Richa Chadha took on many different roles, even playing a mom at a young age. However, she's been vocal about the industry's tendency to confine young actors to specific, 'disservice' roles. Moreover, she's highlighted the 'unfairness' experienced by older artists who face severe scarcity of job opportunities.
In a recent interview with ABPLive, Richa Chadha shared an incident where she was offered the role of Hrithik Roshan's mother in Agneepath, despite being younger than him. She spoke up about the unfairness faced by older actors who struggle to find work. Chadha expressed her frustration, saying, "Yes, because I was 21 years old. But someone had told him that I play the role of older women nicely. So, without thinking, he just offered me the role.”
Later, another talented actor played the role, which made Chadha feel it was wrong to take young and attractive actors and make them look older. She emphasised, "Not only are you doing a disservice to a young actor, but you are also taking away an older actor's part which is already shrinking."
In the current entertainment landscape, even with more movies being made and female-centric narratives rising, there are still very few important roles for women in big films. Moreover, every passing day, we hear the casting of young female actors with older male actors; older actors keep asking for better roles, and younger ones ask for more meaningful characters, not just to be there for looks or as someone's love interest in films.
While it's no surprise, ageism in the Indian film industry often narrows down the opportunities or the types of roles female actors can play as they progress. This, in turn, not only makes them shift their career but also discourages these actors from aiming for a fulfilling, long-term career in Bollywood.
In various movies, there have been instances of significant age differences between actors playing certain roles. For example, Ananya Panday paired with Ayushmann Khurana despite a 14-year age gap in Dream Girl 2, while Seema Biswas, aged 57, portrayed Akshay Kumar's mother, who is only three years older than him, in Bachchhan Paandey. Similarly, Shah Rukh Khan, at 56, portrayed the son of Sheeba Chaddha, who is 50, in Zero.
Critiques of Age-Inappropriate Casting
Not only that, in Sand Ki Aankh, Tapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar played the roles of 60-year-old shooters, roles that should typically go to experienced actors. Commenting on which, veteran actor Neena Gupta had said, "Hamari umar ke role toh Kam se Kam humse kara lo bhai (At the very least, give us the opportunity to portray characters from our age)."
Moreover, Gupta has consistently urged directors and producers to consider her for more meaningful characters in roles that suited her age, which resulted in her landing such roles. Inspired by her example, other actors like Hema Malini, and Waheeda Rehman have also raised their voices, demanding substantial and meaningful roles in the industry. Malini expressing her interest in returning to the silver screen, said, "I would like to do it (films). If I get some nice roles, sure, definitely, why not? I would like all the producers to come forward and sign me. I am there."
Meanwhile, Ratna Pathak Shah, who also admitted the scarcity of senior female actors in the Indian film industry and discouraged her from considering acting as a long-term profession, recently called out the trend of old actors romancing young female actors. Shah commented What can I say when they do not feel ashamed of romancing women their daughters' age? What can I say if they are not ashamed of doing it? It is an embarrassment."
Not only Chadha, Shah, or Malini, but the prevalent issue of age bias in the film industry has drawn attention from several actors who call for a more balanced and respectful approach to casting. Numerous actors, including Zeenat Aman, Shabana Azmi, and Sharmila Tagore, have secured film projects owing to this momentum. As this ongoing debate gains momentum, our hope rests on witnessing a positive shift in the industry's casting practices.
Views expressed by the author are their own