70s are the new 50s: From George Miller to Amitabh, the old are shaming the young

Gautam Chikermane

Jun,27 2015 11:19:02 IST

The story about older citizens doing things young is not new. But never has it been compressed so tightly as it has in the past two months. Sample these:

On 14 May 2015, George Miller released Mad Max Fury Road. I can’t even begin to start talking about it. Simply put, it is among the top 10 movies ever made.

At the time of writing, the film has grossed more than $300 million, though it could do better. I’ve seen the 3D version twice and if it was still running I would hit the theatres again; now I’m waiting for the 2D version.


George Miller, Amitabh Bachchan. Images from IBN live.

From the first frame to the last, the film is an exercise in art, storytelling, editing and direction. The soundtrack by Tom Holkenborg leaves you thunderstruck in the cinema and recreates the set, the action and the story outside. My favourites are "Immortan" and "Chapter Doof" but you can choose yours here.

The cult began with Mad Max in 1979 and continued with Mad Max 2 (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). And as if this maddening troika were not enough, comes this new series - the next one, Mad Max: The Wasteland, is already underway.

The Australian director is 70.

On 12 May 2015, one of the greatest poets and songwriters, Leonard Cohen, released five new songs from his new live album, Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour. This follows Popular Problems, an album he released on 19 September 2014. Which means, in eight months he released two albums.

Including collections, Leonard Cohen has released 25 albums till date. From Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1967 and Songs from a Room two years later to I’m Your Man in 1988 and The Future in 1992, Leonard Cohen has grown on me, one song at a time.

His poetry drills into your soul with sensitivity and starkness. Take "I Wonder How Many People in This City" for instance:

I wonder how many people in this city
‘live in furnished rooms.
‘Late at night when i look out at the buildings
‘I swear I see a face in every window
‘looking back at me
‘and when I turn away
‘I wonder how many go back to their desks
‘and write this down.

He captures slices of life in a few words. Songs like Suzanne, Everybody Knows or Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye find their way into your heart and stay there.

The Canadian musician, poet and author (Beautiful Losers is my favourite and you can hear Leonard Cohen read it here) is 80.

On 12 May 2014, Buffy Sainte-Marie released a powerful album, her 19th. Titled Power in the Blood, this is an album I just can’t stop listening to. Orion, for instance, is addictive --- a love song that’s been sung with a deep melancholy:

Wish. Star. Too far away to ever know
‘But if I had just one wish I’d wish for now.
‘Time goes by. Every day I look for you.
‘You are gone but in my heart I see you still.
‘What I know can’t be so but here you are
‘And of all my dreams come true the best is now.
‘Do you see those three in the sky that shine so bright?
‘When I’m far away I know they’ll light your night.

As the title suggests, the album is powerful. It also captures various styles of music - now gentle strumming folk, now bass-powered rock. It is also a walk into her past 50 years. It’s My Way, a song that she first sang in 1964 is back with greater force in this album.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s work is not restricted to studio albums alone; she has six performances slated in July.

The Canadian-American musician and social activist is 74.

On 8 May 2015, India saw viewers throng to theatres as to watch Shoojit Sircar’s Piku, where Amitabh Bachchan plays the hypochondriac father of Deepika Padukone. Cynics and critics may argue that the magic of one of India’s longest-lasting actors may have waned, but you can’t ignore his star appeal - even today, an Amitabh Bachchan film sells and sells and sells.

All of us have seen Zanjeer, Sholay, Kala Patthar, Trishul, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar…possibly many times over. But who can ignore Amitabh Bachchan’s exceptional work in Abhimaan, Alaap, Chupke-Chupke? Whatever the role, howsoever trite, Amitabh Bachchan brings to all his characters a deep conviction. Be it the sensitive Dr Bhaskar Banerjee in Anand, the fun-loving Anthony Gonsalves in Amar Akbar Anthony, or his cameo in English Vinglish, in each role you see the character dominating the actor.

The Allahabad-born, Mumbai-resident is 72.

The list doesn’t end here. On 10 June 2015, Willie Nelson, 82, and Merle Haggard, 78, released Django and Jimmie. Actor-director Dev Anand released Chargesheet in 2011, the same year that he died at 88. Ashok Kumar’s last role was in Aankhon Mein Tum Ho (1997), when he was 86.

In 2014, when she was 84, singer Lata Mangeshkar released her latest song, Oh Jane Wale Tujhko. Two years earlier, at 82, on 28 November 2012, she launched LM Music, her own music label, with an album of bhajans.

Lata Mangeshkar began singing at the age of five, in her father’s musical plays, but it was in the 1960s through 1980s that she came into her own with Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya, Lag Ja Gale, Chalte Chalte, and Rangeela Re.

She has sung for almost every heroine we know - from Sadhana and Waheeda Rehman to Zeenat Aman and Madhuri Dikshit - and added to the total cinematic experience. In fact, it is impossible, leave alone difficult for anyone to pick out the best from the rest. My favourite is the Marathi bhajan Sukhkarta Dukhharta.

India’s best-known female vocalist is 85.

Numerically, the 70s being the new 50s is backed by statistics too - according to United Nations data, the past five decades has seen the world’s average life expectancy jump to more than 70 years today from less than 50 years in 1960. In 50 years, the world’s average life expectancy has increased by more than 40 percent. We can slice this data by region and see the variation across nations, though the trend is similar - upwards.

In India, for instance, between statistical periods 2001-05 and 2011-15, life expectancy has risen by five years to 67.3 years for males and 69.6 years for females, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Averages hide stories. Those with access to better healthcare (the wealthy) or who have healthier lifestyles (many in rural India, who work with their hands, breathe cleaner air and live on a richer diet) tend to live longer.

Perhaps, the word ‘retirement’ is to blame for a lot of us, who give up in the mind, stop learning or working, and through the consequent inactivity, invite death. The sample of creative professionals above is one that has no use-by date. Each of the artists continues to expand individual fields of expression. Map that with better medicines and less physical stress and what you have are minds that continue to sing, write, act - look at politicians and business leaders and you will see similar lifespans and activities.

Today, the 70s are the new 50s. But with the rapid pace of technology, don’t be surprised if this rises again, leading towards 80s being the new 50s - Lata Mangeshkar and Leonard Cohen from the list above already qualify there.

The only question for a young nation: where does that leave Indians in their 20s and 30s?

Updated Date: Jun 27, 2015 11:19 AM