It’s been a trend we’ve seen in the industry for the longest time. Female actors who’ve crossed a certain age vanished from the screen, while men of the same age ruled at the box office. Today things are evolving, but we still have a long way to go. Recently, we have seen many actors who have been calling out ageism and the lack of age-appropriate casting in Bollywood. And that’s helping bring about some change. So, here are some of our country’s strongest female actors who didn’t shy away from talking about ageism in Bollywood.
In an interview, Madhuri Dixit said, “Ageism is everywhere, not just in the industry. We often hear, “Arey apki toh age ho gayi hai, ab aapko kya dance karna hai” [You are old now, you still want to dance?] or “ab to aap bhagwan ka naam lijiye” [just pray to God in your old age] kind of things. We love doing things, and why should we worry about how old we are? If we’ll start thinking about that, we won’t be able to achieve anything in life. I think it’s time that we break these stereotypes. We also need to address the fact that it’s always a comeback for a female actor, even if she was away for a few months, and never for a male actor, even if he was away for years. These things are important to be discussed.”
Neena Gupta made the most of her second innings in Bollywood and a string of successful films she has been a part of is proof. The actress, who is known to wear her heart on her sleeve, had opened up about there not being enough roles for women of her age. Responding to a Tweet that read, ‘I love @bhumipednekar and @taapsee but I kinda wish older actors were cast in these roles. Could you imagine @Neenagupta001 and @AzmiShabana or Jaya Bachchan? #SaandKiAankh’, Neena had written, ‘Yes I was just thinking about this hamari umar ke role toe kamsekam humse kara lo bhai.’
Expressing her opinion on older actors being cast opposite younger actresses, Dia Mirza had told ETimes, “The idea of beauty is always associated with youthfulness. I think that is why there is a large interest in consuming younger faces or watching. An aberration to this would be an actress like Neena Guptaji. She literally has said it out loud more than once, ‘I am an actor. I love my job. Please cast me.’ Thankfully, some interesting filmmakers decided to cast her in lead parts that were defeating her age. But there are a lot of actresses in their middle-ages who are struggling and aren’t being cast because no stories are being written for them.”
Elaborating further, she added, “The industry is male-dominated. Older men like to be cast opposite younger women to extend their own shelf life. It is bizarre that a 50 plus something actor is acting opposite a 19-year-old actress.”
Lara once said, “You have credible actors like Kajol, Madhuri (Dixit), Rani (Mukerji), and in that matter, even me, yet when they come on screen, people pass comments like “ab buddhi lagne lagi hai” or “yaar ab moti ho gai hai,” and at the end of the day, you can’t help it. Like everyone else, even we are ageing. I feel even the audience does not allow the liberty for actors to age gracefully, but I genuinely believe that actors who have come before us are rewriting roles for us. Look at Neena Gupta, Ratna Pathak Shah, they just inspire us. They are doing incredible work.”
She added, “As an actor, I feel age has liberated me. It’s finally cut me free from people’s expectations of wanting me to fill in the glamorous roles because I am the former Miss Universe. I feel coming in my 40s is the best time for me as an actor. Now, people are looking at my capabilities and talent. The kind of roles I am playing has depth.”
“Our industry is ageist, but things are changing. There was a time when we just wanted to see beauty on screen, and we wanted to perhaps escape our lives as a culture,” said Soha Ali Khan.
She added, “Everyone had to look a certain way and be glamorous like one had to wake up with false eyelashes, lipstick. Now, people want actors to be real on screen. At least, I never had anybody ask me to put more make-up on. It’s how one can be relatable. It’s liberating but also terrifying as you are no longer hiding behind the costume, lights, and layers of make-up to cover your flaws. It’s just you and your performance now, and nothing to hide behind – it’s wonderful and I have always celebrated being real. It’s healthy, and not deceptive. We all age, in the same way, get lines, put on weight when we become old, mothers. It’s all-natural. We need to talk about these things, accept them, and not gloss over them.”
Around the time Netflix’s Call My Agent released, Soni Razdan was incredibly honest about why she wasn’t getting work for so many years. And honestly, we’re high-key disappointed in Bollywood for treating their female actors this way. She had told The Indian Express, “I’m getting work today, but for many years, I didn’t get any work for obvious reasons (hinting at age). Also, there were just too few roles available for mothers (back then). So yes, it (Bollywood) was completely skewed towards men. Men could be 40, 50, and 60 and getting really good roles but women just didn’t have those opportunities.”
(Featured Image Credits: Instagram)