Alia Bhatt, Salman Khan's pairing in Inshallah shows Bollywood doesn't pay heed to glaring age gaps
Given their massive age gap, it will be difficult to believe in the honesty of Salman Khan and Alia Bhatt's on screen chemistry
When Priyanka Chopra married Nick Jonas, a presumably posh and well heeled writer for the upmarket supplement, The Cut of New York Magazine, couldn’t resist taking pot shots at the older woman who apparently ensnared young boy Jonas into a sham union. Age gaps bring out the worst in our gossipy, voyeuristic selves particularly when they have an older woman finding a younger man. Strange then, that eyebrow raising age gaps amongst leading ladies and heroes in Hindi cinema continue to feature in big ticket films. Senior superstar Rajnikanth, who has daughters contemporary to the 35 year old Trisha Krishnan, recently delivered a blockbuster with Petta, where both star opposite each other.
There was a time when Hema Malini, in her twenties, found it odd to be working with Dev Anand, nearly 60. Audiences, however, lapped it up. Men don’t age, especially men that are movie stars in India. But in the 21st century, where social media gives a regular peep into the lives, lifestyles and partners of actors, a huge age gap does feel incongruous. While it doesn’t fit in for us, it fits in perfectly for some filmmakers in Bollywood.
For instance, Salman Khan is 53. Alia Bhatt is 25. Both will star together in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali romance, Inshallah. Knowing Bhansali, this romance will be visually lavish, expensive and ringed with high drama. Yet it is difficult to believe in the honesty of love and chemistry between Khan and Bhatt. Keeping an open mind, one may say that the casting of Salman Khan and Alia Bhatt is intriguing. In the past, Khan’s decision to work with a much younger Sonam Kapoor in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo didn’t work out very well, for the two shared very little chemistry and seemed out of place in their scenes together. Knowing Bhansali though, the story might accommodate this age gap, however odd it may feel.
Similarly, Kesari features Akshay Kumar opposite Parineeti Chopra. The leading lady is 14 years Kumar’s junior. Kumar's dense beard in the film helps conceal the visible difference in their age. But it still begs a logical question: for a blink and miss appearance such as Parineeti's, why not just find a female actor closer to one’s age? Does the casting not strike Bollywood filmmakers as odd? But none of this has affected the film’s business, which continues to soar.
Kumar will now be seen opposite Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor Khan, two actors closer to his age in real life. They look good together, as previous hits have proven and share sparkling chemistry on screen. Their crackling chemistry as a couple onscreen has to do with the fact that the age gap between them isn't striking. However a twentysomething romancing Kumar is never that.
Likewise, Shah Rukh Khan has romanced Anushka Sharma three times over onscreen. In the first two films, Jab Tak Hain Jaan, and Jab Harry Met Sejal, their age gap is smartly justified in the story. It’s not unconvincing either. But in Zero, the high budget spectacle and Khan co-produced, romantic scenes that both actors share simply fail to click. Perhaps it’s the age gap or the disjointed plot points, but for a film mounted as a mega romance that focuses on incompleteness, the first point of incompletion becomes the glaring age gap between its protagonists. It would work a lot better if SRK, charming as ever onscreen, simply played his age, another reason why Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, a pure niche film, comes across as an easy watch.
Age gaps are not unusual in international cinema either, but they are consonant to the requirements of the script and story. For instance, Lolita, the Vladimir Novakov novel adapted by Stanley Kubrick, and again by Adrian Lyne in 1997, touches upon the discomfort of a relationship with age gaps. An older man’s unhealthy fixation with a young girl barely in her teens makes one squirm. Similarly, in American Beauty, the unhealthy fixation that Kevin Spacey’s character has with Mena Suvari’s character, is liberating as much as it is sexual. He shares a humiliating relationship with his cynical wife. Age gap fits into the story’s impact and argument. Exploring another common facet of human relationships, young girls falling for boyfriends of their mothers is the subject of Fish Tank, a British indie hit and of The Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Stories where younger girls simply romance older men kind of went out with the chauvinistic Bond movies in Hollywood, as acceptance for such films diminshed. Sadly, the same hasn’t happened with mainstream films closer home. This doesn’t reflect negatively on filmmakers and producers or actors necessarily. What it indicates is the hyper masculine image that audiences associate with male movie stars. The men might age, visibly too, but they are virile and strong enough to woo just about any women. That such films work at the box office reinforces the patriarchal hangover.
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