Recently, actress Shefali Shah had something apt to say about Bollywood. The 46-year old National award-winning actress stated, “Men in this industry are afforded more choices, regardless of age. For most part, Bollywood doesn’t know what to do with a woman who has crossed 40. Only recently are parts being written for women like me, in films such as Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016), Tumhari Sulu (2017) and Neeraj Ghaywan’s short film, Juice, which is one of the best roles I’ve ever played.” She is not the only one who felt so. Previously, in 2016, yesteryear actress, Hema Malini, made a strong statement along the same lines. The ‘Dream Girl’ too opined that the ever so popular and beloved Bollywood industry has a dearth of opportunities for older actresses and drew parallels with its Hollywood counter-part wherein quality roles are specifically written for female actors belonging to different age-groups.
Apart from being blamed for persistently serving as a breeding ground for nepotism, the industry does no better in giving equal treatment and respect to female actors while shaping their careers. In Bollywood, age is a major restriction for women. Roles certainly are assigned to actors based on their age, however, when it comes to female actors, the differentiation is evident. A Shah Rukh or Salman will continue to get lead roles throughout their careers (not to mention that the lead actress would, in most cases, be half their age). The nature of these lead roles is not one solely of a dominant character leading the narrative of the film, but also that of a character whose journey of life has just begun. Needless to say, the wrinkles on their faces that even the make-up cannot hide clearly signifies their age and totally contradicts the image that the film attempts to portray, thus making it worthwhile only for those who would watch such films on account of being ardent fans of the actors, and who would whole-heartedly accept any kind of content created around them. On the contrary, an older actress such as Madhuri wanting to return to the industry, has films such as Aaja Nachle to re-launch herself, wherein her character is that of a woman with a daughter, previously married and settled in the USA. Although she did play the lead, the issue here is not that Madhuri was given a role that actually suited her age, but that she would not have been given the same kind of lead that the other ‘kings’ of Bollywood receive irrespective of their age.
Actresses such as Shabana Azmi, Hema Malini, Helen, Jaya Bhacchan, Neetu Singh etc. who in their youth earned national praise for their contribution to cinema, certainly created certain benchmarks for acting throughout their careers. Till date, they continue to enrich the industry by doing complete justice to roles assigned to them. Be it Baahgban, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Neerja, these actresses have given noteworthy performances, thus proving their mettle and the fact that age is no bar for talent. Stellar actresses closer to the 2000s such as Kajol, Juhi Chawla, Aishwarya Rai, Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta, Raveena Tandon, Twinkle Khanna, have in their times contributed to films through their own unique fortes and acting styles. Yet, in the current times, we find none or little meritorious scope allotted to them in terms of roles. When an actress gets married, the general trend becomes that her career is over. When she does return to the industry, the kind of roles that are assigned are that of the typical construct of an Indian woman- married with a child. Not to mention that films like Dilwaale, Jazbaa, Dedh Ishqiya, etc did not make it to the top despite the same actresses who gave back to back hit performances in their younger years were starring in them.
The media coverage around their re-launch too is age-centric. It is assumed that once she is married, she would go on a sabbatical, eventually have children and settle down, thus returning to the industry for award functions, guest appearances at reality shows, supporting or cameo roles in films or advertisements. One actually sees older actresses on the small screen than the larger one they earlier dominated. Ads portraying them as mothers and wives are specially created to grab public attention. Therefore, female actors marrying late has become prominent. The notion that marriage would hamper their career, childbirth would alter their body shape and image and destroy their careers becomes a worrisome factor. Once a female actor crosses the age of 30, the media begins to report every small link-up hinting at marriage. This phenomenon has plagued the industry, which undermines talent on presumptuous parameters.
There have been certain breakthroughs for this trend, with the industry now opening up for the older actresses. Films such as Kahaani, Lipstick under my Burkhaa, Hitchki, English Vinglish, Tumhari Sulu have given older actresses a platform to return in dominant lead roles. The films chronicle their journey as individuals over and above their basic characters. However, for the industry to recognize the need to create great content based on the mettle, personality, fortes and uniqueness of actors and produce films that honor the true essence of cinema, Bollywood has a lot to retrospect on.
Picture Credits : pandolin.com