in poor taste

It took a 20-year career in Bollywood and Hollywood for Priyanka Chopra Jonas to get equal pay

The star said in Bollywood she “would get paid about 10% of the salary of my male co-actor”

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Looking back at pay parity problems.
Looking back at pay parity problems.
Photo: Anthony Jones (Getty Images)

Hollywood has finally given Priyanka Chopra Jonas the pay parity that eluded her for nearly 20 years of a career that spun the film industry in India and the US.

In an interview for the BBC 100 Women list for 2022, the global star said her remuneration matched her male co-star’s for the first time ever now, for US spy series Citadel, directed by brother duo Anthony and Joe Russo of Marvel fame.

The milestone becomes more significant when placed in context of what’s been happening over in Bollywood, where Chopra Jonas debuted in 2003.

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“I’ve never had pay parity in Bollywood. I would get paid about 10% of the salary of my male co-actor”, she told the BBC. “It [the pay gap] is large, substantially large. And so many women still deal with that. I’m sure I will too if I worked with a male co-actor now in Bollywood.”

Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ pay parity problem in Bollywood…

It’s no secret that pay parity issues plague the Indian film industry. When Forbes rolled out its highest-paid global movie stars ranking in 2017, it featured only men from Bollywood—none of the women made the cut.

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Chopra Jonas, who had a flourishing career as a mainstream actress in India, was a global icon in her own right by then, too. In 2012, she became the first ever Indian Guess model. The next year, she debuted a music single at the National Football League. Her first outing in Hollywood, the hit FBI series Quantico, had been on air since 2015. In 2016, she did the voice over for Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa in the Jungle Book’s Hindi dubbing, and in 2017, she took on the role of the Baywatch villain.

With all these feathers in her cap, Chopra Jonas actually made it to the 6th spot on the Forbes’ India Celebrity list that year, earning Rs68 crore ($8.3 million). But it was a lonely win considering no other woman made that list. And the man at the top spot, Salman Khan, raked in triple what Chopra Jonas did at Rs233 crore ($28 million).

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Hollywood isn’t the torchbearer of gender equality, either. Chopra Jonas herself has been part of multiple feature film projects like Isn’t It Romantic and The Matrix Resurrection, and yet, this the first time she’s spoken of earning the same as the men in the business.

…is every female actor’s pay parity problem in Bollywood

Bollywood’s highest-paid actress Deepika Padukone makes less than half what her male counterpart makes, and several celebrities have been vocal about the wide gap in recent times.

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“Just a few years ago, no one would talk about a man or woman actually getting equal pay in a movie. Now there are a lot of us being very vocal about it,” top Bollywood actor Kareena Kapoor Khan told The Guardian in 2021. “I make it quite clear what I want and I think that respect should be given. It’s not about being demanding, it’s about being respectful towards women. And I think things are kind of changing.”

Earlier that year, Kapoor Khan was trolled after reports of her demanding Rs12 crore to play the character Sita in an adaptation of the Ramayana epic. She later dismissed the news as a rumor and said she was not offered the Ramayana film at all, but the double standards of the industry were laid bare. Actor Hrithik Roshan, who started out in 2000 like Kapoor Khan, earns Rs65-75 crore per movie, to no one’s concern.

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Often the case for male stars getting paid more is their star power—the fact that they guarantee a blockbuster success. But that’s been increasingly untrue. For instance, Akshay Kumar, Kapoor Khan’s co-star in half a dozen movies and Bollywood’s highest taxpayer, got paid around Rs100 crore each for movies like Bachchan Pandey and Bell Bottom, which failed to impress at the box office.

Plus, it’s not just an experience or stardom thing. Taapsee Pannu said men who started with her earn “three to five times more” at the start, and the gap only grows thereafter. Her contemporary, Kriti Sanon, has lamented that it isn’t just the pay gap that is a problem, it’s also how massive it is, especially when there’s no tangible reason for it. ”My point is that a man doesn’t have to do it by doing a male-centric film, but sometimes a female has to prove it by doing a female-centric film and say that this is the audience that she has pulled in,” Sanon said.

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Another actor, Anushka Sharma, also points to sexism driving a false sense of longevity that plays into these financial decisions. “Men can work as long as they want to, but women are only okay till they are young and desirable.”

Meanwhile, female superstars have been dismantling the idea that box office favors male actors. With Gangubai Kathiawadi in February, Alia Bhatt enjoyed her career’s fifth Rs100-crore grosser. Her next outing at the theaters, Brahmastra, amassed over Rs430 crores. These two films are in the top five Hindi film grossers of the year.

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One big number: Citadel is expensive

$235 million: The price tag on Citadel’s production, including $75 million for reshoots on top of the $160 million original spend. The seven-episode spy thriller is set to be the second most expensive show ever produced, after The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Whether Chopra Jonas’ Citadel deal is the exception, not the rule, the series is such an expensive project that it should be possible to pay those involved properly.

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