Is full-blown senior citizen romance finally on the cards for Bollywood?
It’s hard to get right, easy to lose the audience. And yet films like Badhaai Ho have shown the way. What will it take to get a Hindi classic in the league of The Bridges of Madison County, asks Anupama Chopra.
Hum Do Hamare Do, released on Disney+ Hotstar last week, is a gratingly ordinary film about an orphan who fakes having parents so that he can persuade the woman he loves, who is also an orphan but is obsessed with family, to marry him.
The fake parents, Dipti and Purushottam, played by Ratna Pathak Shah and Paresh Rawal, were once in love themselves, and the charade rekindles old resentments and affections. The characters are trapped in ridiculous scenarios. In one scene, Purushottam gets tipsy and starts proposing to Dipti in front of the boy’s prospective in-laws, forgetting that they are supposed to be married. Despite the farce, the actors manage to make us care about these characters.
Which led me to wonder: Is Hindi cinema ready for a full-blown senior-citizen romance?
Amit Sharma hinted at new possibilities with his terrific Badhaai Ho in 2018. Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao play a middle-aged couple with grown children who find themselves grappling with an unexpected pregnancy. The pair was absolute magic. The relationship between Jeetender and Priyamvada was rendered with the lived-in warmth that comes from having spent decades together.
The sex was beautifully staged too. Jeetender is shown reading a poem he has written to his wife. It’s titled Milan ki Ritu. Fittingly, it starts to rain. The camera inches toward the couple in bed, then moves to the window. We can only hear them now. He tells her she should leave her hair open more often because it looks so good. Then we cut to 19 weeks later.
Director Alankrita Shrivastava handled an even more delicate situation in the superb Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016). Ratna plays Buaji, a 55-year-old widow who is undone by her throbbing passion for her young, strapping swimming instructor. In one scene, we see Buaji masturbating. The film served to underline that age doesn’t render a woman sexless. Yes, humiliation followed, but Ratna imbued Buaji with dignity and ache. There was such tenderness to her longing.
Hindi films have given us other glimpses of what mature love stories could look like. Think of Amol (Dharmendra) crossing the railway tracks in Mumbai to meet the former girlfriend he didn’t spend his life with, Shivani (Nafisa Ali), in Life in a Metro (2007); or the elderly widower Saajan (Irrfan) and the lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) connecting through food in The Lunchbox (2013); or that undefined relationship between Sid (Akshaye Khanna) and Tara (Dimple Kapadia) in Dil Chahta Hai (2001).
What would have happened if Tara had lived?
Perhaps makers and viewers are now ready to put older lovers at centerstage and delve into the difficulties and pleasures of seasoned love. Our middle-aged superstars (the Khans and Akshay Kumar are all over 50) continue to woo distressingly young women onscreen. Akshay’s latest film, Bell Bottom, released in August, paired him with Vaani Kapoor, who is 21 years younger. But there is a plethora of older actors who are embracing their age. What’s most exciting is the buoyancy in the careers of older female actors such as Ratna Pathak Shah and her sister Supriya Pathak, Neena Gupta, Soni Razdan, Dimple Kapadia and Shabana Azmi, all of whom are over 60.
The Bridges of Madison County, anyone?