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To fifty … and beyond – II!

To fifty … and beyond – II!
Written by Omair Alavi

Age is just a number for some actresses, who want their achievements to do the talking

Gone are the days when leading roles were limited only to younger actresses. The world is changing for the better and so are the standards for the selection of actresses, for quality characters. In the past, actresses like Audrey Hepburn had to quit films before her 40th birthday (she did make a brief comeback) because of the lack of quality roles for elderly women, but today, it’s an open field.

Actresses like Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Madhuri Dixit, and Sania Saeed are still in command despite crossing fifty, and the same can be said for Viola Davis, whose Woman King is all set to screen in cinemas next month. Young or old, if you are fit for the character, you are in the running. Let’s comb through the entertainment world to find out which actresses are not stopping after their golden jubilee, and how have they managed to stay relevant through multiple generations.

Hollywood, where being over fifty is no handicap!

She might not be a Hollywood product, but Helen Mirren is everything Hollywood desires. The 77-year-old has the experience to play any kind of character at the drop of a hat, and her fans weren’t surprised when she was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Queen Catherine in Catherine the Great. For someone who already has five BAFTAs, four Emmys, two Golden Globes, and one Oscar at home to celebrate her career, she is not slowing down. She will be appearing as the main antagonist in the superhero flick Shazam! Fury of the Gods and by doing that, she will be sending healthy signals to all the elderly actresses out there, that anything is possible.

Talking of awards, earlier this month, the Emmys were held and while many fresh faces were nominated for their performances, however, some older folks weren’t far behind. Most prominent amongst them was the 73-year-old Meryl Streep who already has three Oscars, nine Golden Globes, three Emmys, and two BAFTAs to her name, but she is still hungry for more. She was nominated with the ensemble cast of Don’t Look Up where she played the US president in 2022, which was her second such nomination after Big Little Lies three years earlier. When she was nominated for an Academy Award for the record 21st time in 2018, she was one year shy of her seventieth birthday, which is no small feat.

The 65-year-old Frances McDormand has won four of her three Academy Awards after turning sixty, which complement her two Primetime Emmy Awards, and one Tony Award. She is amongst the select group of performers who have achieved the Triple Crown of Acting and shows no signs of quitting anytime soon. The same goes for Emma Thompson who might be two years younger than Frances McDormand, but she also has two Academy Awards, two BAFTAs, and two Golden Globes, besides a Primetime Emmy Award to her name.

Who can forget her character in Cruella of Baroness von Hellman last year but also in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, where she led the cast despite being past her 60th birthday. She is also part of Jemima Khan’s What’s Love Got to Do with It and will be seen in Matilda the Musical next month.

If you are 58 years old and want to know whether the audience would be ready to accept you as a lead actress, then just take a look at Sandra Bullock. The Speed actress is amongst the most successful actresses of this generation and was part of two flicks this year – The Lost City and Bullet Train. The Oscar-winning actress who began her career in the late 1980s is still active as the main lead, and although she wants to take a break, her fans don’t want her to.

And if you thought that the 57-year-old Viola Davis was just limited to TV as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder, then think again. She is the only African American actress to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting – winning an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards and has repeatedly played Amanda Waller in the DC Universe. She will be seen donning the title role in The Woman King where she plays an African warrior who trains the next generation to fight their enemies.

If you didn’t know that the ever-graceful Nicole Kidman was 54 years old when she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for Being the Ricardos last year, then don’t worry because many were surprised. The 55-year-old gorgeous Australian is the proud winner of an Academy Award, six Golden Globes, two Emmy, and one BAFTA, and doesn’t look more than 40 years old. Her fans are waiting for her return as Queen Atlanna in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom where she plays the mother of the superhero but in flashback sequences, which shouldn’t be odd considering she is fit to play the character.

For someone who will be turning 55 next month, Julia Roberts looks remarkably fit for her age. Not only has she won an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, and three Golden Globe Awards, she is ready to set the screen alight with Ticket to Paradise, which will reunite her with her Ocean’s XI collaborator George Clooney. The two play a divorced couple who are going to attend their daughter’s wedding and will try to sabotage it because, in their opinion, the wedding is a mistake. Sounds like My Best Friend’s Wedding, right? Hope it’s as much fun as the classic 90s rom-com!

She may not be a big name in films but there is no bigger name on TV than the 53-year-old Jennifer Aniston who still gives ‘Rachel’ vibes wherever she goes. The Friends character that got her an Emmy and a Golden Globe may be her identity but she followed it with successful films like Bruce Almighty, Horrible Bosses, and Murder Mystery to name a few. She also made a comeback to TV with The Morning Show, which not only reunited her with her onscreen sister from Friends – Reese Witherspoon – but also got her nominated for another Golden Globe. Despite being over 50, she continues to climb the ladder towards success and shows no signs of slowing down, and is likely to be seen in the sequel to Murder Mystery, soon.

Nominated for four Academy Awards and BAFTAs, winning two each (one each after turning fifty), and taking home four Golden Globe Awards, Renée Zellweger has achieved it all. But Bridget Jones actress wants to keep proving that age isn’t a barrier but a milestone. After winning an Oscar for playing Judy Garland in 2020, the 53-year-old actress returned to Netflix with the limited series The Thing About Pam, garnering nominations for herself from Hollywood Critics Association.

When two years before her fiftieth birthday Cate Blanchett played the elder sister of Thor and Loki in Thor: Ragnarok, it surprised both her fans and her followers, but she didn’t stop there. The 53-year-old Australian came back stronger with performances in Ocean’s 8, Don’t Look Up, and Nightmare Alley, and is also part of the voiceover cast that appeared in Pinocchio recently. For someone who has won two Academy Awards, and three BAFTAs, she was also nominated for an Emmy for her performance in Mrs. America, but that award continues to elude her. However, the sky seems to be the limit for her and that is where she is headed.

And just when it seemed that the 53-year-old J Lo had nothing more to offer, the pop culture icon managed to bag as many as three lead roles in films, out of which Marry Me has already been released this year. She will be back as the leading actress in Shotgun Wedding and The Mother for Amazon Prime and Netflix and if that doesn’t show that she is back in demand, nothing will.

Bollywood moves forward with realistic casting!

Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood folks seem to have a calendar in hand while selecting actresses for the main lead; even though actresses in their 40s like Kajol, Rani Mukerji, and Raveena Tandon get an occasional project where they lead the cast, it isn’t enough. Yes, it might be a step in the right direction considering Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore, and Zeenat Aman had to quit playing main leads before their 40th birthday.

The first one to break that barrier was Sridevi, who played the title character in not one but two films, one before her fiftieth birthday and one after. In English Vinglish (2012) she played a desi mom who learns English just to gain self-respect, while in Mom (2017), she played a desperate mother who becomes a vigilante after her stepdaughter is sexually assaulted at a party. Her untimely death one year later at the age of 54 saddened her fans who were anxious to watch her in more age-appropriate roles than her contemporaries who were either retired or playing mothers to younger men.

While Sridevi played the main lead, there were others who played second fiddle to leading men like Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan who played the main role all their life. In the last dozen years, Hema Malini has played main roles with or without Amitabh Bachchan and that includes her performance in Sadiyan where she and Javed Sheikh played the parents of a young Muslim who was raised as a Sikh by Rekha and Rishi Kapoor. One year later she was Big B’s estranged wife in Buddha Hoga Tera Baap, which was followed by other films, including Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi in 2017. Her last flick Shimla Mirchi was released in 2020, in which the then 71-year-old didn’t look her age at all.

Did you know there was an actress who made her Hollywood debut five decades after her actual film debut, and her name is Dimple Kapadia. She was 63 when she made her international debut with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in 2020, and even played the Prime Minister of India in A Thursday, which was released earlier this year on an OTT platform. Had it not been a common fact that she was the mother of Twinkle Khanna, many would have mistaken the 65-year-old mother as her elder sister.

Dimple Kapadia’s contemporary in film Neetu Singh also recently staged a comeback to films, and at 64 seems to have picked up from where she left four decades back. She played Anil Kapoor’s wife and Varun Dhawan’s mother in Jugjugg Jeeyo but the best part is, she got the top billing because she was the most senior person on the set, even more, senior than Anil Kapoor who seems to have been around since forever.

For those who have grown up watching Madhuri Dixit, the woman with the million-dollar smile will never grow old, however, she made her transition to TV at 55, and excelled. She made her Marathi language debut at the age of 51 with Bucket List, and followed it with Total Dhamaal in 2019, which featured her opposite her frequent co-star Anil Kapoor. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Filmfare for Kalank in 2020 while made her Netflix debut with The Fame Game earlier this year, where she can pass easily for a forty-year-old, with a radiant smile.

The desirable women of the 90s are still in demand today!

Let’s move on to the only media industry in the country where actresses are preferred due to their social media presence, their good looks, and youthful appearances. More the followers, the meatier the role, but there are a few actresses who have defied all that with their elegance, their beauty, and above all, their ability to stay relevant.

Veteran TV and film actress, playwright, and singer Bushra Ansari maybe 66 years old, but when she is in a frame, her towering personality is the only thing that’s visible to the audience. She has been around since the 1970s and besides being an actress of repute, she has dominated the scene as a singer too. At 66 years, she is a living legend who can do comedy, host TV shows, sing songs, and judge music shows besides writing plays when no one else is writing for her.

She is still active as a leading actress after five decades and was even competing for the attention of the same man in Zebaish as her niece Zara Noor Abbas. Be it playing the title character in Seeta Bagri or her vocals as Dirtee in an animated series for kids a few years back, Bushra Ansari is leading the way for all those women who feel that age restricts them from trying hard.

Don’t be surprised to find yesteryear beauties Atiqa Odho and Mahnoor Baloch in the list of those who have crossed fifty, because contrary to popular belief, they have. They have been around since the 1990s and while Mahnoor Baloch was found conning two boys – Faysal Qureshi and Aijaz Aslam – in an Eid play last year, Atiqa Odho plays the boss on TV, even if it is not a leading role. Her performance last year in Pyar Ke Sadqay was certainly not a supporting character since it was her character who drove the play and ended it, not the leading man or the leading lady.

And then there is the woman who doesn’t age, Sania Saeed. The actress who just turned fifty was the main lead (alongside Saba Qamar) in Sarmad Khoosat’s Kamli released a few months back and won over the audience as the blind woman who didn’t tell her brother’s wife of his death. She even stays relevant on TV with pivotal characters in plays like Raqeeb Se, Dour, and Sang-e-Mah. Her ability to adapt any character and make it her own isn’t something that she has developed over the years but a talent that she always had, otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to play a young mother in Aahat and a young-to-old lawyer in Sitara Aur Mehrunissa in the 1990s. -Ends

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Omair Alavi

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