This week Parineeti Chopra remarked in an interview that she doesn’t talk about the gender pay gap because female actors make up for that gap by doing brand endorsements for beauty and hair products.
While she received a lot of flak on Twitter for her thoughts, the idea that women have to work more to bridge the pay gap is hugely problematic.
That women have had to prove themselves more to achieve the same pay scale as men is exactly the issue feminists have been fighting for, for generations now.
Also, a quick Google search reveals that Parineeti’s statement about women being bigger brand endorsers doesn’t really hold true. An Economic Times report shows that Virat Kohli tops the list of celebrities with the highest brand evaluations. While Deepika Padukone does come second, apart from Alia Bhatt at number 8, there are no other female celebrities in the top ten list.
The argument that gender pay gap exists in Bollywood because male stars bring in more people to the theatres does not hold merit. This is because one refuses to see how much money has been pumped over the years into making these male stars, the stars that they are. The stories of our films written by men, told by men and acted by men with female leads playing second fiddle to them have contributed to this vicious circle.
So, a solo female lead’s story does not get the production budget value that it deserves which makes it a ‘smaller’ film and in turn gets smaller profits as against a big-budget film of a male star where the big budgets are primarily marketing budgets that have gone into promoting the film and reaching a wider audience.
We have all heard stories of big male ego clashes when a male star’s film is going to be released. Around the release date, there is a hoarding of screens so the same film runs in all theatres, at all times, leaving the audience with no choice but to watch that film if they are just looking to kill time over the weekend. With each box office ticket going towards declaring the film as a hit or a flop, a small film with a female lead has no chance to compete.
Under these trying circumstances, it is irresponsible for a star in Parineeti Chopra’s place to make a remark like that. While she may not consider herself ‘successful’ by the industry metrics, she has a following of 21.5 million people on Instagram. And as an influencer, she and others of her caliber and position in society hold the responsibility to not undo the work done by women preceding them and especially not damage it.
And there is a reason for that.
A couple of weeks ago, I went on a small trek a little outside of Mumbai. I realised that in the thick of the jungle, we all had to carve our own paths. However, in some clearings, there were certain paths that were already formed. Small brown trails amidst the thick green foliage around. It was obvious that people had already walked those trails before. Grass did not grow on those trails because many feet had crossed them. And that made it easier for us to follow those trails and go up the cliff.
Towards the end, after a strenuous 5 hours of trek, there was a steep descent. While I balanced myself with one foot, the other foot would usually find a comparatively flatter rock or better still, a depression in the wet mud revealing that someone had already set foot there before.
Tired, I almost thought of sliding down at some places when an experienced trekker right ahead cautioned me not to ruin the depression by sliding down because it would make it difficult for the next person to find their footing in those muddy depressions.
I suddenly realised the responsibility of a trekker and of those who walk the path ahead of others.
Many women have already climbed the ladder to the top. Many others follow. Each of us holds the responsibility of making it easier for the next woman behind us.
Some women in leadership roles believe that each woman has to struggle the same way she did in order to arrive at the position that she had earned. But that would mean all women struggling at all times in each generation. A zig-zag of trails in the work jungle will mean only confusion and sometimes even giving up on the path. And that is not ideal. We all hold the responsibility of pulling up the next woman, if not directly then leaving behind a trail that is easier for them to navigate.
Parineeti Chopra does not have to be the leading star of the nation to do this. In our eyes, she is already successful, navigating her tough life in the jungle of Bollywood and arriving at a place on her own merit and hard work.
Look around you. You do not have to be a leader to do this. You too will always find in your neighbour, in your friend, your family and even in your domestic help, the person you need to leave behind a trail for.
If you can do it even for one person in your life, at home, or at your workplace, you would have fulfilled your purpose in this world.
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