KATHMANDU, Nepal (WOMENSENEWS)–Basundhara Bhusal, 55, says she is the oldest living female actress in the Nepali film industry. She has acted in 135 feature films and 60 television series.
But despite her prolific career, she says she hardly earns enough to keep up with directors’ wardrobe demands.
"Five years ago, the famous movie director Prakash Thapa scolded me for wearing the same clothes in many movies," she says. "But what did he know? I had to wear the same clothes in a bunch of movies because I didn’t have money to buy a new wardrobe for every movie."
Despite a provision in Nepal’s Constitution ensuring equal pay for men and women for the same work, Bhusal says gender discrimination is widespread in filmmaking.
"Even today, female actors are paid almost 50 percent less than male actors," she says.
Bhusal says she has been advocating for equal pay among actors since long before the constitutional provision.
Richa Ghimire, one of the most popular female actors in Nepali cinema, says that female actors aren’t only paid less than male actors for same amount of work in a film, but that they also earn less when they have larger parts than male actors.
"In my beginning years, despite having a substantially bigger role than that of the actor in the movie, I was paid much less compared to them," she says.
After acting in 21 movies, Ghimire says her pay hasn’t increased.
"I was only paid 75,000 rupees [$1,050 USD] for my work while my co-actor Biraj Bhatta was paid 200,000 rupees [$2,790 USD] in the movie ‘Giraftaar,’" Ghimire says, providing an example.
Producer-director Chabi Ojha says his wife, Rekha Thapa, is the highest-paid actress in the industry, earning somewhat more than $4,000 for a movie. One of the most popular female actors in the industry, Thapa has appeared in more than 90 movies.
Actors Acknowledge Disparity
Some male actors acknowledge the pay disparity.
"I have come to know that there is discrimination between male and female actors in payment for the same role of same duration, but I don’t know what it is in percent," says Jeevan Luitel, a top film star here.
Movie producer and director Pradeep Udaya says the range for a lead female actor for a movie is between $2,000 and $4,000, considerably behind the range for men of $2,790 and $7,000.
From actors to producers, men and women in the film industry agree that women earn less than men – although they disagree why. Udaya attributes the pay disparity to the nature of the roles, which he says can be more time-intensive for men.
"I normally pay my artists in terms of the work they are doing and on an hourly basis, which at times affects the total payment," he says.
But actress Ghimire disagrees.
"Even if the male actor’s role is only a couple of scenes long, they are paid more than female actors who work in the entire movie," she says.
Suchitra Shrestha is a member of the government-owned Film Censor Board and the general secretary of Sancharika Samuha, a nongovernmental organization that has been working for the rights of women in media for more than a decade.
"There have been cases in which the male actors were paid more than they first quoted because the female actor quoted a higher price than her male counterpart," Shrestha says.
Shrestha adds that she is the first female director in Nepal and that actors’ salaries are controlled by the producers, who are also mostly male.
"This clearly shows that the general attitude of the industry producers is that women shouldn’t be paid equally, if not more than their male colleagues, because they think that female-centric roles are relatively simpler than that of males, therefore they don’t need to work as hard as male actors," Shrestha says.
Need to Speak Up
Director Samjhana Rauniyar Uprety started her career in India. She says female actors would rather take a role for unequal pay than miss out on a part.
"Rather than losing the role, many female actors are compelled to work at a less price by pretending that they are unaware of the higher price being paid to their male colleagues," Uprety says.
Another director, Ramesh Budathoki, who is chairman of Nepal Film Artists National Association, an umbrella organization of actors in Nepal, says discrimination often starts with scriptwriters, who are mostly men and produce male-driven stories.
Budathoki, also a member of the Nepal Academy of Music and Drama, an academy established under the government to preserve, promote and develop Nepal’s cultural heritage, says the academy should initiate the change in pay. But he says no new policy has been introduced yet.
"It is important that the scriptwriters do justice to female characters, which will consequently give female actors more importance in the industry," says Nisha Adhikari, an actor, television host and model who got her start in the glamour industry as Miss International 2005.
Amar Giri, outgoing president of the government-owned Nepal Film Development Board, previously known as Royal Nepal Film Development Board, says the board has not received any official complaints about pay discrimination, which prevents action by the board.
He says women in the industry have established a committee to fight sexism, but that it hasn’t filed complaints with the board.
Actress Ghimire says she has chosen not to work in movies recently that do not adhere to the constitutional clause ensuring fair pay.
"I would rather choose to work in less number of movies and get paid equally as my male co-stars," she says.
Ghimire recently started working on a movie titled "Break Fail" alongside Rajesh Hamal, who producer-director Udaya says is Nepal’s highest-paid actor. Both were paid $2,790.
"I only started working in the movie after formally signing the contract," she says.
By doing so, she says that World Wide Movie Makers, the company making the movie, is setting a precedent in the Nepali film industry.
Ghimire adds that Nepali female actors must band together and be proactive.
"We have to rise against this kind of discrimination," she says.
Adapted from original content published by the Global Press Institute. Read the original article here. All shared content has been copyrighted by Global Press Institute.
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Lochana Sharma reports for Global Press Institute’s Nepal News Desk. She is from Kathmandu and aims to use journalism as a tool of human rights and social transformation.