In August 2008, the release of Bachna Ae Haseeno made the news for many a reason. Whether it was the fact that this film was Yashraj Films most successful film for a while, or Ranbir’s first solo hit, Bipasha’s second hit of the year or Deepika’s second consecutive hit…you get the picture. But one thing that was getting undue attention was the fact that Bipasha was being paired opposite a younger hero – Ranbir. Gasp! Shock horror!! Woman paired with man younger than her!!! Not only younger but two years younger!!!! Tsk Tsk!!!!
Understandably, the whole episode has left Bipasha quite perturbed, leading her to respond in an interview in Filmfare, saying:
“In real life, 2-3 years difference is not such a big deal….I dunno what’s the fuss [is] all about?”
Quite right Bipasha -why all the fuss? Not only was the chemistry between Bips and Randhir on screen very watchable but their strand was arguably the strongest one of the film. It is interesting how Bollywood seems to adhere to unspoken code of conduct when it comes to casting: thou shalt not cast a hero with a heroine that is older than him – unless she is a relative (sister/aunt/mother/sister in law – in a sexless capacity please). This is clearly not the case for our heroes who can be teamed up with hot young things at will – witness 24 year old Katrina Kaif paired with 40 year old Akshay. Or debutante Deepika, also in her early twenties paired with 40 year old Shah Rukh Khan. Or perhaps the most worrying choice of casting, Salman Khan, approaching 40 paired with Sneha Ullah in Lucky…No Time For Love – with a screen age of 16. Erm…..
Why the hypocrisy in Bollywood? What is it about an older woman being with a younger guy? After all, this is situation that has transcended reel life and come to real life. In the 90’s, there was many a raised eyebrow when Saif Ali Khan married Amrita Singh who was older than him and had two kids. Also in the mix was the fact that Amrita was a successful actress at the time whilst Saif was still struggling to find a foothold in the industry. Even after their split and divorce, the industry did not support Amrita in the way they turned a blind eye to Saif’s infidelity – one wonders why Bollywood was not kinder to a successful woman who gave up her career for her family only for it to end in heartbreak. Interestingly, Saif is ten years older than current squeeze Kareena but rather than disapproving, these two have become the Posh and Becks of India, with their careers the strongest they’ve ever been.
Bollywood’s other super couple (often compared to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) Abhishek and Aishwarya have largely escaped flak for the age difference between them (though they are plagued by other ridiculous prejudices by a section of the industry due to their success). It was only recently that in the same interview, Bips pointed out:” Isn’t Aishwarya married to Abhishek who’s three years younger than her?“. Indeed – but why would the industry point the finger at Bips and not at Saif or Abi-Ash? One thing Saif and Abi have in common is both are star kids. who have grown up in the industry whilst Bips has come through the world of modelling and has no film lineage, with success achieved in her own right. Perhaps Bips is seen as an easy target.
Interestingly, it seems the women get the finger pointed at them whilst the men escape without much interrogation. Another case in point was seen when Kismat Connection released – many felt Vidya Balan looked older than Shahid Kapoor. Whilst Shahid has been asked this question a few times, every mention of and interview with Vidya asks her to comment on this, throwing in a dig at her wardrobe for good measure. Again, Vidya is not a star kid but also, as the woman in the relationship, is asked to justify the casting.
Even on screen, on the whole people do not accept older women with younger men. In Yash Chopra’s Lamhe (my favourite film ever) Anil Kapoor as a young Viren falls in love with the older Pallavi but even on screen, Waheeda Rehman’s Daijaan character points out relationships do not work that way in India and leaves the topic on an unanswered note. Sadly, the film did not do as well as it deserved to, even though it is now remembered as one of the best films ever and even at the time, many pointed out the age difference as the factor that put them off the film.
Perhaps the only example of the audience accepting this scenario was in Farhan Akhtar’s 2001 Dil Chahta Hai where Siddharth (played by Akshaye Khanna) falls in love with Dimple Kapadia, which he falls out with his friend over but eventually brings the friends together at the end. I still remember this was the storyline that generated discussion and how many felt uncomfortable with the set up. It does feel hypocritical and perplexing why a man can be cast opposite a girl half his age but not the other way.
It seems if Bollywood wants to progress on the world stage (and in this case, even overtake Hollywood which does not exactly champion the cause either) it can gain a welcome headstart by utilising dispensing with these silly prejudices (which quite frankly, have no place in the world of cinema) and make more adventurous casting decisions. Let’s hope the day when senior actresses are paired opposite newcomers in Bollywood is not too far!