Saturday, October 07, 2006

On celebrity age-fudging

[Warning: very obsessive post, full of tiny details that won't mean much to anyone else. It derives from my unhealthy (and as far as I can tell, minority-of-one) obsession with people's years of birth. I get pissed off when public figures fudge their years of birth. It feels like they are thus denying not only their own personal histories but the personal histories of their families, friends, colleagues and contemporaries, and eventually perhaps in some small way altering the story of the world.

Yes, I DID say this was going to be an obsessive-compulsive rant.]

It's widely known that the ages of some film stars are as difficult to pin down as those of Pakistani cricketers (remember that alarming period when Inzamam refused to budge from the cold comforts of 29 for a full five years?). There's the old yarn about a much-married Hollywood diva from the silent era who kept sneakily removing years from her portfolio until one day her press agents discovered that she was now officially younger than her eldest son. Fortunately it didn't make much difference in this case since the son wasn't a public figure himself - and so the deception continued apace until the actress died of natural causes, still a few years older than her eldest grandchild.


[Note: I may have fabricated this yarn. But if so, I maintaiin there is poetic truth in it.]

Some years ago, while helping to compile articles for an encyclopedia of Indian cinema, I found that it was nearly impossible to get reliable information on the years of birth for some celebrities. The only cases where you could be reasonably sure were with dynasties such as the Kapoor khandan, or with star children (Sanjay Dutt, Saif Ali Khan) of parents who were already famous at the time of their birth. Also, performers who began their careers as child-actors. It's not that the information isn't available but that it changes with amazing frequency. Trawling the usual websites with actor profiles (IMDB, Wikipedia, Upperstall.com), it's entertaining to watch the number-fudging patterns that emerge over the months. Some observations:

- Age-tampering occurs far more often with performers who had ultra-glamorous images during their heyday. With actresses like Raakhee, Jaya Bhaduri and even Hema Malini, sticking to one date of birth was never a problem – in fact, growing old gracefully became a feather in their matronly hair-buns. But it's quite different for, say, Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, who had to be seen as being forever young. It's a matter of biographical record that both these ladies had a full formal education; at the very least, each of them finished college before she got anywhere near a movie camera. But if you look at some of the birth dates officially trotted out for them (Parveen's was widely reported as 1955 after her death last year) and then glance through their filmographies, you'd have to think they were 14 or 15 when they were shooting their first films. (Zeenie managed somehow to do a journalistic course after graduation, work for a while with Femina, and still make her movie debut while in her teens!)

- Typically, the alterations start to happen when a personality is about to encounter an undesirable milestone birthday. Shatrughan Sinha, for instance, has been on a desperate mission to avoid hitting the unmentionable S-I-X-T-Y for some time now; his official year of birth has changed from 1941 through 1945 and 1946, and is currently showing as 1948 on Wikipedia (though amusingly it still says "1945 births" in the Categories section at the bottom of the page). Again, a basic biographical check will indicate that 1941 is the most plausible YoB; Sinha post-graduated from the FTII in the mid-1960s before starting his career as a villain.
On the same lines, Sunny Deol has recently discovered the inherent problem with being born in October 1956: as October 2006 approaches you might meet people who know the fine art of subtraction and come to distasteful conclusions about you. Little wonder then that Deol's YoB has been magically pushed forward five years to 1961 on both the IMDB and Wikipedia databases (this happened within the last month). Perhaps with a view to maintaining cosmic order, his father Dharmendra's birth-year was briefly changed from 1935 to 1939 on Wikipedia – never mind that naram Dharam was merrily accepting congratulations for his 70th birthday last year.

- In Bollywood, actresses are not permitted to be even a couple of years older than the actors they have been successfully paired with (because that could only make them their bhabhis, and then how would romance come?). Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla have both had hits with each of the three Khan heroes (who were all verifiably born in 1965), which could be one reason why both women have their official DoBs as late 1967. This is more than a little risible given that a) Juhi won the Miss India contest in early 1984 and b) Madhuri made her film debut with Abodh in 1983.

(Apropos of nothing, I remember a magazine quote from one of Ms Dixit's Class 12 teachers who expressed surprise that she became an actress at all, given how she used to wrinkle her nose at Hindi cinema. Quite a double life that, to be making such statements in front of classmates and then scooting off to a film set for dhak-dhak after school was out.)

The amusing thing about these charades is the selective amnesia required: the tampering of ages as if they exist in a vacuum and don't have any bearing on the past. All that matters is the here and now: this actor is only 35 today and that's all you're supposed to care about; you're not supposed to remember that he was dancing around trees and beating up goons 30 years ago. No one but poor obsessive-compulsive me seems to care.

And so a day might come when a quick mathematical calculation will reveal that Madhuri was just 10 when she did the "Ek Do Teen" song for Tezaab (thus turning all young men of that time into wannabe paedophiles and giving us more retrospective information than we need about societal trends of the 1980s). Eventually, if the deception is carried far enough, she may altogether cease to exist.

P.S. Wikipedia being what it is, some of the dates I've mentioned in this piece (the Deols', for instance) have already been re-revised. Don't bet on them staying that way.

Update: Praba Mahajan, a researcher associated with GRAFTII (graduates of FTII), writes in to tell me that Shatrughan Sinha graduated from the FTII in 1967 and that a college degree wasn't a prerequisite for joining the FTII. Which means that he could be 1946-born after all (though certainly no younger). Fair enough; the only reason I'm still slightly doubtful is that the Shotgun's YoB was 1941 for a long time on sites like IMDB and Wikipedia; and in my experience the earliest-mentioned YoB for an actor/actress is usually the correct one!

(Illustration: Anirban Bora for Business Standard)

23 comments:

  1. Eventually, if the deception is carried far enough, she may altogether cease to exist.


    in fact, the most exquisite irony of our entire film history is that most of it cannot have happened at all.

    and an occassional fire in a film archive makes us live ever more in the present: a 1/24th of a second flicker of memory.

    lets hear it for living in the moment.

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  2. You've broken my heart. I have to think of la Dixit as 'Auntie' now?
    On the other hand, one still lusts for Rekha, so no big deal.

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  3. Gosh! You're right, you are obsessive. hmmm either that or you don't really have much to do :P

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  4. Hilarious!Age is a monster, I guess. but i'd have thought it would be better to be sixty and look forty than the other way round. I came across an interview with Shilpa Shirodkar (remember?) saying she started in movies at the age of 12!Maybe all celebrities age by a different clock(or rather, calendar?) Reminds me of this:
    There was a young lady of Wight
    Who traveled with the speed of light
    She went out one day
    In a 'relative' way
    And came back the previous night.

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  5. i love the eye for detail.. maybe we should publish a report... do please do another post like this one!

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  6. Oh! I never knew of this. *hoots*

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  7. On the other hand, I have been asked via very discreet emails if I am a lady in my late forties. Of course there is no claim to stardom here but I thought I should state my pain too.

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  8. I can empathize with a working actress who fudges her age. Both Hollywood and Bollywood are very sexist places, and seems far more forgiving of a 50 year old leading man than a 40 year old leading actress.

    However, I once met an aspiring actress who I would have sworn wasn't a day over 25. Later I was told by a common friend that she was 38 and proudly stated her real age to everyone. I would too, if I looked as good as her in my late 30s.

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  9. I guess celebs have do lead two lives, mostly by default, one for themselves and one for the people.
    Wud be interesting to know if they chose not to listen to their publicity guides.
    That apart, are we not doing it; defying age, that is, by using hair colour, wearing trendy clothes...
    Age is a barrier, my friend, and the problem is there in the mind. Someone just need to tickle it.

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  10. As long as we're willing to accept a 40-year old hero as a college student, these guys will find a reason to fudge.

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  11. Interesting that you posted this just a day before Aishwarya's (not Rai's) birthday. No connection, I hope...though I do believe she'll start fudging her year of birth as soon as she hits 26.

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  12. Ummm Juhi Chawla could well have been born in 1967 ..to be a little nasty make it 1966. Fact is I'm 69 born and she was 2 years senior to me at CJM,Fort, Mumbai . She was Head Girl is 81/82 so i guess one can do the math !
    Ila

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  13. Hmmm...so you're saying she was 16 when she won a contest where the minimum age is 18 years? Now that must have required some heavy-duty fudging...

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  14. And today is Rekha's 51st birthday. Are we okay with that?

    Secondly, why no Imran Khan and Wasim Akram and others, who can still walk in to the Pakistan Under-19 squad...?

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  15. 52nd birthday actually, considering that her YoB has always been 1954 (as far back as I can remember). It's difficult to believe that date (it would make her just 15-16 during Sawan Bhadon and a mere 26 when she entered her "mature" period with Silsila and Umrao Jaan), but this is one of those cases that it's likely true - since she was the daughter of Gemini Ganesan and started off as a child actress in the early 1960s.

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  16. you have really jabbed it into bollywood ribs. delicious post -- never realised you knew so much about Hindi cinema (lol). One person who surprised me on this count before you is Chandan Mitra. Editor material, huh?

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  17. Thoroughly entertaining piece.

    This is what i like, humor backed by research.

    Great!!

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  18. Excellent post - thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    You have forgotten Sridevi - The earliest movie I have known of Sridevi is Badi Pantulu, Telugu, released in 1972 in which she acted as NTR's grand-daughter. She has always claimed she was just a 5- or 6-year-old then. Her earliest hit is Padaharella Vayasu, again a Telugu film, in which we all know she must have been at least in her late teens (and she herself claims she was 16). This movie was released in 1978. Maths somebody? Of course, she has not moved beyond 35!

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  19. I'm not going to bother with my details but lets just say - as a customs officer from Bihar - I've seen Mr Sinha's passport up close and his official DOB is 9th Dec 1946 so please stop worrying about his age and worry more about your dad's.....or your moms if you please. Yeah thats sounds about right.
    Thanks

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  20. hey!

    Just wanted to say this -- I think in Indian society people tend to be shocked that you can be so much older than the co stars and yet so much prettier, or there are stereo types who believe that a girl should be married by the time she is 25 and my gosh Madhuri and Juhi got married after 35 and probably had their 2nd child when they were past 40, so then again, so much to gossip and bitch about.

    The sad thing is that these actresses tend to fall in with the general janta and refuse to reveal their real age, which is what is a shame. They should reveal their ages, it will only increase their popularity. Here a lot of people know for a fact that both of them are telling lies!

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  21. awesome resaerch and good followups

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  22. really good research, very interesting. keep it up, :)

    -cathy young
    http://sexywomencelebs.blogspot.com/

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  23. Another FYI on Sridevi's claim on her Wiki page ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sridevi ). No way she was born in 1963. That implies that she was only 13 when cast as a heroine in the Tamil movie Moondru Mudichu (1976) ( also in the same URL). Check it out. K. Balachander, a foremost director in the Tamil film industry would never cast a 13yr old child as a leading lady and subject her to the pressures of the entertainment industry.

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