{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Indian cinema has long been notorious for its ridiculous gender gap. That fifty plus heroes are paired with heroines who are half their age (or less) even in this day and age is not something that is surprising anymore – in fact, it’s convention. The situation is just as bleak in the west, with Hollywood also afflicted by similar gender parity in both casting and in pay. It’s as if every female actress in the world comes with some kind of expiry date, after which they’re exiled to smaller, less significant roles. While films still have a long way to go, it’s heartening to note that television, or at least recent television has created a space for older female actors. More and more shows with strong women leads who don’t necessarily fit into the cookie-cutter versions of female TV characters (young, beautiful and full of first world problems) have been cropping up the past year.

Take the case of Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ll admit that despite being a huge fan, I was relieved to see the end of Sex And The City. It was painful to watch her as Carrie in the last few seasons, for she had obviously aged but was still being written like a twenty-year-old. In her newest show Divorce, however, she takes on the role of a woman struggling through a dysfunctional, middle-aged marriage. The show works because of its painful honesty, an honesty that wouldn’t have been possible without the caliber of an actress like Sarah Jessica Parker, who doesn’t just play Frances, but becomes her.

Winona Ryder, one of the eighties’ most iconic actresses, made a splash on the smaller screen by wresting all attention in Stranger Things. Her performance as the distraught small town who must make sense of the bizarre happenings that shroud her son’s disappearance made the show for me. Interestingly enough, the other character who stands apart among the varied and diverse cast of the show, is twelve-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. Brown blew me away as ‘Eleven’, a child on whom unspeakable experiments have been conducted on, and is additional proof that when it comes to being a lead, age and gender are mere constructs.

Grace and Frankie rounds off the list of my favourite shows with unconventional and (much) older female leads. This heartwarming comedy about two seventy-year-olds trying to reclaim whatever is left of their lives after their husbands declare their love for each other, resonated with me in ways I never expected it to. Given how sixty plus actresses are usually relegated to two minute roles of crazy grandmother, it’s brilliant to see 78-year-old Jane Fonda and 77-year-old Lily Tomlin light up the screen the way that they do, and have always done.

There are a few more shows that I can list with older and nuanced female leads. There’s How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis as a powerful lawyer with a turbulent life, and although I’ve stopped watching Empire, there’s really no doubt in my (or anyone else’s) mind that the life of the show is Taraji P Henson in her role as Cookie Lyon. Veep is another example of a series whose success has hinged entirely on Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ comic talent and timing.

Shows which are brave enough to go all out on a female lead are few, but it is heartening to note that there is a palpable change taking place across the film and television fraternity. One can only hope that more shows with older female leads make it to screen, after all, actresses, like fine wine, only get better as they age.

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