Acting their age

Debarati Palit Singh
Friday, 3 May 2019

Top Bollywood actors today have no qualms about playing their age on screen. ST looks at the changing trend

Till a few years ago, it was hard to imagine Bollywood mainstream heroes playing their age on screen. Our 40-something actors passed off as 20 something college-going youngsters. And the audiences clapped and whistled while watching them on screen.  

However now, the biggest stars of Bollywood — Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, who are in their late 40s or early 50s, are playing characters close to their actual age. For instance, Salman will be playing an older character in Ali Abbas Zafar’s Bharat. Ajay will be playing a 50-year-old man in love with a 26-year-old girl in Akiv Ali’s De De Pyar De. This is not the first time that Ajay is playing such a character; he played a middle-aged man with a teenaged daughter in Drishyam. Aamir played father to grown-up girls in Dangal, Shah Rukh played a father’s role in Raees and Fan, Saif played a middle-aged man in Chef. Interestingly, these actors look comfortable playing their age.   

Our favourite stars continued to play young guys because the general notion is that audiences will not accept heroes who have salt and pepper hair and beard or a big belly. Indian viewers want their heroes to dance, fight and romance on screen. But makers cannot fool the audience anymore as their choices are changing. They no longer have qualms about watching their heroes playing more mature roles and taking up life’s responsibilities. 

In fact, Salman, who went Twitter live with his director Ali and co-star Katrina Kaif on Friday for their fans, said that he found it hard to play a younger role in Bharat as he has crossed a certain age in his real life.

“There’s no problem in that,” says movie buff Sumit Sahu adding, “If the story justifies Shah Rukh Khan or any of our top actors to play a father or a little elderly character, I don’t mind watching them on screen. The character has to be special. Look at Dhrishyam, Ajay Devgn played father to two daughters but his character was so strong — he  would go to any length to protect his family. I loved his character. We do realise that they are no longer in their 20s.” 

Real stories and real characters have taken over narratives. We can no longer pass off a 50-year-old as a 20 something. We have to justify to the audience why a middle-aged hero is playing a much younger character. 

Siddharth Anand Kumar, VP, Films and Television, Yoodlee Films, says that the trend is changing because today everyone has a voice on social media. “Since everyone has a voice, it’s become harder to fool people. You have to take them (audience) along with you. So the high-handed approach has reduced and honesty has come in. They (makers) are trying to win over the audience by the force of truth. And it’s not that we don’t have the technology to make older actors look young. We do but still they are playing their age,” he says.   

Director Kabir Sadanand, known for the film Fugly, says, “It’s more about the content which has changed over the years. Talking about this particular trend, the man who has made it fashionable to play his age on screen is Amitabh Bachchan. He started playing elderly characters, which were loved by the audience, and then other actors followed.”

Kabir believes that the audience is going to see characters more than heroes. That’s the reason why films, having strong characters and not necessarily starring top actors,  have done wonders at the box office like Ayushamann Khuranna’s Andhadhun, Vicky Kaushal’s Uri, Ranveer Singh-Alia Bhatt’s Gully Boy and others. 

Kabir adds, “The extraordinary personalities make them more likable on screen. People want to watch content which is far more real so the definition of heroism has changed.” 

But industry experts believe that we will still have films where our heroes will play young characters with a macho image but we need better content to back such stories.

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