A white-collared senior manager (Amol Palekar who once epitomised the urban office-goer in 1970’s films such as Chhoti Si Baat, Baaton Baaton Mein and Golmaal) rues the fact that his wife disapproved of the gift he purchased for her on Flipkart. Amol smiles only after being reassured by his obsequious junior (an expressive Namit Das) that the online company will swiftly change the gift for him if required. Amol Palekar is 72.
The last piece of chocolate is lying on the family dining table as father, mother, son and daughter eye it and debate who deserves it. The grandma (Waheeda Rehman, leading lady of classics like Pyaasa (1957), Guide (1965)) grabs the chocolate and quickly pops it into her mouth. She sees the despair on everyone’s faces and chuckles, “Pata nahin ab meri kismet mein kitne Dairy Milk chocolate likhe hain,” to justify her action. The indulgent family breaks into a laugh. Waheeda Rehman is two years shy of 80.
In a TV commercial for Surf Excel Easy Wash, a child arduously polishes the shoes his grandpa (veteran actor Ramesh Deo of Anand (1971) and Saraswatichandra (1968) fame) is to wear, but ends up soiling his own shirt. The delighted white-haired grandpa gleefully extols, “Arrey isske haathon ne toh kamal kar diya.” Grandma (Vidya Sinha, heroine of Rajnigandha (1974) and Inkaar (1977)) smiles, and, unaware that her daughter-in-law has the detergent on her side, chimes in with: “Par tumhare haathon ka kaam toh badha diya.’ Ramesh Deo is 87 years old while Vidya is 68.
A white-haired lady with a bindi (Shubha Khote, veteran comedienne), sips on a packet of Amul buttermilk, the desi refresher, while wryly rueing about the good old days when buttermilk was made by hand. However, even as she rues about it being sold in a packet, the taste grows on her and she is bewitched by her drink. Shubha Khote is 76.
In a similar vein, the kittenish hottie of Golden era Bollywood, Helen (Gumnaam (1965), Caravan (1971), Sholay (1975)) plays a cute grandma who wistfully reminisces to her grandchildren about the days when oranges were cooled in a river bed...but is soon bowled over by an instant mix, Tang orange juice. Helen is 78.
Fellow hottie from the swinging sixties, Sharmila Tagore (of countless Hindi and Bengali films) also appears in a domesticated role in Shree Tulsi advertisements in which she extols the product along with her screen and real-life daughter Soha Ali Khan. The ex sex-symbol is now 71, and the very personification of grace. And Hema Malini looks simply stunning while recommending purified water in a Kent Ro water purifier ad. The diva is now 67.
Golden girls and boys of Hindi films, despite the silver streaks in their hair, are enjoying an unprecedented and unparalleled run with advertisement filmmakers. But the veterans are not surprised. Shubha Khote says in her famously matter-of-fact tone, “These ads need old people; so they feature us. It’s fine.”
She has featured in three advertisements in the last six months and though she says, “I don’t understand some of the editing patterns in recent ads but am happy with the response they have generated.”
These actors are delighted to be given the chance to prolong their passion for acting. Vidya Sinha reasons, “An artiste can act even at the age of 90. Besides, films are coming up with roles for senior actors, just like in Hollywood.” Ramesh Deo, the octogenarian with a disarming smile, asserts, “I feel good that I am getting ads and working with youngsters.”
The income from commercials is also a welcome incentive. Besides the recognition, Ramesh candidly admits that he does the ads for the remuneration. And it’s respectable work, because Ramesh Deo says the small screen has attained an equal status with the big screen today with stars like Amitabh, Salman and Shah Rukh venturing into the arena.
Vidya says films pay much more but working in commercials and serials is enjoyable nonetheless. Shubha trills, “I take an ad when it is worth my while as a performer.” All of them say ‘yes’ when asked if they would like to do more ads. Ramesh Deo says, “Recently, I did a movie but I did not get any respect. Respect keeps fading with time, so I enjoy doing ads.”
And for the audience and their co-actors, it is still enjoyable to see them and feel the excitement of recognition and appreciation. Namit Das, the much younger co-star of Amol Palekar, says, “It was a pleasure to work with the veteran. He did so many rehearsals with me and was extremely good to me. He even recalled meeting me as the actor of Hamlet — The Clown Prince, which we performed at an annual theatre festival he held many years ago.” Namit adds that there is a lot to learn from senior actors and they add to the appeal of ads.
The desire to commune with the camera remains strong for these golden-aged artistes; and advertisements provide but just one more avenue to display their time-honoured skills.
(with inputs from Sneha Gupta)