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Home > Contents > Article: Yamini Krishna and SasiKiran
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The Ageing Diva in Bollywood: The Construction of Rekha

Yamini Krishna C
Sasi Kiran RM

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The dominant media constantly bombards us with images of youthfulness. Youth and youthfulness have complex social, political, economic and cultural implications associated with them. The rise of youthfulness as a hegemonic discourse on ‘preferred’ states of existence has to be understood in the context of the global neo-liberal economy and the created compulsions of consumerist society.

Mike Featherstone (1991) locates the focus on youthfulness in consumer culture, proposes that it gains importance because the young constitute an active labor force and consumer base. As an active labor force youthful bodies are considered useful for the neo-liberal economy and the ageing bodies are considered to be failing and hence unproductive and useless. Several studies (Diane Gibson 1996; Sara Arber & Jay Ginn 1991) have argued that media and cultural discourses render old people invisible. This social invisibility is also aided by religious and moralistic discourses. For example, some sects of Hindu religion divide the life into four stages: Bramhacharya or the youth stage, Grihastha or the household stage, Vanaprastha or the retirement stage and Sanyasa or the reclusive stage. In Bramhacharya an individual is expected to be engaged in education and learning skills, in Grihastha one is to be engaged in family life and increasing one’s wealth, in Vanaprastha one is expected to pass on control to the next generation and play an advisory role, in Sanyasa one is expected to renounce the world and engage in spiritual fulfillment. During Vanaprastha and Sanyasa an individual is advised to give up active life and family and live as a recluse. The unwillingness to comply with these norms attracts societal sanctions like ‘age-shaming’, ‘body shaming’ etc. These ideas become normative and are reflected in popular culture; literature, music and films often do not allow much activity for aged characters.

But this treatment of ageing is not uniform across genders. Susan Sontag’s famous pronouncement: “men are allowed to age without penalty, in several ways that women are not” (Susan Sontag 1982, 285) is helpful in helping us to think about gender and ageing. While ageing men continue to hold prominent social positions, ageing women are often relegated to the realm of the invisible. Ageing thus has to be understood as a feminist issue (Julia Twigg 2004, 62), women in patriarchal societies are often valued only within the strict gender roles. They are prized for their sexual attractiveness seen only to reside in youth. Older women are thought to be unattractive and hence useless. The pressure of ageing is further pronounced in case of individuals in the glamour industry. The body image is an important element of success in the glamour industry and hence an ageing body is a cause of great anxiety because it often means not just the loss of relevance in the wider society but also loss of livelihood.

With this understanding of ageing, this article examines the ‘intersectionality’1 of the ageing female body in consumerist society through the study of the case of an ageing Bollywood star Rekha. As proposed by Ashish Rajadhyaksha (2003) Bollywood is not simply a film industry but a cultural conglomerate involving interrelated consumption activities. A celebrity is one such object of consumption in this complex interrelated network. Bollywood is influential not just in India but across the world; its films attract wide audiences beyond the national boundaries. Bollywood thus is an important site to study the question of gendered ageing in a consumer society This paper examines the stardom of superstar Rekha who has been dubbed the ‘ageless diva’ by the dominant media and appraises the negotiations of an ageing body with consumer culture.

Body, Gender and Aging in a consumer society
Pamela Gravagne (2012) argues that there are two ways of thinking about ageing bodies:
a) Essentialism, which assumes that there is something natural about ageing and ageist social practices. It bases its understanding in the narrative of the decline of the body vitality.
b) Constructivism, it believes that ageing is a historically produced social construction. Margaret Gullette’s (2004) work has been path-breaking in understanding the social construction of ageing. She argues that ageing is a learned behavior and our ideas of decline are dependent on culture. She problematizes the discourse on ageing, arguing that the body is continuously fashioned and cannot be thought of solely in terms of the ‘natural’. She contests the progress versus decline binary of ageing. The ageing process is more difficult in women than in men. She notes that the construction of an ‘older woman’ works to further marginalize women. Masculinity is associated with competence, autonomy and self-control which are improved by aging and femininity is associated with incompetence, helplessness, passivity, noncompetitiveness and being nice (Sontag 1982, 286) which do not improve with age. Unlike men, it is not the anxiety of underachievement that fuels the anxiety of age in women, but their sexual ineligibility with age. “Thus for most women, aging means a humiliating experience of gradual sexual disqualification” (287). Body is thus central to the gendered discourse of aging. Featherstone (1991) places the question of the ageing self in the context of formation of a new type of subject, what he calls as the ‘performing self’ in the consumer culture. He argues that this new subjectivity is driven by consumption and places high value on body appearance and outward presentation of the self. Individuals are expected to monitor and discipline themselves to fit into particular roles, in this context remain youthful. Any failure to do this is taken as moral laxity.

Susan Sontag, emphasizing on the influence of consumer culture on aging argues that this reevaluation of the life cycle in favor of the young serves a secular society whose idols are ever increasing industrial productivity and the unlimited cannibalization of nature. Such a society must create a new sense of the rhythms of life in order to incite people to buy more, to consume and throw away faster (Sontag 1982, 286). She argues that this incitement to consume happens through selling images of happiness and pleasure where ‘youth’ serves as the metaphor for energy, mobility and appetite for the state of wanting 2. The rise of celebrity 3 culture is an important part of consumer society.

Celebrity Body and Consumer Culture
Celebrities are consumable bodies. Philip Drake and Andy Miah (2010) locate the celebrity culture as a part of the capitalist systems of commodity exchange; they stress on the importance of the celebrity being differentiated from the actual person. They argue that the celebrity has to be understood as a mediated public persona (emphasis in original); the role of media in producing the celebrity is underlined. Celebrity-making is a commercial enterprise with public relations, entertainment professionals, journalists, photographers, trainers, technicians, gossip columnists, stylists, sales people etc. actively working towards the production of the celebrity.

While all individual human bodies in consumer culture function as objects, celebrity bodies present ideal sites for study as they also take on the additional role of serving as societal role models. They play a significant role in shaping social identity (Deborah Jermyn, Susan Holmes & J. Gwynfor Jones, 2015). Chris Rojek (as cited in Jermyn, Holmes & Gwynfor, 2015) notes the pedagogic function of the celebrities, argues that they act as “informal life coaches” who provide directives in construction of personal identity, what he calls “personal lifestyle architecture” (17). Individuals fashion their own self identities taking inspiration from the celebrities.Celebrities function towards normalizing certain values and myths. They “articulate what it is to be a human being in contemporary society” (Richard Dyer 2007, 7). Elizabeth W. Markson’s “The Female Aging Body Through Film” (2003) and Sally Chivers’(2011) Silvering Screen examines the ageing processes on screen, their work is useful in thinking about the relevance of studying the ageing processes on screen.

Jean Baudrillard’s (1998) work on body in consumer culture is useful in thinking about celebrity body in media industry, particularly Bollywood in the current context. He argues that the “body” is the most important consumer package. In the consumer culture the body has taken over the moral and ideological function from the soul. The structures of production and consumption induce a dual practice in the subject: representing the body as capital and as fetish (consumer product) (129). Baudrillard emphasizes the increased investment in the body. This narcissistic investment is not a way to know it in depth, but to mould it into a more functional object, expecting a particular return on investment. Body is one of the signifiers of social status and a vehicle of enjoyment and hedonistic profitability.

Baudrillard uses the concepts of “use-value” (energetic, gestural, and sexual) and “exchange value” to think about the body (133). Stardom itself can be thought as the exchange value derived from the functional body of the star. In the larger context of industrial production of culture, the celebrity body becomes one component in mass production of cultural products. The celebrity body serves two ends: for society it embodies the dominant norms and for the individual it generates material returns and social prestige.

With the understanding that the celebrity is an industrial product and reflects the dominant ideas of the society and the market, this article examines the discourses of ageing around the Hindi film star Rekha. Dubbed “the Queen Bee” (, “India’s Greta Garbo” (Simi Garewal 1999), “Eternal Diva” ( by the media, Rekha has constantly been discussed for her body, her sexuality, the men in her life and now her ‘eternal youth’. This paper uses Rekha as an instance to discuss how the societal norms shape the image of the ageing star. Other female stars of her time like Hema Malini or Jaya Bhaduri are often reported in the context of their families, presented as mothers and wives. Once female stars take on familial roles, media gaze on their body and sexuality is reduced. In other words the ageing actress is projected to be ‘playing her age’. The role of a mother/wife is seen as a natural progression for a woman as she ages; Rekha does not fit into these gender roles. She doesn’t take on the respectable position (of a wife/mother) in the society and hence the media gaze on her age and body is much more heightened than her colleagues. Thus the media discourses around her life and career are a rich source to think about the questions of ageing in the contemporary society. She presents a critical intersection of gender, ageing and stardom.

Production of a Celebrity
Dyer (2007) has argued that the ‘star image’ is not produced by film texts alone, external texts of biographies, press articles, profiles and other discourses which circulate in the public domain work towards the production of the celebrity. He notes that stars are both “labour and what labour produces” (5). Thus the star itself is a collaborative project. Several journalistic writings tend to attribute the mediated personality to the actual star itself, overlooking the fact that as an industrial product, the individual might actually have limited say in the way the end product emerges in the market. The purport here is not to deny agency to the individual but to emphasize the industrial nature of the production of star image which plays to the needs of the market. A star image is “extensive, multimedia, intertextual” (3). The mediated star image borrows from the filmic representations and the personal life of the star, often collapsing the difference between them. The mediated image serves to embody certain values for society (Drake and Miah 2010).

As argued earlier, both the on-screen characters played by Rekha and the media image contribute to construction of the star persona. We can begin with examining the career of Rekha through the characters portrayed by the star. We follow this with the examination of the media discourses around the star. The mediated image of Rekha takes from the characters portrayed by her and the details of her personal life to construct a particular image of the star, which serves to represent certain dominant values for the society. Through the deconstruction of the mediated image of Rekha, this article proposes to find answers for the question of how the ‘ageing of the diva’ is produced in a mediatised society.

For examining the characters played by Rekha, we have viewed several of her films, read the summaries of the plot and categorized her films based on the stage of her career. We briefly discuss specific films in support of our argument in the next section. To understand the construction of an ageing celebrity body by media, we examine a variety of media texts. The media texts about Rekha can be broadly divided into interviews and articles about her. We have gone through a wide set of interviews from print sources and digital sources and cite specific instances from interviews to make our arguments. For this purpose we have used her interviews with (2000), Filmfare (2013), her 1984 Filmfare interview (, 2012), her TV interviews with Simi Garewal 4 (1983, 1999), with Rajeev Masand 5 (2014), her interview in London (n.d), excerpts from her 1978 Stardust interview(2016), excerpts of Rekha’s interview with Anupama Chopra 6 ( 2011). Apart from the interviews, several magazines and websites write about her from time to time.

We have read a wide number of articles on Rekha and have only presented a selection to support our arguments in this article. We also use Yasser Usman’s 7 book Rekha: the Untold Story, in which Usman writes a biography of Rekha from her interviews, media articles and interviews with her co-actors. We analyse this book to understand how her life has been narrativized by the media. We employ critical discourse analysis to deconstruct the stardom of Rekha and examine the construction of ageing female star.

Deconstructing ‘Rekha’
Rekha is one of the superstars of Hindi film industry; she debuted as a child artist in Rangula Ratnam (1966) and as a heroine in 1970 with the film Sawan Bhadon (1970). She has worked in the film industry for more than four decades. Her last film in a lead role was Super Nani (2014). The celebrity Rekha can be deconstructed (the term not used in Derrida’s sense) as a combination of the on-screen Rekha and the media discourses around her. This section is hence divided into two subsections: ‘Rekha in Film’ and ‘Rekha through media discourses’.

Rekha in Film: For the purpose of this paper her career can be broadly divided into three phases based on the roles portrayed by the actress: the young star, the matured actress and the ageing diva. These divisions are not watertight compartments but merely highlight the process of ageing in the roles portrayed by the star. Rekha’s roles are to be understood as a product of the choices she has made and the opportunities offered by the system.

The young star: In the early days of career, her roles were limited to being the love interest of the male star. Sawan Bhadon (1970), Gora aur Kaala (1972), Namak Haram (1973), Mr. Natwarlal (1979) etc. can be thought to be a part of this phase. Most of these films had good box office collections which built a good reputation for her. Among these films, the role of the tawaif or the dancing courtesan got her great acclaim. In Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978) she plays the dancing girl from a red-light district of Mumbai who falls in love with the hero (Amitabh Bachchan) who visits her occasionally to escape the turmoil in his own life. She portrays the prostitute with a golden heart, a woman who has managed to keep her soul ‘pure’ in spite of being a sex worker. She is a poet who can have intellectual conversations with her patrons. While in this film she dies a premature death, the role itself gets an extended life in the film Umrao Jaan (1980). Umrao Jaan (1980) is the story of Amiran, a young girl (renamed Umrao) who is sold into prostitution. She grows up to become a poet, musician and a dancer and entertains the Nawabs with her skills. The film is a tale of Umrao’s elusive search for true love among her patrons. The role of the courtesan or the other woman in the life of the hero influences the image of Rekha owing to her alleged real life relationships with her co-stars. This image contributes to the way she is perceived in the later stages of her life. This aspect will be discussed in greater detail in later sections of the paper.

The matured actress: In this phase Rekha is seen to play roles which are beyond being just the love interest of the male lead of the film. In films like Kalyug (1981) and Ijaazat (1987) she is lauded as a performer and not just for her beauty or body. This phase can be seen as the post superstar phase, where she had already amassed a considerable reputation as a glamour star and could now experiment with what are called ‘performance oriented’ roles.

The ageing diva: This is the phase when the questions of age start to crop up around the star, films like Khoon Bhari Maang (1988), Madam X (1994), Khiladiyon ka Khiladi (1996), Astha (1997), In the Prison of Spring (1997), Kamasutra: A Tale of Love (1997) etc. Rekha is described in the media as having reinvented herself for these films. These films heighten the focus on her body and style. In Khoon Bhari Maang (1998) she plays an unattractive housewife who transforms herself into a sexually attractive woman to take revenge on her husband who had attempted to kill her. The film presents her as a style icon. In Kamasutra (1997) she plays Rasa Devi, an older woman who instructs others in the Kamasutra, the art of seduction. In Khiladiyon ka Khiladi (1996) Rekha plays Maya, a don; while she falls in love with the hero she finally dies and the hero is united with her sister, a much younger woman. Maya is manipulated by the hero in the name of love. In films like Bachke Rehna Re Baba (2005), Kudiyon ka hai zamana (2003) Rekha plays the role of hyper-sexualized older woman. In Parineeta (2005) she does a cameo of a nightclub dancer. In Super Nani (2014) (translates to Super Grandma), Rekha plays a devoted housewife and a grandmother who turns into a super model to prove her worthiness to the family which neglects her.

This classification presents interesting insights into the narrative agency offered to a female star at different stages of her life. We see that Rekha’s on-screen image becomes hyper-sexualized in films like Khiladiyon ka Khiladi (1996), Kamasutra (1997), Khoon Bhari Maang (1998), Bachke rehna re baba (2005), Kudiyon ka hai zamana (2003) and Parineeta (2005). In all these films Rekha is presented as a ‘sex symbol’; in some films like Khiladiyon ka khiladi (1996) the hypersexualized woman causes a narrative tension which is resolved by her death. In a few other films like Bachke rehna re baba (2005), Kudiyon ka hai zamana (2003) the ‘ageing’ Rekha and her sexuality are employed to produce a comic effect. In Parineeta (2005) the image of yesteryear’s diva is made into a spectacle, something which the family ladies can ‘look’ at and derive entertainment from.

This role of hyper-sexuality granted to the older woman can be explained using the concept of ‘masquerade’. Joan Riviere (1929) first used the concept in the 1920s as a mask put on to avert anxiety of gendered expectations. Kathleen Woodward (1988) uses this concept to think about ageing, she argues that the individual uses masquerade as a strategy to cover up the ageing body. It is one way the ageing body attempts to stay relevant in the consumer society. From the perspective of the industry, it was finding ways to put the “ageing sex symbol” to use; the roles and the narrative agency they offer to the ageing star expose the youth-centricism of the current cultural products.

Speaking of the case of Hollywood, Elizabeth Markson (2003) explains that the portrayal of an old female body is by definition, a masquerade; their age haunts the performance. She points out that the performer herself is subject to the same fears as that of the character she plays. This point is also illustrated by Sally Chivers (2011), she notes that Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, played roles of former stars in their comeback films, mirroring their real life status. The relationship between real life and fictional characters is explained by the social and cultural ageing processes. In case of Gloria Swanson who plays the Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard (1950), Chivers points out that she only received scripts that mirrored her role as an ageing actress for the rest of career, thereby exposing the lack of choices offered to ageing stars. Rekha’s roles after the 2000s have to be understood as a product of the fear of old age, which infect the industry and the star. In films like Bachke Rehna Re Baba (2005), Kudiyon ka hai Zamana (2003) Rekha can be thought of as combating the imposition of age on her while in films like Koi Mil Gaya (2003) where she plays the grandmother; she has been put in her place by the market.

Rekha through dominant media discourses: The above section illustrated the limited narrative possibilities in terms of roles granted by the industrial production system and consumer society to an ageing actress and this section elaborates on the discourses around the ageing diva produced through other media texts. The idea of the ‘elusive goddess’ can be used to describe 10 this set of media discourses about Rekha. This idea can be drawn from the Jungian archetype of the Anima. Carl Gustav Jung (2014) notes that the anima is usually expressed as a siren, a mermaid, a wood-nymph, a goddess or a witch in mythology. It encompasses those aspects of the female which are not in the control of the male. Uncontrolled sexuality i.e., sexuality not serving the reproductive role and unfettered by male control (in the form of a husband, father or son) causes the societal anxiety manifested in this archetype. The elusive goddess lives in high temples and is worshipped by the mortals but is inaccessible to them. The ‘elusiveness’ here refers to the impossibility of attaining her. She has her standards so high that no man can reach them and they can lose everything in their pursuits. The elusive goddess thus represents the danger of driving men wayward, sucking their souls out of them. She is a seductress, one who has no consideration for social structures. Her beauty, hence, is not a cause for joy but for anxiety, enhanced by the element of mystery around her. Undying beauty, a melancholy disposition and an insatiable desire are some of the strongest associations of the concept of the elusive goddess. Media discourses take several aspects of Rekha’s life and her onscreen characters to build this image of the elusive goddess around her.

The story of Rekha’s ascent to stardom is used as an important component in building her image as ‘elusive’ but sad, as someone who might win over the world but never get the love of a man. Yasser Usman (2016) in her biography writes that Rekha was pushed into films by her mother Pushpavalli due to her financial needs. She was the daughter of the Tamil superstars Gemini Ganesan and Pushpavalli, born out of wedlock. Both Usman’s book and Garewal’s interview (1999) talk about how the absence of her father in her life has affected her. This works towards underlining the absence of a man in her life to guide her, a father figure in her childhood and a husband in her youth. Further several magazines speak about her relationship with her secretary Farzana as unnatural and describe Farzana as androgynous due to her dressing style (Usman 2016). Her relationship with the ‘androgynous’ secretary is presented to be compensating for the absence of the man in her life. Rekha thus becomes a successful woman who could never get the security of a man’s presence.

One aspect of the elusive goddess is her beauty and in Rekha’s context her stardom is attributed to her ‘sex symbol’ image. Media has often emphasized how she ‘fashioned’ her body to ascend the title of ‘the queen of Bollywood’. The cover of Yasser Usman’s biography describes her transformation as “Rekha, a plump dark skinned fourteen-year-old, was mocked ruthlessly and shamed for her looks. Still, she rose to become the most glamorous sex symbol of the film industry” (Usman 2016). Her change has been described as the change from an ugly duckling to a swan ( Simi Garewal in interview (1999) calls the young Rekha as “suddenly this bodgie teenager of Sawan Badhon (1970) vanished and with a magic wand this new vision appeared”.

The second aspect of the elusive goddess image, as already indicated, is her insatiable desire. Media discourses draw from her characters as a prostitute/dancing girl, a tawaif in Umrao jaan (1981) and Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978) to paint her as the other woman in the lives of her costars. She has been linked with Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Mehra, Sunil Dutt and several others. The media has used her failed marriage with Mukesh Agarwal and his suicide to cast her into the mould of a witch and a seductress. Here the argument is not about the veracity of such claims but the tendency of the system to paint the image of seductress as the most suitable one for a single woman.

Whenever there is a mention of the tawaif in the mainstream Bollywood press or even in academic literature, Rekha is taken as an example. For instance in an edited volume on Bollywood Representations, while discussing various examples of dancing women/genres in Bollywood, Rekha’s performance in a song in Umrao Jaan(1981) as a tawaif is discussed in detail. Later on, in the same text, her turbulent love life and her effect on men are mentioned (Nijhawan 2016: 141). Interestingly, the first film visual which Simi Garewal uses in her 1983 interview with Rekha is also the same song which is discussed in the edited volume cited above. The aspect of the melancholy disposition gets particularly associated with Rekha as she ages. Simi Garewal (1999) in her talk-show introduces Rekha as “a one (of a) kind woman, on-screen and off; like Greta Garbo she has been elusive, enigmatic, almost mythical”. Rajeev Masand (2014), a film critic describes her as “glamorous, beautiful, evergreen and ageless”. The front cover of Yasser Usman’s (2016) book describes her thus “She was sexy and bold. And an unsettled Bollywood tried to tame her”. Several films like Sunset Boulevard (1950), Opening night (1977) present ageing female film stars as lonely, delusional and often mad. Playing to this stereotype, Garewal (1999) also paints Rekha as delusional; in the closing comments of her interview she says “Tonight I also realised that no one can know the real Rekha because she lies somewhere in her fantasy”.

The discourse of the elusive goddess changes with ageing, while her sexuality is a threat to the society in her young age, her insatiable desire descends into madness in her old age. She becomes a figure of pity. Yasser Usman (2016) writes that she had always desired a family life and couldn’t achieve it. Rekha in her interview with Simi Garewal (1999) also emphasises on her unfulfilled desire for family life. She is constantly posed questions on her single status. The mainstream media uses Rekha’s unattached status and her alleged failed relationships with men to portray her as a defeated figure in spite of her long and successful career spanning close to 200 films. An old body is considered to be out of the game of sexuality and hence is to be pitied. The ageing body is understood to be looked after and hence needs support system of the family. A woman who doesn’t fall into the dominant structure imposed by patriarchy is thus questioning several bases of the society. The system attributes loneliness to an unattached woman and shames her ‘misfortune’. Anupama Chopra, critiquing her colleagues, sums up the mainstream media’s approach towards writing about Rekha, “Bollywood insiders speak about an ageing fading actress who can no longer differentiate between the mask and the face. Tabloids paint her as an erotic icon, still longing for unfulfilled love…..Journalists talk in pitying tones of a reclusive woman twisted bitter by lecherous men and loneliness” (Chopra 2003) . As argued by Chivers the performer’s body and the screen representations are both the product of the same prejudices against ageing. While Rekha’s agency in crafting her image is debatable, the fact that the image conforms to the ageism of the society is not in doubt.

Rekha – The Ageless Goddess
This section elaborates on what this ‘Ageless goddess’ image serves in the Indian societal context. She is seen as a role model for the anti-ageing campaign. Anybody who doesn’t seem to age is thus seen as a role model, akin to a warrior who is fighting the menace of ageing. By being ageless the body remains sellable. “Rekha’s Beauty, Makeup and Fitness Secrets Revealed” (Goenka 2017) uses her ‘ageless body’ to sell the aromatherapy, spa therapy, hair treatments etc to the readers. The number of websites that use Rekha to sell anti-ageing products keeps increasing (, This aptly describes the intentions of the consumerist machine, which constantly projects the idea that staying young is staying relevant in contemporary society. By keeping the body in the sphere of agelessness, it is kept in the circle of consumption. In contrast if the body does not enter the consumption sphere through anti-ageing products, it is slowly receding from the hold of consumerism and hence the consumerist machine attempts to shame it into consuming.

The case of the production of star image of Bollywood actor Rekha serves as an important example to understand the intersectionality of gender and ageing in a consumer society. The star is significant to the question of ageing at two levels: the star body is a consumable object and it also performs pedagogic functions. Following Dyer (2007) we have argued that the star image is a product of the on-screen characters played by the star and the media narratives around her professional and personal life. The on-screen image and the personal life of the star are often blended into each other to produce one narrative of the star.

The star body of Rekha is a consumable body with use value and exchange value (Baudrillard 1998). The exchange value of the female star body is the perceived value of the star by the industry. Stars fashion their image to enhance their exchange value. This exchange value is reflected in the opportunities of the entertainment industry. For a female star in patriarchal societies, the exchange value is predominantly pegged on the sexual attractiveness of the star. This is because women are valued largely within strict gender roles (Twigg, 2004) as sexual objects or as nurturers in patriarchal societies. As a result of this the ageing the female body is under higher pressure as compared to the male (Sontag 1982). The exchange value of the ageing star body declines with age; as an ageing body is not perceived to be attractive enough to match the standards of the market. While the young Rekha is presented as the love interest of the protagonist, as she ages she is portrayed as a hyper sexualized older woman before she is type cast as the grandmother. The hyper sexualized image is sometimes presented as a threat and sometimes mocked. Woodward (1988) argues that this masquerading is to be viewed as the attempt of ageing body to stay relevant in consumer society. In other words, it can be argued that as the exchange value of the star body declines, masquerade is one tactic employed by the star to enhance her value.

While speaking about the ageing female star’s personal life the dominant media often presents her as a mother or grand-mother, a role which is thought to be appropriate according to her age. Rekha does not conform to such familial roles and hence is presented through the image of an elusive goddess. In spite of her many achievements she is presented as a failure on account of not having a ‘man in her life’. Dominant media spills over her on-screen character of the other woman into her personal life. With age she is written off as delusional. The structures of ageing and patriarchy go hand in hand to reinforce the discourse around the centrality of the male figure in a woman’s life. Consumerism which sustains itself through the mythology of choice and freedom does not contest the status quo but aids it. Rekha is made the brand-ambassador for antiageing; another appropriate role for the ageing star which serves to perpetuate the anxieties attendant to ageing.

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The concept of intersectionality comes from the understanding that the systems of power (e.g., race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, age, country of origin, citizenship status) cannot be understood in isolation from one another; instead, the systems of power coproduce one another to result in unequal material realities and the distinctive social experiences that characterises them (Collins and Chepp 2013, 60). In this case we examine the intersectionality of age, gender, sexuality in the consumer society.

Sontag also notes that the anxiety about aging is more pronounced among the middle classes and the ich. The availability of the possibility of averting it (anti-ageing treatments) could be seen as one reason for this; a lower class woman is more fatalistic about her aging.

M. Madhava Prasad (2014) differentiates between the words ‘celebrity’ and ‘star’; he notes that stardom is a particular form of celebrity . A star has an aura that the celebrity lacks. A star has the ability to influence people; a celebrity instead has monetized her/his persuasive power by utilizing it in other media or advertising. He makes the distinction in the context of the mass following the certain film stars in South India which has been sometimes realized into political power. This distinction is not relevant for the current paper which is interested in the processes of ageing and hence we have used these terms interchangeably.

Simi Garewal is an erstwhile Bollywood actor who has produced celebrity talk shows. She hosted It’s a Woman’s World in 1980s on Doordarshan channel and Rendezvous with Simi Garewal in late 1990s on Star World.

Rajeev Masand is a prominent film journalist in India.

Anupama Chopra is a prominent film journalist in India.

Yasser Usman is a Television Journalist and film commentator. He has worked with several Indian television channels like Channel 7, ABP News.

Yamini Krishna C is a PhD student in Film Studies department of English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad. Her doctoral research is on the city and cinema. Her other research interests are Indian cinema, popular culture, art and society and digital media cultures.

Sasi Kiran RM is a PhD student in the department of Communication, University of Hyderabad. His doctoral research is on Telugu Print Cultures. His other research interests are Media History, Film Studies, Modernity, Colonial History and digital media cultures.

Courtesy: Rekha-steps-out-without-makeup

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