Men Never Age, Only Women Do – The Shelf-Life Of Actresses In Bollywood

In Bollywood, women come with a 'shelf-life' after which they are 'suited' only for certain roles. Why do we still have such ageist beliefs?

In Bollywood, women come with a ‘shelf-life’ after which they are ‘suited’ only for certain roles. Why do we still have such ageist beliefs?

In the patriarchal society where we sadly reside today, the discourse of growing older takes an uncomfortable turn when it comes to women. The anti-ageing cream ads that often comes on television show a fair young woman smiling through perfectly aligned teeth. She is recommending the anti-ageing cream to shed years off your age that has somewhat darker shades beneath it. 

Why are we, as an educated society, trying to instil fear in women by repetitively making them conscious of their age and wrinkling skin? Isn’t it instigating the notion that aged women are less relevant and deserve less when it comes to professional and personal domains?

A woman is made to feel less worthy if she doesn’t conform to the beauty standards set by society. You need to be fair-skinned, slim, tall and, yes, have glowing skin above all.

Why are we trying to tell women how to look?

If you are 54, you need to turn up at a party like you are 24. Otherwise, chances are you may be exempted from all the spicy conversations. This is the harsh reality, and we are all complicit.

All the anti-ageing cream ads have one common notion that they virtually try to assert in an attempt to sell their products and heap in some shillings. The notion that you will be excluded from all spheres and conversations if you have wrinkles showing up on your face. And yes, people are going to look up to you as an elderly, aged woman of the house.

Like seriously? Where are our values as a civilised society? Are we trying to make money by inciting doubt and uncertainty in people’s minds?

The sidelining of women as they grow in age, from various discussions and circles is structured. One need not say it or make it happen. It occurs on its own because of the cultural mindset of our society as a whole.

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Bollywood is no exception to this

Not so surprisingly, Bollywood is no exception to this vicious circle of undermining women’s value as they fade in age or look undertone. 

Despite the many blockbusters, an actress may have in her bucket, she will still be judged on the texture of her skin or her age. The age, which is merely a number to be written on official documents. 

What I intend to do here is to examine the shelf-lives of women in Bollywood and call out their double standards. We are all witnesses to it. 

Let’s plunge into Bollywood’s powerful trinity of Khans – they have all officially reached their Fabulous Fifties. Aamir Khan is 55, Shah Rukh Khan 54 and Salman Khan 54.

Their determination to rule the box office despite their age and the energy they exude in their films is something we all ought to applaud. Undoubtedly, we all appreciate their performances and their ability to captivate the audience each time. 

Age doesn’t matter for men but it does for women?

However, the last time SRK shared the screen with a heroine his age was opposite Madhuri Dixit, now 53, in Devdas and Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam. Keep in mind, Madhuri’s last romantic lead in a movie was Naseeruddin Shah – 20 years her senior!

This 20 year age gap works pretty appropriately on the silver screen. However, the same would stir the media and cause the public to lose their mind if it happened in real life.

If you were to take a look at the movies both Madhuri Dixit and Rani Mukherjee have done, you will see a glaring reality. Until they hit a certain age benchmark, they are cast opposite men who are the same age as them or are younger. However, after a certain age, they are considered only to play the roles of mothers and other characters to men who are older than them.

Visualise this scenario for a moment. Now think of Tabu, who is 49 and was recently paired with Ishan Khattar, 24, in the movie ‘The Suitable Boy.’ Surprised? Well, the age gap between them is still lesser than the age gap I mentioned earlier.

It’s time we brought about a positive change

How would the public feel if a movie were announced where Madhuri Dixit was romancing Siddhart Malhotra? Do you think they would digest it as easily as they did with Salman Khan romancing Saiee Manjerekar in Dabbang 3? She was 20 when the movie released while he was 52! 

In Bollywood, women often do not get roles in movies, despite their brilliant acting skills. Let’s go back in time to when Soni Razdan and Neena Gupta had raised the questions of younger actresses playing the roles of older women in movies. Their point was justified. These are the only roles that often come their way and if these too are snatched from them, what are they supposed to do?

 Bollywood is constantly progressing and delivering good quality content, but these are certainly not issues that can be eye-washed repetitively. Issues like the age gap and beauty standards need to be addressed soon to curb the problem and bring about a positive change.

Picture credits: Stills from Bollywood movies Happy New Year and Dil Toh Pagal Hai


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I am Iman Shakeel - an impulsive writer and a voracious reader who fuels her daily grind with coffee, books and discourse. I love blogging, exploring new places and meeting new people. read more...

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