Are We Slowly Using Comeback As A Gender-Neutral Call For Actors?

comeback as a gender-neutral call for actors, Pathaan teaser
In Indian cinema, for some reason, the word ‘comeback’ is often uttered with a grimace, with a silent judgemental sneer. “Ohhh a comeback! That’s… nice,” I have heard reporters slyly talking about it at press conferences, all tight-lipped and quickly making the math of how many years and why the sudden hiatus-end of the said ‘comeback’ star.

This is why we watch the trailers of movies touted to be comebacks for big stars with much dread, hoping that our favourites haven’t done something horrifying to embarrass us. Recently, the highly-anticipated trailer of Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan was released. Touted as a high-octane action movie and produced under the banner of Yash Raj Films, the film is a new addition to the production house’s spy thrillers. However, aside from all the hullabaloo of its controversies, Pathaan is also highly-anticipated as Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘comeback’ film.

The actor, who was last seen in Zero in 2018, is all set to return to the silver screen after four years. Directed by Anand L Rai, the film saw him play a dwarf, who takes a journey to Mars to prove his love. The film’s poor box office collection, which came on the heels of consecutive failures, forced Khan to take a sabbatical.

 Are we heading towards change by making comeback as a gender-neutral call for actors?

The meaning of the word comeback has slowly evolved over time. Originally the word was exclusively used for female actors who would return to the silver screen after a long period of time. On many occasions, it would be that the actors have taken a break from acting for their family, marriage or pregnancy. The unsaid notion in the film industry is female actors are often told that they have few years to become successful and in turn face many disadvantages in comparison to their male colleagues. However, over the years Bollywood has witnessed some stunning comebacks from female stars, indicating that the industry is steadily progressing toward a more gender-neutral future.

Karisma Kapoor, who once ruled the 90s, with films like Dil To Pagal Hai, Raja Hindustani, Hero No.1 and Biwi No.1, took a break from the industry after her wedding in 2003. However, after a maternity break, she returned to the screen in 2012 with Vikram Bhatt’s dud Dangerous Ishq but not before making a remark on the term ‘comeback’.

In a 2011 interview with Indo-Asian News Service, the actress cringed at the mention of the word and said it needs to be abolished.

“Pardon me, there’s no comeback…What is the meaning of comeback? Do you have kids?” Karisma asked the IANS correspondent.

“If you had kids, and joined back journalism after having your baby, would you call it a comeback? No, right? Similarly for an actress…I’d just like to say that we are just like any other woman out there. We are as ordinary, as normal as everyone. We can go on maternity leave, take a sabbatical, and come back to work. There is no comeback! This term should be abolished!” she added. The film failed to perform well at the box office and was declared a flop. She was last seen in ALTBalaji’s web series Mentalhood.

The most stunning comeback that comes to my mind is of Sridevi’s heartwarmingly glorious performance in English Vinglish, in which she not only played her age but also essayed a tired but tenacious mom role with amazing alacrity. It’s tremendous that we’ve reached a time where older actresses can find opportunities like these, to step out of their comfort zones, try something new and still come out on top (for instance: Neena Gupta in Badhaai Ho). These ladies and many like them have forever changed the definition of the word.

Hence, it is endearing to hear the term now being used so extensively and that too with the biggest male superstar of our country. Four years later, Khan seems to have rebooted himself. This time, though, he’s neither spreading his arms wide nor serenading his heroines in hills, but instead, Khan dons an action star avatar, beating up thugs on a high-speed train. This is truly a comeback we all are waiting for.

Suggested Reading: Women Actors Over 40 Who Made A Compelling Comeback To Our Screens With OTT

Views expressed by the author are their own.