Bhumi Pednekar in Bala is another case Bollywood’s hypocrisy
Casting in Bollywood movies has always been a subject of controversy. It is not just about star kids making their way into movies effortlessly or about the casting couch controversies that many celebrities opened up about. It is also about how age and color play a pivotal role in the casting of several Bollywood movies.
I watched the Bollywood movie Bala (2019, Hindi), directed by Amar Kaushik, recently and I am a little confused.
Latika, a dark-skinned girl from Kanpur who is not at all ashamed of her complexion unlike the rest of her family is portrayed by the very talented Bhumi Pednekar.
A fair-skinned Bhumi is painted brown to personify a dusky complexioned Latika; hypocrisy number one! The industry is not short of dark-skinned actors but still opting to cover up a fair-skinned actress in a dark make up is a logic I find too difficult to comprehend. What makes the execution of the character so questionable is how unevenly the makeup has been applied, the tone varies in every scene and is unrealistic at its best. The film was criticized by the public for the character depiction of Latika.
Is it the star value of Bhumi or the age-old Bollywood custom of giving preference to only fair-skinned actresses that led this mishap in Bala? From people who grew up singing “Gore Gore Gaalon pe Kala Kala Chashma”, expecting colorism is natural. Well, from an industry that is obsessed with good looks and fair skin, the change will evolve only slowly.
Actor Ayushmann Khurrana plays the role of a young man suffering from premature baldness and is highly insecure about his looks. The film wasn’t successful in convincing the audience that the character is actually bald. The prosthetics did not seem to have done their work. It probably won’t make much sense if I say that replacing Ayushmann with an actor who is bald in real life would have been more convincing. But, hey, Vinay Forrt from Thamasha did that part quite convincingly.
Ageism is as much an issue as colorism is. Actors over fifty (condition applied-only women mostly) are type casted for “mummy” roles. No matter how good an actor they are, the only offer they are ever going to get is that of the leads’ mother.
Saand ki Aankh (Hindi, 2019) is undoubtedly a beautiful film telling the tale of the Tomar sisters who are exceptionally good shooters. The lead actresses Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu who played Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar respectively did a wonderful job playing the older part rather effortlessly.
But the question here is, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to cast older actresses as the sixty something-year-old Tomar sisters? Actresses Neena Gupta and Soni Razdan had expressed their desire in playing the titular role and I find that as an excellent choice for casting. But the film has to make some business, doesn’t it?
And for business, Bollywood minds color and age. At times, more than talent, these are the factors that are prioritized while checking the success factors of a movie!
Continuing on ageism, it makes me wonder why the concept is rarely applicable to the men in cinema? Every time a male hero over forty or fifty is cast in a film, his female counterpart is never of the same age, rather she is expected to be someone twenty years younger to him! It’s normalized for such men to play college-going students and Romeos but not for women! In the end, it is all about star value, looks, and business.
When this preconceived begins to change, we will get a better cinema.
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