Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Boman Irani, Dolly Ahluwalia… B-Town is consciously adopting new scripts to accommodate its senior actors. Harshikaa Udasi writes

Boman Irani was about 44 when he played the iconic Dr Asthana in Munnabhai MBBS. His love for photography initially and theatre later had kept him away from celluloid for too long before Vidhu Vinod Chopra spotted his talent and offered him the role. It wasn’t tailor-made for him; other ‘character’ artists had been approached and had turned it down. Boman lapped it up and the rest is history. The actor soon started getting tailor-made roles. At 53, he has a Lucky Singh (Lage Raho Munnabhai), a Kishen Khurana (Khosla Ka Ghosla), a Vardhaan (Don remake), a Professor Virus (3 Idiots) and even a romantic Farhad (Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi) on his been-there-done-that list. If there is anyone debating what life would be like after 50 for Bollywood actors, Boman Irani’s repertoire make for a superb case study!

Take the example of Dolly Ahluwalia. This Sangeet Akademi and National Award-winning costume designer acted as the feisty mother of Ayushmann Khurrana in Vicky Donor and one cannot forget that face, the tone of her voice or her character in a hurry. Her role as the woman who runs a beauty parlour, curses her son for not having a steady income and shares a peg with her mother-in-law is not something one comes by every day in Bollywood. “For female actors in their 50s, it’s difficult enough to find a role in mainstream Bollywood, let alone a unique one. I loved playing Dolly. She is me. I don’t see myself doing stereotypical roles,” she says. Vicky Donor was not an exception in her life. The lady from Chandigarh was flooded with offers, but the person she gave the nod to was Dasvidaniya and Chalo Dilli director Shashant Shah, who, believe it or not, changed his film’s (the upcoming Bajatey Raho) entire script to rope in Dolly after he watched Vicky Donor! “He did it. I am the protagonist of the film and he’s designed three different looks for me. It’s a huge responsibility but I hope and pray it works so that it opens the doors for other actors in their fifties,” says Dolly.

The bull’s eye

Is Bollywood really changing? Is it consciously adopting new scripts engineered with space for silver-haired actors? In a way, yes. Rishi Kapoor’s Rauf Lala act in last year’s remake of Agneepath by Karan Malhotra was the bull’s eye for the actor. Rishi, the quintessential chocolate boy of the 70s and 80s, has confessed he could never imagine his own self as the kohl-eyed, expletive-spouting, powerful local don in Agneepath. But it was a special character created with Rishi in mind, Karan has often said. The character was non-existent in the original. Rishi has since then managed to get roles as unique as a gay principal in Student Of The Year, a sinister corrupt cop in Aurangzeb and reportedly Dawood Ibrahim in the upcoming D-Day.

At the turn of the century, one of the oldest serving actors of Bollywood realised that there was much more to him than being a lead. Amitabh Bachchan struck back in YashRaj film Mohabbatein as the strict principal of a school, tough enough to be the cause of his lovelorn daughter’s suicide and not mourn after her. That role opened him up to many others to come. Roles started being written for him. He was Sexy Sam in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, an Alzheimer’s-affected teacher Debraj Sahai in Black, a hopeless romantic at 60 in Cheeni Kum and Auro, a boy affected by Progeria in Paa.

Director Anant Mahadevan, who cast Jackie Shroff last year as the ‘hero’ of his film Life Is Good about a father and daughter, wondered aloud why Bollywood is not open to creating roles for its senior actors. His film failed at the box office, but Jackie managed to bag a few more interesting roles. It was his Tamil film Aaranya Kaandam that got him Aurangzeb. He will also be seen as the main villain in Rajnikanth’s Kochadaiyaan. Aurangzeb director Atul Sabharwal had said that he had some hard convincing to do that no one other than Jackie could play Yashvardhan in his film. Jackie’s contemporary Anil Kapoor is not yet getting his due in Bollywood and had to revert to international films such as Slumdog Millionaire and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Barring a few exceptions, he still gets repeats of his Ram Lakhan type character.

It’s a slow process but B-town is finally realising that life after 50 doesn’t mean playing roles that don’t go beyond the fixed furniture. Like Rishi Kapoor has said, “I don’t want to be a standard father anymore. If I am in a film, the makers should take complete advantage of the fact that I can perform. I feel I am a competent actor and I would like to perform.”