April 19,2009

The writing is on the wall; the shelf life of the Bollywood heroine just got shorter. After a 15-year-stint at the box office, Manisha
Koirala/Tabu/Kajol keep waiting for that one meaningful role to don pancake. And, Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sushmita Sen who made their debuts in the 90s are also fast being relegated to the background. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt says, “Even in Hollywood a Julia Roberts is feeling the tremors of the end. Whether you’re a street walker, an actor or in any other glamorous profession, there is a premium on youth. One can’t flinch away from the fact that an actor has a limited shelf life; and in this consumerist age where society is youth-obsessed, there is no place for people beyond a particular age. Even a child in an average school wants his mother to look like the young, television mother in a soap opera or a television commercial. Age controls the days and the nights of the entertainment world.’’ Facts that corroborate the theory that in showbiz, the younger the better, come from recent study that show that Aishwarya lost three endorsements — for a jewellery line, a soap and a doll to Katrina Kaif; Kareena is the reigning Bollywood queen; Priyanka is the preferred actress when the role needs “histrionics’’; Deepika looks good with Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan. Akshay Kumar wants to team up with Jiah Khan; Shahid Kapoor wishes to serenade Genelia D’Souza; Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan prefer Asin over Amisha Patel; and, Abhishek Bachchan wants to share screen space with Sonam.
So in this fast changing scenario, where do the 90s’ beauties like Rani/Preity/Shilpa Shetty/Amisha fit in?
Trade writer Vinod Mirani says, “They’re considered for the occasional meaty role, but with the production numbers having gone down, the roles have dried up for the older lot. The heroes well into their 40s invariably ask their producers to get them younger heroines.’’ A filmmaker adds, “In Bollywood, the heroines are absolutely inter-changeable; switching Deepika with Katrina makes no difference to a project.’’So 43-year-old Salman will team up with 20-something Sonakshi Sinha (daughter of Shatrughan Sinha); Akshay Kumar (41) wants Jiah (21) in his film Housefull; and Aamir Khan (44) is definitely gung-ho about romancing Asin (25). Even Shah Rukh (43) made the perfect pair with Anushka (22). Of course, in the next round, the bar will be pushed down further, and the reigning Bollywood stars will definitely make a play for the new teenager on the block. When Amitabh Bachchan romanced Shilpa Shetty in Lal Badshah, one of his older leading ladies had joked, “Amitji is learning to change nappies; next he will be romancing Baby Guddu on screen.’’