The triumph of the older woman
It’s the season when the 30 and 40-pluses are crawling out of the woodwork – and not a moment too soon
As someone who grew up seeing Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit light up the large screen with their 1000-watt smiles, I must admit to taking a particular pride in their recent return to the limelight. While Madhuri made a slight misstep with the massively ill-judged Nach Le (which wasn’t as much comeback vehicle as a car crash waiting to happen) she has recovered lost ground with her mega-glamorous judging stint on Jhalak Dhikhhla Jaa. Certainly, more people tune in to see her work that old magic on the dance floor rather than watch the actual contestants.
And then, there’s Sridevi. What can you say about a woman who looks better today, at the cusp of 50, than she did during her 20s and 30s? (Except that she should patent her diet and exercise regime and flog it to make an absolute fortune.) An actress who can come back to the movies after a 15-year old hiatus and make us feel like she was never away? A star who doesn’t need a huge production house to bolster her chances, but has the confidence to take on a small, simple movie like English Vinglish, knowing that she can make it sparkle and shine with her own charisma?
There’s really not much to say, apart from ‘Welcome back’ and ‘What took you so long?’
But who knows, perhaps both Sridevi and Madhuri have judged the zeitgeist well. And that, in India at least, this is the exact right moment for the older woman to make her claim for a spot in the sun.
In the West, of course, women stars of a certain age have been flourishing for a while now. In Hollywood, Meryl Streep still rules, churning out hit after hit (Mamma Mia, It’s Complicated, Julie and Julia, The Iron Lady), and manages to exude a mature sex appeal even though she is now a venerable 63. This year, she won the Oscar for best lead actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher – and among the rivals who lost out to her were Glen Close, 64, nominated for playing a cross-dressing waiter in Albert Nobbs and Viola Davis, 46, nominated for her portrayal of an African-American maid The Help.
On American television, the most popular female comic star today is the 42-year-old Tina Fey, who created 30 Rock, based on her experiences as a part of Saturday Night Live, and plays the central character of Liz Lemon. The biggest global hit to come out of US network television in recent times is the series, Modern Family. And of its female stars, Julie Bowen (who won the Emmy this year for her role of harried mom-of-three Claire Dunphy) is 42, while the Colombian bombshell, Sofia Vergara, who plays her step-mother (and is gloriously pregnant in the latest season) turned 40 this year.
In fact, if you took a good look across the auditorium where the Emmy awards were being held, it was hard to spot an A-list actress who was under 30. The heavily-pregnant Claire Danes who went up to receive her award for lead actress in a drama series for Homeland is 33; Christina Hendricks who was nominated for Mad Men but lost out is 36; while the award for the best supporting actress in a drama series went to Downton Abbey’s Dame Maggie Smith, now a majestic 77. The biggest loser of the day was the 26-year-old Lena Dunham, whose comedy show, Girls, didn’t win a single gong – though she was memorably pictured naked on a toilet eating cake, in a comedy skit preceding the show.
On Indian television, too, the older woman seems to be coming into her own. Sakshi Tanwar, who is arguably the best-known female TV star after her lead roles in Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii and Bade Achhe Lagte Hain (now that Smriti Irani has abandoned acting for politics), is now just one year short of 40. The anchor of choice for reality shows, Mini Mathur, is 36. And on news TV as well, the biggest female stars are all well over 30: Sagarika Ghose of CNN-IBN is 47; Barkha Dutt of NDTV is 40; Nidhi Razdan, also of NDTV (clearly a very woman-friendly organisation), is 35.
Yes, the day of the teeny-bopper seems to be well and truly past. This is turning out to the era of the mature woman. A woman who has lived a little; a woman who has the wisdom of the years behind her; a woman who just gets better with age. A woman like Sridevi and Madhuri, who may be past the first flush of youth, but can still hold her own against the teenage sensations of today.
And if you ask me, it’s not a moment too soon.