Selective Ageism In Bollywood: Why Must Women Hide Their Age On Screen?

Selective Ageism On Silver Screens
Selective ageism on silver screens is palpable in the way we treat older men and women actors. When we look at heroes with a touch of grey in their beards, we applaud them for sporting the salt and pepper look. But when we see female actors with wrinkles onscreen, we shame them for ageing. Is it not hypocritical of us? Why are male actors free to embrace their growing age but female actors are not?

In many recent releases, men have flaunted their salt and pepper look. For instance, actor Akshay Kumar was seen sporting a grey beard in Bachchhan Pandey, Sooryavanshi, Airlift and many other movies. Actor Vijay also appeared in grey beard in his latest film Beast. Even Milind Soman has pulled off a salt and pepper look in his recent appearances and we hailed him.

How many women have we seen embracing their age on-screen? Why can we not see a female protagonist sport her grey hair and not be shamed for ageing?

Selective Ageism On Silver Screens

In stark contrast, we are seeing older actors being replaced with young actors and court men double their age on-screen. A recent example is the remake of the iconic 90s song Tip Tip Barsa Paani which was featured in the movie Sooryavanshi. The song which originally featured in Mohra was picturised on Raveena Tandon and Akshay Kumar; while the latter was retained in the remake, Tandon was replaced with Katrina Kaif.

I cannot comment whether Tandon was disturbed or not, but I definitely was. The fact that the Hindi cinema industry does not give older women to act in leading roles and instead casts young women to star opposite men much older seems unfair. The major reason behind this is our film industry’s obsession with a purported ideal of beauty.

The conditioning is deeply etched that the audience rejects films starring older women in leading roles. With the advent of cinemas with women-centric films, it may seem like things are changing.

Suggested Reading: How Ageism Rejects The Natural Course Of Our Bodies And Lives

For instance Raveena Tandon’s appearance as lead in the series Aranyak as a daunting cop; her stint in the film Matr or late actor Sridevi’s comeback film English Vinglish in which she played the lead role, hint at a small shift. Even actor Jyothika in a recent interview admitted that she is not averse to playing characters older than she is on-screen.

Speaking about the same, actor Jyothika, 43-year-old and mother of two who plays versatile roles on silver screens, told SheThePeople, “I am breaking the ice by showing my work. In some films, I play characters older than myself. My kids are around 12 and 13 and I play mother to a 27-year-old. So I find beauty in that maturity. Everyone is trying to play a character younger than themselves…So why can’t a woman play roles older than her?”

But it has not even created a dent in the bigger issue of ageism that plagues the film industry. Neither the audience nor the film industry is cognizant that they are indirectly body-shaming the older women by reducing their careers on silver screens as they age? By not accepting older women as lead female actors on the silver screen, the film fraternity certifies the fact that a woman’s relevance is based on how she looks and not on her talent.

Older women relatively are absent from the silver screen or only appear in roles as mothers of the actors they once romanced or are older than them in real life. For example, Seema Biswas, who is just three years older than Akshay Kumar and she played the role of his mother in Bachchhan Pandey.

Moreover, if at all older women are portrayed on the silver screens in lead roles, their age is hidden with make-up. They are shown to be younger which is unsettling because we are disabling them from flaunting their age.

Why must a woman hide her age? Why aren’t they able to own up to their age and the changing body features? But can we really blame them? Just because society is clouded by selective ageism should older women stop pursuing their passion?

It is high time we unlearn our conditioning and accept that it is okay for older women to embrace their age on-screen as it is for men. They have equal freedom to flaunt their marks of ageing on screen and appear in lead roles like their colleagues. Let’s get rid of our ageism and the unjust practice of making women selective subjects of it. Older actors—men and women—should receive adequate opportunities to appear as leads on screen.

Views expressed are the author’s own.