The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect South Asia Scene’s editorial policy.
As with a lot of aesthetics-lead professions, Bollywood has an expiration date for women, with the best years being your 20s to 30s, mostly for models and actresses. So what does that say about how we value women’s lives, if only a snapshot of it matters?
Every few years, Bollywood employs a fresh batch of young, bright-eyed actresses to succeed some of our childhood favourites who struggle to get work after a certain age, or perhaps if they get married. The same rules don’t exist for our favourite Bollywood male stars.
I was disturbed last year to find 24-year old Alia Bhatt pairing alongside the epitome of Indian talent Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi with an astonishing 27-year gap. Now I have yet to watch this film and am assured the pair are not romantically paired but judging by the promotional songs and trailer purports to the couple being linked, even if just through the lens of a smitten Alia Bhatt.
This kind of girl-man relationship is perpetuated because of a lack of older Bollywood actresses, those that starred alongside the King Khans of today like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan. But where’s our Queen Madhuri, Kajol, Aishwarya, Rani, Karisma, Juhi, Preity?
The likes of these iconic women were pushed out by the likes of their younger counterparts Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Alia Bhatt who will eventually and unfortunately be pushed out by another batch of younger woman in a few years.
Was there a shortage of more mature, experienced actresses who could’ve done such roles justice?
Anushka Sharma was just a teenager when she debuted alongside Shah Rukh in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Deepika Padukone was 21-years-old when she also starred with the Bollywood Giant in Om Shanti Om, but was there a shortage of more mature, experienced actresses who could’ve done such roles justice?
Needless to say though, these young actresses harbour a great deal of talent and deserve the success thrown their way, however, not in a way that substitutes iconic figures that they themselves have grown up watching.
Perhaps an age gap was integral to the storyline of such movies, but this kind of gap is evident far too much to justify it. The age gap is merely a result of the expiry tag attached to actresses who are offered less and less roles the older they get or if they choose to get married and have children. So the younger, ‘fresh-faced’ actresses are left with heroes who they, again, have grown up watching who have not been given the same expiry date as their female counterparts.
However, it hasn’t been the same for male actors. Instead of replacing the veteran giants of Bollywood, younger male actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Imran Khan, Arjun Kapoor have been able to share the screen space. Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan still play protagonist roles as much, if not more, than their younger counterparts.
The problem with such attitudes is that it makes women dispensable, churning out a new batch every time one gets old, and that’s not okay. With time, everything gets better, certainly for actresses who’ve slaved away their youth to the Bollywood industry. They now deserve to enjoy more fruits of their labour that are offered to the male actors of their time who still roam the silver screen.
Women are not dispensable, not in Bollywood, Hollywood, and certainly not in real life.
Cover Photo Credits: Bollywood Hungama
Faima Baker is a young journalist who is constantly amused and bemused by social injustices which are often the themes explored in her articles, from issues like inter-sectional feminism, to race, religion, and travel. A proud Bangladeshi and occasional Manchester United fan.