “Women are now coming forward and demanding their share. The producers are also willing to share the profits with actresses. They know that they need the actresses as much as they need the heroes.”

Buck stops here
There was a time when Madhuri Dixit was paid less than her ‘Raja’ co-star Sanjay Kapoor in 1995, though he was a lesser-known star then. But now, many actresses have spoken out against pay disparity.

Kareena Kapoor Khan was among the first few actresses who pledged to fight for equal pay. Priyanka Chopra, too, had raised her voice against it. Anushka also believes that the recent successes of female actors at the box office “should reinforce a pay parity”. “I am fortunate to have always been ring fenced for the projects that I take on simply because I am extremely selective about the work I do and have been lucky to have always been paid a premium,” she adds.

The actress-producer, who apparently charges Rs 5 crore per project, is said to have hiked her fee post ‘NH10′. But she says, “I do not think it is in good taste to discuss remuneration or pay packages as it involves producers, more so since I am one myself.”

Deepika Padukone was apparently paid more than Ranveer Singh in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram-Leela’ (2013). She was rumoured to have been paid Rs 8 crore which made her the highest paid actress in 2014.

Dippy had said, “If you compare our pay scale with the men, then, yes, it is very less. If you are comparing what girls used to get before and what they are getting in the last couple of years, I can say that there has been a major shift and we are hoping and trying. But this is not a war.”

Sources say Kareena charges around Rs 8.5 crore for a film, Priyanka commands Rs 7-8 crore while Katrina Kaif and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan get paid Rs 6-7 crore per film.

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