‘Tip Tip Barsa Paani’ has been in the news mainly because it is a remake of a rather iconic song released about 30 years ago. It is the era of remakes (awful ones at that), while the song seems to be making some people’s ears bleed, others have been excited to see the new rendition of the number.
However, what was (sort of ) unexpected was when Akshay Kumar ‘reprised’ his role as the man who gets seduced while the woman is dancing in the rain. He’s only in a much better shirt right now, with a little grey in his hair (or is there?). The actress dancing to the song is different though; it’s Katrina Kaif. 30 years ago, it was Raveena Tandon. What is this, if not a blatant example of how Bollywood continues to be ageist towards female actors while older men continue to get to romance younger women and no one blinks an eye? Couldn’t the makers have featured a ‘blissfully aged’ Kumar and Tandon, again? You’ve said it here, don’t say it out loud on the internet (especially the bit where you mention Akshay Kumar ageing, since everyone from the actor to the industry seems to be in denial).
Raveena Tandon was an actress of the 90s (unlike Akshay Kumar who is well the actor of 2021 too), who probably came with a shelf life of 10-20 years, at max. And now there are other (younger) actresses who have to take up as many projects as they can before they lose them out to the younger actresses due to their age. But you see the actor has to worry about nothing as such. It’s like he hasn’t aged, but has been sculpted by makeup to look even younger so that audiences don’t get a whiff of the fact that ageing is a natural process for both men and women.
The age gap between the actors has been prominently normalised in Bollywood for as long as the industry has been alive and thriving. So much so, legendary actor Dimple Kapadia was barely 16 when she got married to Rajesh Khanna, who was 15 years her senior. Male actors continue to get away with anything, even if they are 30, or 40, or 70. They can get meaty roles, they can jump in the air and kick down the antagonist with the vigour of a 20-year- old even if they are 70. They are paired with young and upcoming actresses, and no, not in father-daughter or uncle-niece roles, but romantically. Sure, there can be an age gap between a couple but how long can you use the same actor, but constantly discriminate against the women because of the obvious age factor. When a female actor enters the industry, it is as if a clock begins to tick. After their time is up, which means their body begins to show physical signs of ageing, they are slowly cast out, while their male counterparts now dance around trees with other younger actresses.
The song has Raveen Tandon do most of the work while Akshay Kumar aimlessly stands around, just looking at her. And yet, with another popular rendition of the song featuring Akshay Kumar again, it seems to be of common knowledge that the song is more that of Akshay’s than any of the two actresses. The screen makes ageing look good, but only on male actors. How we vie for a look of some salt and pepper stubble on our favourite actors, but we can’t bear to see some grey in the locks of a female actor. She’s meant to be desirable, hot, sensual, and sexy and according to Bollywood and societal notions, age diminishes that. Which is what works in favour of the male gaze. You take Akshay Kumar and replace him with an octogenarian man, and people will still want the actress to be as youthful as a newly bloomed flower. The woman is an object, a symbol of desire and sex, and she has to look good. She can’t have greys or wrinkles, nor can she sit in one place while the man does the same that she was doing just a couple minutes ago.
The male gaze does not favour the ageing female body. Especially in songs like ‘Tip Tip Barsa Paani’, where the camera zigzags from her cleavage to her stomach to her bare shoulders, all of which are engaged in some sort of thumping or thrusting movements. She’s wrapped around something or the other, be it a pole or the man in the song. Now, would it be sensual or sexy enough if the woman in question isn’t in her 20s or 30s? This is the rhetorical question that Bollywood asks its audience, expecting a resounding ‘no!’ in return.
Another interesting phenomenon is that older actresses are usually offered roles of a mother, but male actors their age can still get leading men roles. The worst part is that they usually play mothers to their male counterparts, for example Sonali Kulkarni played Salman Khan’s mother in Bharat, but in real life, she’s 9 years younger than him. Another example is the movie Waqt, in which Shefali Shah played Akshay Kumar’s mother, while she’s 5 years younger than him in real life. There are countless films in which there is a huge age gap between the male protagonist and the female protagonist, while the actors essaying the role of the male protagonist’s mother are barely a few years older than them or usually younger than them.
Also read: Where Does Ageism And Sexism Meet In India?
This normalization of the massive age gap stems from a misogynistic outlook and unrealistic beauty standards set for women, which dictate that a female actor’s only value is her youth and when that fades, her career will automatically go on a downhill slope. A woman is seen as something added to the film for ‘glamour’, even if she’s a leading lady and has a meaty role to play. The underlying purpose is to look good and serve as eye candy.
However, there is a slow yet noticeable change in the casting of films, usually in independent films, which is yet to reach the mainstream film industry. With spaces opening up for conversation about misogyny, feminism, pay gap, and sexism in the film industry, we could just take the leap of faith and be a little more hopeful about the times to come.