So what is common between Bharat, Inshallah, De De Pyaar De and Hera Pheri 3? Simple: It is superstars playing their ages!
Gone are the times when a young actor would—very occasionally—dab his hair, moustaches and eyebrows gray, optionally add wrinkles and play their own fathers in a double role, of which there are so many examples, especially featuring Jeetendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra. A bit later, Rajesh Khanna and Shashi Kapoor were among the superstars who daringly played single roles older than their ages in an Avtaar and Sindoor respectively.
Sanjeev Kumar, never exactly a superstar, was bold and bindaas (fearless) enough to essay ‘old’ roles all the way from Parichay (1972), the same year that he made it really big commercially as a hero with Seeta Aur Geeta. After that, he regularly streaked himself gray, and his memorable ‘old’ turns included Koshish, Aandhi, Sholay, Mausam and Trishul.
But as a rule, the big names stole away from being older than their ages on screen. The converse was, in fact, true, so much so that a Shekhar Suman, who started his career in 1985, laughing recalls playing Manoj Kumar’s elder brother in the 1989 Clerk!
Obviously, one way of remaining (or at least trying to) youthful on screen was also working with younger and even the youngest new heroines, which superstars of all generations have done (including some big-name heroines who commanded openings for their films in the 1950s to ‘70s, who worked with young heroes!). And so, even today, we have a Salman Khan romancing Disha Patani in Bharat, when he is shown playing a much-younger role (with the aid of VFX!), an Ajay Devgn cast opposite Parineeti Chopra (Golmaal Again), or an Akshay Kumar shown as Radhika Apte’s husband (Pad-Man).
A practical step?
GenY star Varun Dhawan declares that the Clerk kind of scenario whereby older actors were accepted as college students even at 40-plus is now passé, thanks to global exposure to cinema. The general trend of movie-making and choices of subjects and scripts has now shown a marked tendency towards a more ‘real’ ambience in Hindi films. Audiences can now gladly accept an Aamir Khan, in his 51st year, as a father of young girls in Dangal and make it one of the highest-grossing films. And he was the sole hero of the film.
But then, an Aamir Khan is not very particular about image, though unlike Sanjeev Kumar, he shrewdly balances his films to maintain both stardom and credibility. Recall how convincing he was, physically as well, when he essayed a college student at 44 in 3 Idiots?
But today, all the three Khans, already beleaguered by massive underperformers in 2018 (Race 3, Thugs Of Hindostan, Zero) intend to remain relevant, and with trends going that way, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, who are just a few years younger, are wising up quicker than them.
Akshay had no qualms about being seen principally as an aged scientist in 2.0, even as the much-older Rajinikanth remains ‘young’! And Hera Pheri 3 will see not just Akshay but even Suniel Shetty play closer to their real ages as the story will see a time-leap for the iconic protagonists Raju and Shyam—the last film in that franchise, Phir Hera Pheri, came in 2006.
Salman Khan’s role traverses from young to old (70 years!) in Bharat, and he will therefore also be playing his real age—and more. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Inshallah, Salman essays a 40-plus businessman in a love story with Alia Bhatt playing her age. Ajay Devgn’s May 17 release, De De Pyaar De, sees him as a 50 year-old divorced man in love with a girl as young as his daughter. While Inshallah is an intense romance, the other film is a romantic comedy.
Why ‘aging’ on-screen may be wise
This sudden spurt in so many cases of heroes playing their ages—can it be a coincidence? Or is it because trends have moved towards a realistic kind of cinema whereby the audience may not accept older names, especially the reigning superstars, in roles that will more credibly be essayed by anyone from a Ranveer Singh to a Sushant Singh Rajput?
Trade analyst Vinod Mirani feels that this indeed is the case today. “If today’s audience feels cheated that this was a Varun Dhawan role and film and not suitable for, says Shah Rukh Khan or Ajay Devgn who are actually doing it, then the film will be in trouble,” he says. “It is better to play your age. You can also be in the field for longer. Though Aamir has done a Secret Superstar and Thugs Of Hindostan after Dangal.”
Amod Mehra feels differently. “Today, everything in cinema has changed. We no longer have a hero, heroine, comedian, villain and vamp. Everyone is playing a character, and you can be protagonist or antagonist. If a top star gets a great role that is his age, even if gray, he is going to grab it. After all, he is also doing other films, where he may not be playing his real age.”
Filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari, who directed Aamir Khan in Dangal, agrees that the trend towards realism is there, but he feels that an actor likes a script and does it, whatever his character’s age, as long as he is convinced about his role and so is the maker. He concedes that the survival game might be a part of the thought-process, but also points out that these actors are doing a variety of roles anyway.
The game seems increasingly about adapting to fresh scripts in new-age mainstream cinema rather than about being fifty-plus superstars who can add years to their careers.