Bollywood Actresses Getting Their Due


Since the 1970s, a clutch of talented Bollywood actresses have scored a vital point by being paid as much if not, in some cases, more than their male counterparts. By Aseem Chakravarthy

Women’s Lib in Bollywood? We’re not talking about female stars burning their bras but about Deepika Padukone getting paid Rs. 12 crore to act in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming film Padmavati!

Word is she set the 12 crore bar, not Mr. Bhansali, who paid up.

Then there’s Piggy Chops (Priyanka Chopra) who charged Rs.1.5 crore per day for an ad campaign in Assam. The campaign lasted 10 days so if you know your math, she raked in Rs.15 crore!

This is a sea change from yesteryears when actresses were always paid less than actors. If the hero got Rs.5 crore, have no doubt the heroine had to be satisfied with a few lakhs. But do remember, less money was still great money in the “good old days”. In the 1930s, Israeli origin actress Sulochana aka Ruby Mayers, was paid Rs.5000 per month, which was a small fortune.

Later heroines like Meena Kumari, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman, Mala Sinha and Nanda got substantial signing amounts (although perhaps less than the heroes). But came the season of Rekha, Hema Malini and Raakhee, and the scenario changed: They got the same as their leading men.

Film analyst Amod Mehra says “these heroines were capable of running the film all by themselves. And when it came to women dominated films, they were paid what they demanded.”


Let’s get back to Deepika and try and figure out how she became what she is. There seems little doubt that La Padukone is a smartie, who planned, strategised and built herself up. She debuted with Om Shanti Om opposite Shah Rukh Khan nine years ago, which is a dream opportunity most actors can only, well dream of.

According to one review of the film, she was “used sparingly and constantly camouflaged”, was not required to act but needed to “be a dreamy girl”, and this she delivered dimpled smiles and all.

Cut to present days, the success of Chennai Express went to her credit and her fee shot up. Not only did she become selective about her movies, she’s a hardball when it comes to her fee. Apparently this was the case with Bajirao Mastani. Films like Piku opposite Amitabh Bachchan boosted her ratings.

Word is she has agreed to star in Anand Rai’s film opposite Shah Rukh Khan but only after he agreed to her terms and conditions. Wonder if she’s getting more than SRK?


There was a time when it appeared Kangana Ranaut would overtake Deepika after the success of Queen and Tanu Weds Manu. She is reported to have charged Rs.14 crore for the Vishal Bhardwaj directed Rangoon, a romantic drama set in World War II. But other reports say these are not true, that her rates vary from Rs.6-8 crore only. Even so there’s no denying Kangana has a market and it is said she was paid more than her co-stars in Rangoon, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan.


In her eight years in the industry, Anushka Sharma has carved a niche for herself doing select films. She’s been working with Bollywood’s top heroes and after the success of Sultan, now charges Rs.8 crore a film. Unlike other heroines, she’s also set up her own production banner, producing films minus the top stars. In her home production Fillouri, she’s the top star; others are “also rans”.


Let’s not deny her due. She’s worked with every top Bollywood hero and has had a string of successes. But Fitoor saw her ratings slide back although it doesn’t appear to have hurt her. She’s starring in the next Karan Johar film for which she’s being paid Rs.7 crore. But Katrina cannot carry a film on her own, which explains why she’s so far behind Priyanka, Deepika, Anushka and Kangana.


Mother of two, Madhuri, whose career dates back to the 1980s, is earning more now than at her peak. She charged Rs.3 crore for Aaja Nach Le against the lakhs she was paid earlier. But her value appears to have dropped subsequently, she was paid Rs.2 crore for Dedh Ishkiyan and Gulab Gang. Don’t hold that against her though, she’s rated the most expensive television show host charging Rs.1.50 crore for each episode of Dance Show Jhalak Dikhla Ja.


There are some serious ‘second tier’ actresses who have been making their presence felt. Among them, Richa Chhadha, Huma Qureshi, Aditi Rao Hydari and Ileana D’Cruz who are paid sizeable amounts.

Qureshi is reported to charge Rs.2 crore for a film and she’s done around 14 so far including Gangs of Wasseypur, Badlapur and Love-Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. Hydari charges around Rs.60 lakh for a film, and she’s got some respectable titles under her belt including Delhi-6, Rockstar and Khoobsurat. Many young ambitious and talented aspirants linger at even lower levels. They are paid significantly less and tend to get exploited by producers.


Current stars don’t need to rely solely on their income from films. There are other sources including endorsements, ad films, TV shows and ramp shows. More successful a film actress, the greater is the demand on her time from endorsements and so on.

But there are also not so well known actresses like Urvashi Rautela, Gauhar Khan, Sonali Raut, Pooja Chopra and Sayani who have built careers by charging fees to appear at functions. Small producers, businessmen find them affordable as compared to top tier actresses who are not only unaffordable but are unavailable.

Dollars for Priyanka

Priyanka Chopra, she of the famous twirl with Tom Hiddleston during the Emmy Awards, is now known more for the roles she’s bagging in Hollywood. Her TV serial Quantico is now in its second season and her popularity graph (evidently driven by a wealthy Indian origin audience in the US), is rising. She’s now starring in Baywatch opposite Dwayne ‘Hunk’ Johnson and who knows where she’ll go after that.

She hasn’t done badly in India either. The actress who charged lakhs for a film like Aitraaz 12 years ago, is now reported to be demanding nothing less than Rs.10 - 12 crore. Films like Fashion, Barfi, Mary Kom and Bajirao Mastani have also contributed to Priyanka’s market rating. The way she puts it, if she can deliver a hit, she might as well be paid for it!


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