They are not my heroes. Is it because in our cinema, and in the larger world we inhabit in India, women @ 50 are perceived to be more aged and older than men @ 50? Our movies continue to ride on the age of the hero, and a heroine is supposed to be the younger counterpart.
To confine my talk to Bollywood, it appears that our in-denial, Hindi cinema plays the sexist game clumsily and in-your-face. Hollywood has been scripting women @ 50 as protagonists and still their great female talent pool raise the issue of discrimination from the biggest forums.
Our Heroes @ 50-brand strategise to hunt out half their age female actors to boost their macho-romantic stardom. Would this be a false accusation? It could simply be that our cinema has lost 'her' character (as in roles)? Anyway, that is a debate for another occasion.
Here is wishing the trio of Aamir Khan-Salman Khan-Shah Rukh Khan a happy birthday year and many years of health. To continue to play the HERO @ 50 cannot be brushed away by my cynical broom. Though I must confess that at the cusp of 53 I find my cine-passion least mindful or interested in the fifty year biological age celebration of the continuing Khan superstardom.
What has their age added to our lives? The trio of A.S.S (please do not overlook the punctuation between the alphabets) enjoy a stardom @ 50 that is still rocking the box office and obviously by inference the film industry at large. @ 50 they are playing protagonists younger than their calendar/certificate age. Aamir — PK (2014), Salman Khan — Jai Ho (2014), Big Boss 8 (2014), SRK—Happy New Year (2014).
The roles are not aging. This herogiri-stardom is now approximately 27 years old. Not a short achievement to record! Willy-nilly our popular cinema is very flexible and generous to the male age. On the hero rides the business. The film business module, globalisation, television, the internet and digital age spreads it internationally as soon as it goes national.
The recent years have seen Aamir Khan-Salman Khan-Shah Rukh Khan also attempt genres of roles beyond the confines of post 1980s cinema's rooted stereotype. @ 50 their stardom is still a click or clicks away from getting dated. So, why do I still resist calling them the 'Trinity!' 'Tridev!'? The problem is mine and mine alone.
Me, the passionate cry-to-be-taken-to-the-movies-baby of the 1960s, 1970s was self-taught & environmentally guided to consider only Raj-Dilip-Dev as the grand cine-trinity this side of our film-globe. They were the biggest reference for our times. Then came Rajesh Khanna's meteoric superstardom that right in front of my eyes swept the high schools and colleges of moffasil India and city India.
And then stealthily, broodingly, walked in the silent 6' 2" footer Parwana(1971), Saudagar(1973) to ignite, combust, my film screens at Muzaffarpur in Bihar with his Abhimaan, his Anand, his Milli. He was twenty-seven when Saat Hindustani(1969) released, twenty-nine when Parwana hit and thirty- one when Zanjeer (1973) made him VIJAY.
In the 1970s, 1980s all his characters had the maturity of a man. He was never a boy even when he played the playboy. So whose 50 will play out longer? When time's trolley will pull right back and time's lens and filter would have stopped shooting them we would know the comparison.
In the present there is no disputing that today film age is just a state of mind. Aamir, Salman, SRK are acting in the times wherein 30 is the new 20, 40 the new 30, 50 the new 40…we are all behaving younger than what we are. Raj Kapoor @ 50 in 1974 looked what he looked in Dharam Karam (1975). Dilip Kumar @ his 50 looked what he looked in Dastaan (in 1972). Dev Anand @ his 50 looked what he looked in Banarasi Babu (1973).
@ 50 Aamir-Salman-SRK trio appear to take a great deal of gym-diet-led appearance care. Their films are younger. Their herogiri continues. Aamir is the one who plays different roles with a different approach and makes a box-office killing. Interestingly, while the actor Raj Kapoor had aged in girth and health, never seeming to care to forcefully retain his heroic-stardom, the producer-director Raj Kapoor @ 49 in 1973, gave the biggest teenage-hit — Bobby. Dilip Kumar's stardom @ 50 did physically look 50 and he still played the central role: Dastaan (1972), triple role in Bairaag (1976).
However, the box-office hold had started to slip and a grateful industry and cine-India now bequeathed him the title of the 'Thespian'. What is noteworthy in assessment is that even then Dilip Kumar's hold was tight enough to allow his age to dictate the matured narratives. He definitely looked 50 and once beyond 50 he transitioned to playing central character roles that worked around his age.
Dev Anand @ 50 was Banarasi Babu (1973), Chhupa Rustam (1973), Heera Panna (1973) and played them with a panache that only Dev Anand could punch. He was still romancing heroines younger to him: Rakhee, Yogita Bali, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman. The youngest Tina Munim was waiting to be discovered. Dev Anand, more than his two other trio-partners was most judicious and a professional planner towards sustaining his stardom. He created his own opportunities. That was the only way to push back his age. A much younger heroine opposite him was the great trick employed to arrest age and the audience. At the box-office it most certainly worked in Des Pardes (1978) and more or less till Lotmaar (1980). Does only appearance make-up stardom? With the giant strides in computer graphics, visual effects, prosthetics....is real age no longer a worry?
Ten years hence (when Aamir-Salman-SRK are 60 and me 63) will our female actors @ 50 get to play the lead with younger heroes just to push their stardom? Will real age ever become redundant for Indian heroines? Will they be still chasing 'equal age-rights for women actors!'?
A flashback sign-off: Raja Harishchandra (1913) had the female roles being played by male actors, pioneer Devika Rani came to drive Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar's stardom and Durga Khote gave a great thrust to the participation of women in Indian cinema.
This web-exclusive Opinion does not appear in print magazine.