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Bollywood’s paychecks continue to grow!

December 7, 2007

Indians have more money in their pockets than ever and the entertainment industry is riding high. People are shelling out big bucks to see their favorite stars. Tickets in multiplexes range from Rs 100/- to Rs 300 on weekends. And people aren’t complaining! In fact the Indian cinema industry is expecting very high growths (15-20 percent) in the coming years. The industry, with it’s 10,000 cinema halls, and it’s output of 8-900 films in a year, has (is) undergone a metamorphosis!

A report released earlier this year by Creative and Innovative Economy Centre (CIEC) of the George Washington University Law School has said that three key factors will drive the double digit growth of Bollywood:

  • Proliferation of multi-screen theatres
  • Introduction of satellite delivery
  • Acceleration of the home entertainment market

Rising paychecks for Bollywood stars
Is it surprising then that Bollywood paychecks are climbing as well? The film industry is a place where salaries are rising exponentially, out pacing other industries…ofcourse amongst saleable stars/directors/technicians only. I had written a post about Bollywood salaries earlier this year in which I had said:

Take this Rs 10 crore club (USD 2.5 million). About the year 2000 they (top actors) were getting approximately half of what they are getting now (around Rs 4-5 crore). Give or take a crore. That’s a hundred percent jump. In fact by the year 2006, these guys were rapidly crossing the Rs 6-7 crore mark and since then it’s been all the way up.

And the latest news is that paychecks are almost doubling again! Akshay Kumar has reportedly got more than Rs 17 crore for a recent film and as Shah Rukh, Salman Khan, Hritik Roshan and Aamir Khan reportedly quote a higher price than Akshay, one can guess that they are getting. Earlier this year Hritik was touted as the highest paid actor in Bollywood when he made a 3-film deal of Rs 35 crore with Adlabs.

Actually Rajnikanth, a non-Bollywood leading man was the highest paid Indian movie star in India as he walked away with Rs 16 crore for his film Sivaji (3.9 million USD) last year. It is rumoured that he is likely to demand much more for his next (some say the last venture before he retires) film.

Indian films are making it big in other countries (where ticket prices are much higher), and the industry is benefiting hugely.

Today’s leading ladies not up to the mark?
But not everyone in the film industry is lucky. Only those who pull in the audiences reap the benefits and so it should be. In India, it’s the male stars, not the leading ladies or the side-kicks who pull in audiences. Paychecks of the ladies are floundering at the old levels and in fact they can be ten times less as compared to the guys! They range from just under a crore to 5-7 crore.

Film producers/directors say that this is natural as no leading lady today can pull in an audience and if any quotes too high a price, they simply drop her. It doesn’t make a difference if they have a strong hero and/or a saleable director. Leading ladies in other words seem quite dispensable. This is very different from how it is Hollywood. As it says here:

Contrast this with the business realities of Hollywood, where Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts command almost as much as their male counterparts. If a Tom Cruise gets $45 million for a film, Kidman is not far behind at $35 million. If Brad Pitt gets $29 million, Angelina Jolie earns $27 million.

I guess a lot of people would go see a movie to just to see Angelina Jolie or Nicole Kidman. I have done it. I have also seen movies solely because of an Indian female lead (Pakeezah is one of them) but frankly I cannot say that I have done the same for the current brood of female actors. I read an article (unfortunately couldn’t find it online) which talked of actresses like Meena Kumari and Nargis, who could pull in audiences on their own steam, Apparently the difference between their salaries and that of their male counterparts was not as high as it is between the male and female stars of today. Even Madhuri Dixit for a brief period could hold a candle to many a male star because of her ability to pull in audiences on her own merit. She did that with her film Raja.

I personally feel that actresses like Nargis, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, and later, Kajol and Madhuri were superior to the present lot, whether it’s Aishwarya Rai or Priyanka Chopra although Rani Mukherjee comes close. I am of the view that we don’t have super leading ladies today, someone of the calibre of the old stars. Just hope some new star rises on the horizon. Wonder if it’s going to be Deepika Padukone?

Related Reading: Consolidation process is on in Bollywood and they are buying into Hollywood
Film stars pay the highest taxes
Double digit growth of Bollywood cheques (2006)
Why Bollywood and Hollywood do not mix
Narcism of Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities
Will Hollywood thrash Bollywood?

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2007 10:10 am

    Somehow I feel the others were totally out of league when compared to kajol, I mean I have never seen a movie which ran because of her, I can still think of movies like Raja which though hopeless ran because of Madhuri, and so many of that kind with Madhubala and Nargis etc..

    I feel there is no one superstar like SRK among women who can make people flock theaters irrespective of the movie quality..This quite surprising looking at the number of movie going, heroine ooglign men all around India..

  2. December 7, 2007 2:15 pm


    About the pay gap, it is the same old thing as everywhere – a woman has to be twice as good to be paid half as much if she is lucky!

    And who is to say women cannot pull audiences? How many female-lead films as a % of the whole do we make?

    And you forgot Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil and many others who were great actresses. 🙂

    On Meena Kumari – she got paid zippo for her magnum opus, Pakeezah. I think she was exploited by Kamal Amrohi, but then so was Sandhya by V Shantaram. They were keen to work but the conditions were set by men and they were harsh.

    Conditions are still set by men but now women get to wear their 2-bit clothing and do ‘item numbers’ and frankly if this is what the ambition of today’s Mallikas and Priyankas is, what can we do? I am sure item numbers have pulling power – why don’t they try making Sanjay Dutt do one instead of Mallika Sherawat? We can test a hypothesis… 😉

  3. December 7, 2007 2:51 pm

    Rambler, thanks. I agree that Kajol was one of our best actors and she happens to by my favorite!

    Shefaly, take Shah Rukh. he is not a great actor but he gets paid well and he pulls in audiences. Shabana isn’t capable of carrying a mainstream film on her shoulders and she alone cannot make the cash registers ring.
    In Hollywood Tom Cruise for example is an average actor but he makes millions! I personally think that Angelina Jolie is over-rated too in the acting dept, but her sex appeal manages to pull in audiences. I am not saying it’s wrong at all. They are meant to entertain, that’s their job . Do we have an equivalent of anAngelina Jolie in India?
    Rekha is long gone. Another one of my favorite women stars.
    I believe Pakeezah was left incomplete when Meena Kumari died. So I doubt whether she was paid at all!
    But still, those women had the power, far more than today’s flimsy female stars have! Take the legendary Madhubala for example.
    Is there any female star of today who is worth making a woman oriented film for? Someone who has the charisma to draw in the audiences?

  4. December 7, 2007 3:05 pm


    Maybe I’m being completely naive here, but what really bothers me is the size of the paycheck of actors everywhere in the world! Why do they get paid so much?? Compare their pay to th salary of a blue collar worker. There’s such a big disparity. I guess it’s all to do with the concept of “Economic Rent”. If a factor of production is very difficult to supply or reproduce, and has a high marginal revenue product, the factor will receive significant economic rent.

  5. December 7, 2007 3:10 pm


    You have answered your own question I guess! Where in the world can you get another Shah Rukh or Johnny Depp for example? They are irreplaceable and they will get paid as much as the producer can afford. If their films start to flop, their value goes down, they get fewer jobs and it could be the end of them! Here today, gone tomorrow!

  6. December 7, 2007 3:13 pm

    “Is there any female star of today who is worth making a woman oriented film for?”

    I think there are plenty. The Sen-Sharma girl (or girls?), the young girl who played Parveen Babi recently, Rani Mukherjee, Kajol being a few. I must say I get to watch rare Bollywood films. The major multiplex is too far for me, and unlike many desis, who procure illegal VCDs and DVDs from Southall, I do not want to make my contribution to such things. So my sample is those films which I watch after some research and feedback from the very few whose assessment I trust.

    The comparison with Hollywood is a bit questionable I think. Bollywood has larger viewership but Hollywood has more cache. Their market is also truly global whereas Bollywood is now getting their act together. Hollywood’s marketing machine vastly overrides their product quality.

    The ‘target market’ definition is a bit apples-and-oranges in my view too. Whether Angelina Jolie has better sex appeal is a matter of preference and I think she may find more desi men interested in her whiteness and her body than we may find white men interested in Aishwarya or Madhuri Dixit. Recently my neighbour’s husband described Aishwarya in Bride and Prejudice as a ‘bit on the heavy side’. His wife was horrified. She said she did not realise how affected his view of ‘normal’ was by western media. He is a white British man btw. The concept of ‘hotness’ varies tremendously and I think Indians are more accepting of other cultural (mainly white) depictions and preferences than the other way round.

    Angel-in-a-jolly has appeared both as Lara Croft and Daniel Pearl’s widow. We may not have any one to do the former but for the latter, we have plenty talent I think. What we do not have is producers with gumption. After all nobody thought Monsoon Wedding/ Bend it Like Beckham etc will run, did they? But they did. It was bold cinema and it showed.

    For the record the only Shahrukh films I have seen were DDLJ and Darr, and he overdoes his psycho-thing. I find him awful and am not willing to spend £9 to see him in a film (not including cost of transport and time)…

  7. December 7, 2007 3:27 pm


    Konkana Sen Sharma can act but she is not capable of making a film run on her own shoulders. there aren’t plenty shefaly. note, we are not talking of talent. kajol has more or less retired. konkana is not consiedred a mainstream actress, not yet anyway. rani mukherjee comes close and there was Black that did well, but it had Amitabh Bachchan too. rani also they say is on her way out…
    And bend it may have been a success but we are talking blockbuster here. only those kind of magnum opuses will pay their stars millions.
    also a comparision between bollywood and hollywood is a natural one. but ofcourse as you say there are differences, many! I saw Anjelina in the Daniel Pearl movie. Very very average acting according to me, but then these things are subjective. Have you seen the movie? I have seen her in Lara croft too.
    And btw over here people die to see shah rukh, inspite of his over the top acting, so you see, you will be in a minority here. 🙂
    And ofcourse you have a point about Indian men liking Angelina because of her whiteness 🙂 but as the past has shown, Indian men can like Indian women stars too. I just don’t see anyone on the horizon! And I am an avid bollywood follower.

    p.s. basically what I am trying to say is that if there was a saleable female star the producers would go for it (a woman oriented film) as I believe there would always be someone who would grab the opportunity. Bollywood guys are pretty experienced at reading the market.

  8. Vipul permalink
    December 7, 2007 3:30 pm

    Hi Nita,
    Few number corrections – Rs 10 crore is USD 2.5m rather than USD 25m as stated. The hollywood numbers seem a little higher too. I read this article at Cnn earlier this week –
    It has Reese Witherspoon as the highest paid actress at ~$15-20m.

  9. December 7, 2007 3:32 pm


    Thanks, shall make the correction. And thanks for the link.

  10. Vipul permalink
    December 7, 2007 3:41 pm

    “And ofcourse you have a point about Indian men liking Angelina because of her whiteness”

    On a lighter note, let me jump in here and say that hotness is hotness – plain and simple. There’s no white / black. That is one bit of consistency you cant take away from us men. Put a 100 of us from different countries in a bar and we’ll pick out the same girls 🙂

  11. December 7, 2007 3:43 pm


    Glad to hear the male point of view. I agree hotness is different and ‘beauty’ is different. People may htink Aish is beautiful but few think of her as ‘hot.’

  12. December 7, 2007 4:03 pm

    You need to pay for a movie ticket? Tchh-tchh!
    I thought that chauvinism had some upsides, at least, for women!

  13. December 7, 2007 6:40 pm


    Unless you meant chivalry has upsides, I do not know what you mean..

  14. December 7, 2007 8:02 pm

    Yeah, sorry, that is what I meant…..

  15. December 7, 2007 8:07 pm

    Rambodoc: Ah, I see. Well chivalry can only work if someone is willing to accept it. So yes I pay for my cinema tickets. 🙂

  16. December 8, 2007 9:23 am

    Oh I think my comment was ambiguous, actually I felt kajol does not have enough capacity to be taken in league of other actors 🙂
    I am sorry I didnt think kajol was a better actress.. may be compared to some aweful ones now, yes 🙂
    Just an opinion

  17. December 8, 2007 9:28 am

    Frankly speaking, I feel that most of the Bollywood actors and actresses are over rated. They don’t deserve to earn the money that they are. And let me disclose my dislike for Bollywood movies right away. I’m not being biased here; just stating the facts. They don’t measure up to the actors and actresses elsewhere. Acting in India is all about being loud. 🙂

  18. December 8, 2007 10:47 am

    Rambler. 🙂

    Ruhi, I thoroughly enjoy Bollywood movies, though not all. I am not sure why I enjoy them (need some thorough self-analysis here! 🙂 ) but I do. And as the majority of Indians enjoy them they sell and the stars definitely deserve to be paid the amounts. After all the audience is buying the tickets.
    Hollywood movies here still have a niche audience (I love Hollywood too). In fact sadly many good hollywood movies here are not released in all cinemas and many of them have late show timings. That’s because the majority of Indians do not rush to see them and I am not just talking of the uneducated! 🙂

    P.S. I have analysed what people find in both Hollywood and Bollywood movies and why they do not mix and you might find that post interesting. And another one on whether Hollywood will ever thrash Bollywood.

  19. December 8, 2007 11:44 am

    What pisses me off is the lack of talent still getting this royal treatment and how they have made a place in bollywood dependednt on your birth and the actors have the balls to say – Acting is in my blood!

  20. December 8, 2007 12:19 pm


    True one needs connections to start off in Bollywood most times, but later it’s all on thei merit. But there are successful actors today who made it without ‘pull’ and Shah Rukh is one of them. Look, even though I am aware that Shah Rukh is not a great actor, I love to see his films. Without Shah Rukh I could never had sat through OSO.
    I definitely prefer seeing him rather than say Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. Though I like Johnny Depp better than Shah Rukh. But I like Aamir better than Johnny Depp.
    We have some excellent actors and many do make it without connections.

  21. ulag permalink
    December 8, 2007 5:04 pm

    Someone once said that Indias biggest exports in the future will be “Bollywood” and Bangalore. Entertainment just runs through our blood i guess. Nothing else would explain the mass hysteria for our movie stars with people going to the extent of building temples for them. But these rising paychecks are mainly a result of corporate studio funding of movies. Now that they have some assured distribution system with proper checks they can pay stars more. And the fact that heroines dont get paid as much is not necessarily a sign of gender bias. To a large extent the scripts of such women oriented movies are terrible. We dont have movies like Mother India today or even movies like Erin Brockovich or The Hours for that matter. So its not possible to compare the stars of these movies with the present generation of female actors in India.
    On the other hand Rajnikanth commands such a huge paycheck because he doesn’t get paid the conventional way. Instead he takes a cut from the movies’ profit and asks for distribution rights and things like that. Its a clever move as in a way he takes a risk banking on the success of the movie but if it does succeed he laughs all the way to the bank. Its a policy followed by some Hollywood actors. Its a trend which will catch up soon here too.

  22. December 8, 2007 7:24 pm

    all of this is excellent news, I just want Bollywood to see more and more international success.

  23. December 8, 2007 10:00 pm

    Ulag thanks for that detailed comment. One of the reasons the stars are being paid more is that a vast market of the indian diaspora has opened up abroad. And I too think that if women are not being paid as much, it is not necessarily a gender bias. Maybe in some cases it is.
    About the scripts of the films, I agree they are very limited in nature, but mostly society (and I don’t mean just India) is not ready to accept women in strong roles and therefore directors fail to tread into those waters. But why is there a need for those kind of films like Hours? You can have a film with a strong woman and a strong male character, for example as in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I think in India we need to think of scripts in which both the man and the woman are strong, only later can we can think of scripts with women-centric roles! If you ask me, I personally do not enjoy movies which are hero-centric either. For me personally, I need a balance.

    Luckykabutar, I guess with our population growing and spreading across the world, this might just happen! 🙂

  24. December 9, 2007 1:48 am


    Actually what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. My comment was a comparison of their skills and their fat paychecks. If we were to rely on their acting skills, then I’m sure they wouldn’t be paid as much.

    But yes, like you said, people in India enjoy seeing them on screen and this is what gives them the right to command such prices.

    PS- I was not necessarily talking about Hollywood actors only 🙂 I like actors from many other countries. Thank you for the link. I’ll take a look.

  25. December 9, 2007 10:08 pm


    Now a days Films are made targeting multiplex & off-shore audience… and due to this.. I guess no film flops… it atleast compensates the film making cost… and due to this quality has dropped…

    From my point of view, The expensive actors/actresses lead to expensive tickets… and this nourishes Film Piracy… consider the tickets being at lower rate.. would you mind take them from a dvd pirate.. I guess everyone has one such shop within 1km radius of their residence where latest movies are available at Rs 20-30 (sounds cheap in every sense)…or download through torrents (a 700 mb movie will take around 4-5 hrs @ 2mbps high speed internet connection… compare ticket rates with the electricity bill and internet charges for this time being)

    But, there are other ways too. there are so many talented budding actors/actresses, directors, script writers .etc. who should be given chance… for lower cost production. A huge amount goes in typical stereo-type promotion… They can check out for other (cheap, if not free) alternates… one e.g. like Aamir Khan did for his latest venture TZP… posted trailor on his blog before giving it to tv chanels…and interacting directly with his fans… he could have done it better by posting it directly to youtube… that’s a better platform… and there are many good directors, actors… that get a good audience… you’ll find some really good short movies there…

  26. December 10, 2007 7:15 am


    Thanks. actually if one sees a movie in a small movie hall, not a multi-plex, then tickets are cheaper but the upper class crowd today prefer to buy movies in black rather that see a movie is a cheap theater! So I think it’s some people’s habit of piracy which is a problem. we never buy movies in black for example, we prefer to rent and see them on tv. our dvd doesn’t play pirated movies either!

  27. December 18, 2007 12:59 pm

    Nita, I agree with you regarding the multiplex audience. I have said about movie piracy since I have seen them working very closely:-
    How a small fish (small pirate dealer) get the CD/DVD (they call it master print) on Thursday night (sometimes even on Wednesday night) from big fish, and they replicate it like a virus whole night at 32x-50x writing speeds. You might wonder knowing the rates of replicating.. it’s mere Rs 2/3 per CD and then releasing it on Friday morning @ Rs 20-50. That’s why I termed it “so cheap in every sense”. Bole to SRK, BigB, Aish, Bips 20 rupaye mein bikte hain… And this happens everywhere, from small hamlets to big cities.
    Sometimes, pirates are available in market even before first day first show. There is a huge competition among the pirates to be first to get and release the movie.
    Their business is also a measure of success/failure of a movie.
    Now as you talked about movies at rent, so the back-cover page of the movie & sometimes even before casting it shows the message “this is for personal home use only, no rentals” and there is nothing like a DVD player can/can’t play a pirated movie. It doesn’t understand whether it is a original or pirated version. It reads the bits (0’s and 1’s) only.
    Same thing applies for s/w too. Bill Gates loves that people use pirated copy of Windows. And since I have talked about s/w , so I tell you that my copy of Windows XP is licensed version (though I prefer using Linux) and I go for free s/w alternatives like Open Office against pirated Microsoft Office application.
    Now on a different note, I have tried to make a video message on World AIDS day. check it out:-

  28. December 18, 2007 2:17 pm

    @ Rupesh:

    “From my point of view, The expensive actors/actresses lead to expensive tickets… and this nourishes Film Piracy”

    This is fallacious. This argument assumes that film ticket prices are derived in some sort of a cost-plus pricing model and that assumption is wrong.

    The production and the distribution links of the Bollywood ‘value chain’ are so disparate that one does not really link into the other in any way. Cinema halls, it may surprise you, make most of their money from monopoly-priced (read: very expensive) snacks and drinks rather than from tickets.

    If anything, a cost-plus pricing model for tickets refers to the cost of the cinema hall and not that of making the film. Which is why multiplex tickets are pricier than old cinema halls with holes in their seats and rats running up and down the aisles.

    There is another respect in which software piracy differs from film piracy. People using pirated Windows are actually prevented – effectively by their own actions – from using products from a competitor of Microsoft. The way Microsoft’s product empire is set up, this ‘capture’ suits their purposes very well. This however does not apply to film piracy.

  29. December 18, 2007 2:59 pm


    Thanks for the information. Yes near the railway station we can buy vcds of new movies for barely Rs 30/- !
    We don’t buy them but really, our dvd cannot play any pirated version. Only originals. I don’t know why but it’s a high tech player. I am sure that there is some technology which prevents it.

  30. December 18, 2007 10:49 pm

    Oh yes, I forgot that point. thanks.
    But do you think the actors deserve such high paychecks considering the quality delivered?

    on your words,
    “our dvd doesnot/cannot play any pirated version”,
    my common sense says that you have tried at least once to do so.
    I said just to make the discussion little bit lighter. Please do not take it otherwise.

  31. December 18, 2007 11:12 pm


    no offence at all 🙂 actually when we take movies on rent and it doesn’t play we realise it’s pirated. So it’s more than once! 😀

  32. December 19, 2007 12:49 am

    @ Rupesh: I think they get paid what the market can bear.

    In any case there is little relationship between pay packets and the returns they generate. It is a matter of framing isnt it?

    Large pay packet? Or fewer dollars generated in value at the box office?

    See this:

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