Age Gap No Bar: From Salman Khan to Akshay Kumar, Bollywood Heroes Are ‘Forever Young’
Entry type: Single project
Publishing organisation: The Quint
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-06-03
Authors: Aishwarya Bodke – Research and Writing
Meghnad Bose – Data Analysis and Visualisation
Aishwarya Bodke is a former journalist at The Quint’s Entertainment Desk in Mumbai.
Meghnad Bose is an award-winning multimedia journalist currently working as Deputy Editor, The Quint Lab, and leading innovations in journalistic storytelling across The Quint.
How stark is the problem of the age gap in Bollywood?
There’s so much that is said and written about the age gap woes of the Hindi film industry, especially when it comes to the age difference between male and female leads. But is that based on a cherry-picking of examples, and does data tell a different story?
To find out, we dug deep and wide into the numbers, spanning films released across several decades – and after a comprehensive analysis, had enough and more data points to show that Bollywood does have a significant age gap problem.
The article was received very well and shared widely by our readers, many of whom appreciated the comprehensive nature of the data collection, analysis and visualisations.
Though the discourse about the large age gap between Bollywood’s heroes and leading ladies is not a new one, our story helped bring in a significant amount of original data collection and analysis. As a result, arguments made by readers and commentators about the age gap with respect to certain superstars, or even regarding the trends as they had played out over the decades, could now be made with a greater statistical backing.
First up, we looked at all the films in which Bollywood hero Akshay Kumar had featured in a leading role in his four decades in the industry. We calculated Kumar’s age on the date of release of each of the movies, as well as the corresponding age of the female lead opposite Kumar in the movie.
We then broke all his films down into four groups – those released when Kumar was in his 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Next, we plotted and compared the average age of Kumar for his films during a particular decade, and the average age of the leading ladies opposite him. While for Kumar, the average age per decade increased from 27 to 34 to 44 and then to 52, the age of his female co-stars increased only from 22 to 26 to 27 to 31.
Similarly, we studied all films since 2010 which have featured Salman Khan opposite a female lead with a romantic angle to him. Then, we looked at films which had won the Filmfare Best Feature Film award over the decades, from the 1950s to the 2010s, and found that large age gaps between the male and female leads of Hindi movies were not a new or recent phenomenon.
Though our story largely focused on Bollywood, we also wished to demonstrate that this was not an issue solely restricted to India’s Hindi film industry. A data analysis of all of Rajinikanth’s movies (in the Tamil film industry) since 2000 showed the staggering age disparity between him and his female leads over the past two decades.
We used Google Sheets to calculate the ages of the stars at the time of film releases and process all the data. And using Infogram, a data visualisation tool, we created all the interactive visualisations and infographics.
Context about the project:
Akshay Kumar’s recent film Samrat Prithviraj has him opposite Miss World 2017 Manushi Chillar, and the age difference between the leading hero and the heroine in this case is 29 years – the widest so far in Akshay’s filmography.
Also, remember it was 1994 when we first heard the tunes of Tip Tip Barsa Paani, where a 27-year-old Akshay was seen romancing a 20-year-old Raveena Tandon. It’s now 2022. Akshay is 54 now. While the actress dancing with him has been replaced with a younger one, he stays mighty strong in the spot of the hero, 27 years on.
This provides a perfect example of how stark the problem of ageism in Bollywood is. With a body of work as vast and diverse as that of Akshay Kumar, it becomes clearer how time and Bollywood have failed his female contemporaries.
It’s not Akshay Kumar alone, the question of ageism in Bollywood is as old as time and as big as the disparity between the treatment of men and women in the business. It is most heavily reflected in the leading pairs of films and the often-ridiculous age difference between them. With time, the gap has only widened, and we’re afraid, been normalised.
What is also worth mentioning is that while the article was driven by data, we made sure that the piece also reflected certain nuances which must not be overlooked while analysing what the numbers had to say. For example, that there are certain stories with sensible and sensitive scripts which have been able to do justice to narratives that feature wide age gaps between the leading pair, be it Amitabh Bachchan and Jiah Khan in Nishabd, or Victor Banerjee and Perizaad Zorabian in Joggers’ Park.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
There are often think pieces and op-eds written about issues such as the one this story is tackling without enough effort put into crunching the numbers and backing up statements with actual data. However, when journalists do put in that extra effort to collect, process and visualise the data to illustrate a certain point, not only is the argument more watertight but the story itself becomes a more compelling read. Our story on Bollywood’s age gap problem is a perfect example of this, and I hope that other journalists and editors see this as a constructive takeaway from the project.