How stars like Neena Gupta, Zeenat Aman & Shefali Shah finally found their place in the sun via OTT

How stars like Neena Gupta, Zeenat Aman & Shefali Shah finally found their place in the sun via OTT
Image credits- Business Insider India
  • Veteran star Zeenat Aman made her Instagram debut at 71 and amassed over 1.3 lakh followers in just a month. She will soon make her web series debut.
  • Neena Gupta’s appeal for work on Instagram heralded a change in the way the industry looked at veteran actresses.
  • OTT platforms have not only revived careers of veteran stars, it has also brought to centre stage actresses long-sidelined by mainstream media.
Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish that released in 2012, was considered a sleeper hit despite starring one of Indian cinema’s original female superstars, Sridevi. It took the industry by surprise because Bollywood rarely backs female-led movies and even when it does, these movies – especially those starring veterans, aren’t expected to become commercial potboilers.

However, the advent of over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney plus Hotstar etc, and the rise of social media has changed the scenario. In some cases, actresses of a certain vintage have begun to take centre stage – with some even landing hits far more popular than the ones delivered by mainstream heroes.

In February 2023, the 70s heart-throb Zeenat Aman, 71, made her debut on Instagram. Within a month, she has amassed 1.37 lakh followers and won over the audience with her articulate, unabashed and honest views — a far cry from the carefully-curated celebrity updates people are accustomed to.

“The roles available to women are clearly not just ornamental anymore. What hasn’t changed though is the gender pay gap. In my time I was lauded as the highest paid female actor, but the disparity in the pay cheque between my male co-stars and myself was so vast it was laughable…it disappoints me that even today women in the film industry don’t have wage parity,” remarked Aman in one of her many posts on the platform.

Aman, who’ll soon make her web series debut with Showsttopper, co-starring Shweta Tiwari, Rohit Roy and others, also walked the ramp for Shahin Mannan’s fashion show at the Lakme Fashion week. She’s the latest in a long list of veteran actresses who’ve taken to new-age entertainment platforms and social media channels like fish to water, and have managed to shatter the long-held Bollywood concept of ‘limited shelf life’ for female actors.


But, it’s certainly not a new phenomenon.

The Bollywood stars who went to reality shows

There’s always been a clear divide between a TV and movie star in India, with television often seen as a stepping stone to movies — but only for a few. Most stars who start with TV shows, however, continue to remain there.

However, when some of the stars from the 90s and early 2000s first made their comeback, it was as judges of reality shows on TV or in some cases, as contestants. For instance, Shilpa Shetty famously participated in Big Brother —- the British version of Bigg Boss, which catapulted her back to stardom.

A few even took to TV shows, like Sonali Bendre in Ajeeb Daastaan Hai Ye (2014). Although superstars like Madhuri Dixit have managed to reinvent their careers and regularly land exciting roles, that wasn’t the case for many other veteran actresses. Until actor Neena Gupta decided to ask for work on social media, heralding a change in the way Bollywood views older stars.

In 2017, Neena Gupta, the star of indie cinema in the 1980s, openly asked for work — a move that left a majority of the population within the industry, and even outside of it, surprised. After all, this is an industry where actors out of work for years still spout the excuse, “looking for the right script.”

“I live in Mumbai and working, am a good actor looking for good parts to play,” wrote Gupta on Instagram.

The result of Gupta’s request – since 2017, she’s starred in over 10 different movies and web series, including blockbuster hits like Badhaai Ho and crowd favourites like Panchayat. Her Badhaai Ho co-star, the late Surekha Sikri also won her third National Film Award for the film.

The other comeback: Sidelined by mainstream media but stars on OTT

The advent of OTT streaming has not only shone the spotlight on veteran stars but has also given actors sidelined by mainstream media a chance to showcase their acting prowess. Like actor Shefali Shah.

Sidelined by mainstream cinema for years, 49-year-old Shah’s gritty performance in Netflix’s International Emmy-winner Delhi Crime was the perfect response to that mistreatment. Since then, she’s been on a roll, delivering hits across genres — romantic dramas like Netflix’s Once Again, thrillers like Prime Video’s Jalsa and Disney+Hostar’s Human or dark comedies, like Darlings (on Netflix).

In fact, OTT brought back many millennials’ childhood divas, be it former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen or the ‘tip tip’ girl, Raveena Tandon. And they didn’t return to play stereotypical mothers to actors who were as old or even younger than themselves — as Shefali Shah did for Akshay Kumar in the film Waqt: The Race Against Time. Shah is six years younger than Kumar.

Rather they starred as protagonists in shows with gripping storylines that gave them a chance to flex their long-dormant acting muscles. The result — Sen’s mom-turned-mobster avatar in Aarya and Tandon’s small-town cop in Aranyak and the antagonist in KGF2.

As Sen shared in an interview with film critic Anupama Chopra for Film Companion, “What I like about Bollywood now is suddenly, content is king. It’s incredible how liberal the language of cinema is becoming. It’s allowing people to explore all different aspects — writing, execution, direction, actors getting that opportunity to go beyond the boy-meets-girl phase. It’s wonderful.”

Long story short, the stars have finally aligned for Bollywood’s veteran and long-sidelined powerful actresses. And it’s a well-deserved comeback indeed!

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