For the longest time, the Hindi film industry has been quick to either typecast female actors over a certain age or to disregard them completely, even when male actors continue to play college-going kids well in their 50s. Worse still is when female characters over a certain age are overtly sexualized, without any real depth, thereby pressurizing older female actors to look a certain way.
But, finally, there has been a change in the way characters are being written, and we have female actors play diverse characters, that are closer to their real age but a far cry from the stereotypical roles written for older women:
1. Sushmita Sen in Aarya
Sushmita Sen made her “comeback” to the world of cinema at the age of 44, and she did that by playing a 40+ single mother. Not only was Aarya a well-developed and rare female character in the wide pool of stereotypical female leads, but it was also a well-portrayed one, because of on-point casting.
2. Pooja Bhatt in Bombay Begums
At 49, Pooja Bhatt made her web series debut playing a 49-year-old CEO of a bank, who is battling with the onset of menopause, corporate sexism, and past traumas. For fans who’d grown up watching Bhatt nail the girl-next-door look, it was truly fascinating to see her nail a character like Rani. Then again, she has always been the ‘queen’ of flawless performances.
3. Neena Gupta in Badhaai Ho
There’s nothing wrong with playing a mother on-screen. But watching only one kind of mother on-screen can get tiresome, no matter how talented the actor may be. That’s why Amit Sharma’s story of a mother who gets pregnant in her late 50s was a pleasant surprise. And Neena Gupta, who herself was in her late 50s at the time, absolutely nailed the role.
4. Dimple Kapadia in Tandav
While a talented actor can make even the most poorly written character come alive on screen, it’s unfair to relegate senior female actors to stock characters of mothers and grandmothers. This is why seeing 63-year-old Dimple Kapadia play a determined, crafty politician in her 60s, felt like a much-needed breath of fresh air.
5. Madhuri Dixit in Aaja Nachle
At 40, when Madhuri Dixit returned to the silver screen, she chose a dance-drama rather than the kind of typical ‘female-led’ sagas older actors are usually cast in. After all, single mothers in their late 30s or early 40s don’t just have to be tired, embittered souls. They can be vivacious, happy souls, willing to dance their way through life’s troubles and even give love a chance.
6. Juhi Chawla in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
Ek ladki… didn’t just break the norm when it came to love stories. It also introduced a rare character to the mainstream cinema – a happily single divorcee in her late 40s. 52-year-old Juhi played Chatro ji with her impeccable comic timing and trademark impish charm. The only difference in the characters she played in the 90s and Chatro ji was the age. And that only added a much-needed gravitas and maturity to both, the performance and the way the character was written.
7. Ratna Pathak Shah: Lipstick Under My Burkha
Ratna Pathak Shah had once (in)famously commented about how Bollywood struggles to write good characters for even leading ladies. And she wasn’t wrong. This is why it almost appears to be a karmic coincidence that she was cast as Usha (Bhua Ji) in Lipstick Under My Burkha. Because who better than a seasoned performer like Shah (who was 58 at the time) to play a woman who rediscovers the joy of sex in her late 50s.
8. Shefali Shah in Juice
Picking a role for an actor like Shefali is no easy feat. But, while Delhi Crime would easily rank high in her list of best performances, I had to pick Juice. Because where most feature-length movies take hours to highlight an issue, Shefali and Neeraj Ghaywan highlighted the gender disparity that exists in most Indian houses in just 15 minutes. And that’s what makes Shefali’s role in Juice so different, even though on paper, she was just playing a housewife.
9. Tabu in Andhadhun
Most female antagonists in Hindi cinema are motivated by greed or jealousy, thus feeding into the narrative of a gold-digger and/or ‘clingy’ lover. But considering how Tabu has been breaking conventions since the very start, it was no surprise to see her play a 40-something killer, with slightly psychopathic tendencies, and truly terrible luck.
10. Sridevi in English Vinglish
Gauri Shinde and Sridevi shone a spotlight on a section of society that has been working tirelessly from the shadows – the Indian housewives. Shashi, a timid housewife in her 40s, who rediscovers her courage and confidence by learning how to speak English, was most definitely an unusual protagonist for a comedy-drama. So what better choice for the role, than Bollywood’s OG female superstar, Sridevi.
11. Farrukh Jaffar in Gulabo Sitabo
You’ll still find the odd, cool grandmother in Bollywood. But a wily, cunning 94-year-old who manages to hoodwink her husband, retain her ancestral mansion, find her childhood love, and serve sass like no one’s business is rarer than finding a unicorn. But 88-year-old Farrukh Jafar did exactly that when she played Fatto Begum, the character who completely stole the show, in Gulabo Sitabo.
Is there a character you’ll add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below.