It is often very sad observing once good-looking and robust artistes coming apart, owing to the ageing process, as time takes them along its meandering course. Robert Redford was for decades the handsome man whom other men envied or wished they had his looks. And women? Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them are yet around who will not swoon at mention of him. But have you observed Redford of late? His once god-like features are these days a reminder of cracked earth, of the kind you come across in times of drought.
And Redford is not the only one. Asha Parekh, the Indian actress we all loved to bits in our youth, has aged in a way that saddens us. Unlike so many others who have somehow taken care that their physical features are not too subjected to weathering, Parekh appears to have been rather careless about her looks. Even aged women can arouse one's passions. Think here of the increasingly ageing and increasingly seductive Helen Mirren. You cannot say the same about Asha Parekh or Pakistan's Shamim Ara. And, yes, there is the tale of Dev Anand who, for inexplicable reasons, went on believing he was the dashing actor for whom women fell endlessly, sometimes by the wayside. He would have nothing to do with such roles as a father or grandfather. To hide the deepening lines of age on his neck, he wore a scarf and acted as leading man opposite women young enough to be his granddaughters. His youth was gone. Only he refused to believe it.
But observe Dilip Kumar. He ages with dignity. He just might pop off one of these days, but you have to admit he remains a handsome man. An even better part of his persona is that he has never pretended to be young any more, which is not what you can say about Amitabh Bachchan. The once angry young man has, in advancing age, frolicked around on the screen in the company of such young people as Govinda and Shahrukh Khan. He does strange commercials these days, things he should not be doing. An actor whose looks have improved with age is Sean Connery. Indeed, given a choice between watching him in his early James Bond days and today, one will likely opt for the latter. And, of course, the dignified Richard Burton died a little too early for us to presume how he would look had he been around today. Clint Eastwood, for reasons one cannot fathom, remains the lean man and good actor he has always been, unless you look closely at the wrinkles all over his face.
Vanessa Redgrave has grown more beautiful with age. Katherine Hepburn has not. Brigitte Bardot is no more the woman made by God. Like Redford, she is parched earth. But if you watch Sophia Loren these days, in her later seventies, you will be amazed at the sex appeal she still has in plenty for one who can observe carefully. And when you speak of the French actress Catherine Deneuve, you tend to ask the gods why they could not make your life somewhat more fulfilling through the presence of such a woman beside you. Deneuve is the woman whom age cannot wither nor the years condemn.
Our very own Babita has remained a beautiful woman even as she has aged. So has our Tagore artiste Papiya Sarwar. In India, there was a time once when Amrita Singh was a ball of fire. Today, more beautiful than ever, she is a dormant volcano. A pity that a woman like Nadira, of Aan fame, could not be like Singh. In old age, she was a shadow of her once youthful self.
Perhaps Suchitra Sen was right to go into seclusion in the late 1970s. If she had not, we might not have had occasion to celebrate her the way we do now. But watch Moon Moon Sen. At age sixty five, she has the kind of fire that tells you desire is not always a bad thing, that you can dream of beautiful women at all hours of the day.
Aparna Sen is a point of endless reference. Will she never age?
The writer is Executive Editor,
The Daily Star