Ageist propaganda of Bollywood has been around for decades. Bollywood has been the breeding ground for stereotypes and how. Age-old sexism and patriarchy seep in in countless movies, the wrongful portrayal of women, objectification for the male gaze, the demeaning portrayal of the LGBTQ community, unequal pay, so on and so forth. Akshay Kumar’s film Bachchhan Pandey is in the news, and not for the right reasons.
Bachchhan Pandey which was released only a few days ago has been in the news, for its outrageous casting. Seema Biswas, the phenomenal actor with various movies to her credit, including the portrayal of the fierce Phoolan Devi in the Bandit Queen, only 57 years old, plays the role of Akshay Kumar’s (54) mother, with an age gap of just three years, while he romances a 27-year-old heroine.
Seema Biswas plays mother in Bachchhan Pandey:
This is an atrocious transgression, to say the least. For centuries women have been sidelined based on their age, colour, marital status, and whatnot. Why this differing law for women? Why are women not seen in the industry based on their talent, their acting prowess, and just merely looked down as the supporting cast for the hero? Biswas has not said anything about her choice of the role yet.
Will ageism in Bollywood ever stop?
Seema Biswas playing Akshay Kumar’s mother, with limited screen time, enough to miss her in the movie, has opened the gates into every other time Bollywood ageist stereotypes. If it is not enough that a female actor of her stature is reduced to playing a supporting role there is hardly any age difference between the mother and the son.
Here are some other instances when casting in Bollywood films has been particularly ageist.
- In the peak of Amitabh Bacchan’s career, Rakhee who had played alongside the actor in multiple films (Kabhi Kabhi, Bemisaal), played the role of his mother in Shakti at 35 years when he was all of 40.
- The same goes for the renowned actor Waheeda Rahman. The minute the actor turned 40, playing mother to the actors she’d previously been paired with was the only choice she was left with. While in Adalat (1976) she played Amitabh Bachchan’s love interest and played his mother in ‘Trishul’ (1978).
- Celebrated actors Sharmila Tagore, Nargis, and others have fallen prey to the stereotypes as well, playing the mothers of actors they’ve romanced on-screen, like Amitabh Bachchan in Desh Premee, and Sunil Dutt in Mother India, respectively.
- Shefali Shah recently opened up about how Bollywood reeks of ageism and how it affected her career. In an interview she stated- “Filmmakers took forever! I was almost on retirement. I played age very early. I played Akshay Kumar’s mother when I was around 28. I got Hasratein when I was 20 and played a 30-35-year-old in it.” While explaining why she passed on projects, Shefali opined, “After a point, I decided if I’m not getting the work that drives me crazy, I will sit at home. I reached this peace that such kind of work won’t come every day. And the few films I did raise that bar. I’ve said no to work even if it meant sitting at home for two years, not doing anything.”
- Sheeba Chaddha who played Shah Rukh Khan’s mother in Zero was 46 years old while Khan was 53.
- In Salman Khan’s film Bharat actor Sonali Kulkarni played mother to 53-year-old Salman while she herself was 44. However, Kulkarni defended her choice by saying, “My roles are my choice. I have to stand by my choice proudly, which I do”.
Old is Gold only applies to the men in Bollywood, and evidently not for the women, no matter how talented they are.
However, women are not even rightfully cast according to their age. Calling out the ageist propaganda of Bollywood, in the movie Sand Ki Aankh, where Tapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar played the role of 60 years old Shooter Dadi. Neena Gupta reacted, “Hamari umar ke role toe Kam se Kam humse kara lo bhai”. At least let us play the characters of our age.
Age-old stereotypes of Bollywood are now being questioned time and again, but it seems like Bollywood still keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. However, the question remains the same, Till when will Bollywood sell this ageist narrative and remain blinded towards women’s talent and their well-deserved rightful portrayal?
Suggested Reading: How Long Will Bollywood Sell Ageism And Double Standards Onscreen?
We request you to support our award-winning journalism by making a financial contribution towards our efforts. Your funds will ensure we can continue to bring you amazing stories of women, and the impact they are making and spotlight half the country's population because they deserve it.