By Subhash K. Jha
There is nothing more painful in life than death. And even more painful is the realisation that even our most iconic heroes must age.
To watch the legends of showbiz age before my eyes is unacceptable to me. Every time I look at the once-bewitching Waheeda Rehman my heart breaks. I quickly switch to “Guide” or “Zindagi Zindagi” for solace. Suchitra Sen did the right thing. She retired from public life long before age caught up with her. We remember her as she was in her heyday…gorgeous, elegant, strong and seductive.
Maybe the Hollywood legends should take some tips from Ms. Sen’s career. I was pretty much appalled at how Robert Redford, easily the most handsome actor from Hollywood, had aged in his new film “The Old Man & The Gun”. Playing the outlaw who can’t stay away from bank robberies, I saw Redford neither having fun with the role nor letting anyone else in the cast enjoy themselves. It was as though everyone was locked in a conspiracy of reverence.
Watching the film was a miserable experience for me, and one that was equivalent to seeing Dilip Kumar being reduced to a shadow of himself each time he makes a public appearance. Now, when he’s no more on screen, I keep revisiting his handsome self in his old films. He was a natural all right. Not one artificial note in the way he spoke or behaved on screen. Today he neither recognises anyone nor speaks.
But I am digressing. Yusuf Saab(that’s Dilip Kumar) is not the name that comes to mind when we think of Robert Redford. The actor whom I would immediately identify as India’s Redford is Dharmendra Paaji. To see him so old and frail is heartbreaking. But the industry feels they must not let him fade away. He continues to make sporadic appearances, though the legendary comic timing is gone, and so are the matinee-idol looks.
I remember the other super-legend of Hindi cinema – Dev Anand. So handsome was he that every time he appeared on screen there would be a collective sigh in the audience. Decade after decade from the 1950s he ruled. By the 1980s, age began to catch up with him. He gradually become a shadow of himself. The fire burnt just as strongly in him. But the physique became frail.
Dev Saab, we loved you. But the films that you did in your closing years were not a befitting send-off. Someone who loved you as much as I do should have told you that your best was in the past. We all let you down.
Age does not sit uneasily on all legends. Mr Bachchan has aged, of course.But his passion for the camera measures up to his screen presence. He has the ability to make us look beyond his growing years.
Hema Malini at 60-plus is the epitome of beauty and grace. Every time I look at her I feel reassured about life. When she came home for dinner I stared open- mouthed at her. Did she notice? She probably did. But she is used to aging people staring at her admiringly.
Speaking of which I must mention Anil Kapoor’s visit. He came, he charmed and, yes he ate. I had warned him he can’t do his diet thing in my home. He complied and complained that he would have to starve himself for the next one week to make up for all the food I force-fed him. But it’s all worth it. At 60-plus, Anil glows.
Sharmila Tagore is another legend who has aged beautifully. Could it have something to do with being at peace with oneself and also with not tampering with one’s face to look younger? That never works. One major actor from the 1960s and 1970s who was known to be agile, playful, flirtatious, and quite a ladies’ man in his heyday has got so much Botox injected into his face post-70, he can barely open his mouth to talk or eat.
As I write these words I realise the cruelty of demanding retirement from actors who have faced the camera all their lives. What would life be without the comfort of the camera? Would I want my dear Dharamji to stay home doing nothing? Isn’t it better that we at least get to see him and experience a shadow of the magic that he spread on screen once upon a time, Chupke Chupke….