The big Hindi film release this week is Thank You starring Akshay Kumar as a detective falling for a married woman played by Sonam Kapoor. No one seems perturbed by the fact that Sonam is Akshay’s junior by almost two decades! Not surprising in a country where one of the biggest Hindi film hits to date starred a then 44-year-old, a 39-year-old and a 30-year-old, all playing college kids.
Age, it sometimes seems, is irrelevant in the careers of Bollywood heroes. Akshay is a fine example. At 43, he maintains himself superbly. He doesn’t look Botoxed or stretched either. But human beings who age well still do age, and Akshay does himself a disservice by repeatedly romancing women on screen who are young enough to be his daughters off screen. Bollywood’s other male megastars (almost all in their 40s) seem no different. Akshay-Aishwarya and SRK-Kajol are exceptions. The norm is epitomised by Sonakshi Sinha playing the wife of her real-life “Salman Uncle”. If a foreigner were to gauge Indian society by Hindi films, s/he might assume that the average age difference between couples here is 20 years!
Bollywood heroes may point out they’re an improvement on their southern counterparts. In his last film, 60-year-old Tamil film legend Rajinikanth starred opposite a heroine young enough to be his child (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, 37). His next co-star might be Deepika Padukone who is 25 or thereabouts, which is how much his grandchild could have been if he’d married at the legally permissible age. In contrast, it’s been a decade since Amitabh Bachchan stopped courting much-younger heroines, except where a chasm is crucial to the storyline.
I remember asking Kamal Haasan about this. He explained that the problem is two-fold: south Indian audiences want “fresh faces” as heroines, and established actresses usually quit when they marry. It’s true that most female stars retire, post-marriage. They’re also battling sexist audiences who see beauty in wrinkles on a man, but scrutinise the finest lines on a woman’s face. But let’s not pretend that Indian heroes are blameless. I’ve had enough conversations with filmmakers to know that most top male stars insist on being cast with so-called “fresh faces” (yes, women are vegetables!) since they believe a girl-like heroine makes her hero look young.
False, of course. Don’t get me wrong, age is beautiful when worn well. But gentlemen, age-defying procedures have side effects: Botox can freeze your smile, and acting with a “fresh face” actually emphasises your advanced years. Please grow up!
The writer is on Twitter as @annavetticad