Is Bollywood sexist?

In the recent Aishwarya Rai – Madhur Bhandarkar controversy a fierce debate of whether Bollywood is sexist or not became a topic of our discussion with friends one afternoon and thus gave me a much needed topic for blogging.

More on this controversy a little later but first I want to share some scenarios with all of you to set the premise behind this allegation and leave the decision for you to make.

Bollywood has several male actors in their 40s and 50s still playing lead roles alongside actresses who are barely 20. But one doesn’t get to see female actors getting this opportunity. Forget the age factor but the moment they get married and have kids their opportunities start to dwindle. Or does it?

Some examples of male actors are Salman Khan (45), Sanjay Dutt (52), Aamir Khan (46) and Shah Rukh (45). Just recently Jackie Shroff (51) has refused father roles. They all show their age but yet get meaty roles. In fact the only guy who looks fit and young despite his age is Akshay Kumar (43).

Bollywood Actors

Or, take a look at Rajinikanth (60), how he is in real life and how he looks in reel life -

Rajini

But for a lot of actresses, marriage and motherhood translates to early retirement from films. Some have chosen to stage a comeback much later when they are gray and old and take on “mother” roles while some don’t.

Then there is Raakhee who, despite age and motherhood received great opportunities. But then she surprised everyone by taking on the “mother” role for a lead actor (Amitabh Bachchan) with whom she had successful onscreen romantic pairing and since then her fate was sealed. The same goes for Hema Malini but at least with her it was not until her late 40s that she started playing more matured roles. Clearly this shows that Bollywood is not sexist.

Look at their counterparts from Hollywood like Diane Lane (46), Jodie Foster (48), and Julianne Moore (50), they are still sexy and they are still in demand. The key is that the Hollywood actresses understand what it takes to be successful in their profession and hence they get into all kinds of fitness and beauty regimen to remain bankable. Who cannot but get impressed with Meryl Streep even today.

Hollywood Actress

So if actresses don’t maintain their looks then why should the producers put their money on them? So is it really fair to say Bollywood is sexist?

Here is now a tricky part. What about Madhuri Dixit (44) and Sridevi (47)? They are still very beautiful and extremely fit. Why are they finding it hard to land a role?

I think it is purely a business decision. Rajinikanth is still in demand because the brand “Rajini” is imperishable.  But these actresses are out of touch with reality due to a very long break that they took from their career. Simply put their brand is no longer relevant albeit still popular. For example melodrama that was at its peak during their time has very little role to play in today’s movies.

So the second part to this conundrum is actresses taking a long hiatus from their career. Most Hollywood actresses remain true to their professions. Here are  more examples:  J Lo (42), Halle Berry (44) or Angelina Jolie (36). They had kids and they were back in form in less than a year looking as sexy as always. Their name, their body and their face is big money and they know that.

The only actress in Bollywood to have worked through marriage and motherhood is Kajol (36). She looks as beautiful as always although some fitness regimen will not hurt her. We might be at an early stage of change where our actresses don’t look at marriage and motherhood as roadblocks but just as a part of life while continuing to hone their brand image. A lot depends on the next generation of actresses (Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Priyanka Chopra, and Konkona Sen Sharma).

Now to the topic of Aishwarya Rai! I don’t think Bollywood or for that matter Madhur Bhandarkar is anymore sexist than Aishwarya Rai being completely unprofessional. A true professional will never walk out on a commitment. In fact I have heard of actresses being  dropped from projects because of pregnancy. Even Meryl Streep lost out on “Thelma and Louise” to Susan Sarandon because of pregnancy but it did not stop her from being a successful actress or from being a mother to 4 children.

I am happy Madhur is moving on. He is a great director and there are great actresses equally beautiful who can do justice to his script. He has nevertheless settled the issue with Aishwarya and now looking at Priyanka or Kareena.

It will also be interesting to see what Aishwarya (37) would do. Will she let the brand “Aishwarya” to fade away by following the footsteps of her mother-in-law or whether she will come back looking just as beautiful and stunning in a year’s time or will she stick to matured roles like many other married actresses like Juhi Chawla for one. Whatever it is she should not be forced into it either by family or the industry or the audience.

The day we start seeing female actors in Bollywood enjoying a success like Hollywood’s Meryl Streep or like our own ageless legend Amitabh Bachchan then yes we can stop debating on this issues. For now the case rests.

*Ages as referenced in Wikipedia

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