Shah Rukh Khan, purveyor of love songs and happy endings, is now 40-years-old. In his newest movie, the Rohit Shetty-directed Chennai Express, SRK's character - named, inevitably, Rahul - wastes no time in declaring himself 40 plus. 40-year-old Rahul takes the Chennai Express from Mumbai to Rameshwaram, in the company of feisty Tamil belle Priya, played by Deepika Padukone, who is quite visibly half his age.
Read: Chennai Express trailer stars funny Shah Rukh, funnier Deepika
Just a few months ago, SRK was playing a young man thwarted in love by the 20-something Katrina Kaif in Jab Tak Hain Jaan. To be fair, SRK, 47 in real life, has so far eluded the Rajinikanth trap, playing a digitally age-reversed hero opposite much younger actresses. Nor has he pulled a rabbit out of the hat by playing a college student as Aamir Khan did in 3 Idiots. In the Don series, SRK can't be accused of being anything but middle-aged or thereabouts. In RA.One, he has a son old enough to be a second protagonist.
However, he's never officially been 40 before this.
SRK himself says too much is made in India of heroes getting older and heroines remaining the same age. He told NDTV, "Nobody talks about Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt acting with Katie Holmes. These are characters. Sean Connery was acting with Catherine Zeta-Jones in a film called Entrapment. And it was alright. Sean Connery is like my grandfather. It's a character that you play and the virility, beauty or just the goodness of men and women should not be counted by the years they've led. Having said that, Deepika is way younger than me. But in terms of maturity, intelligence and enactment of roles I learn a lot from her now. We don't feel the age difference."
SRK also professed himself willing to break the age barrier in reverse. "It can be the other way around also. If I'm ever called upon to do a film in which the leading lady is a little older than me would most certainly want to be part of it," he said. A very young SRK did, in fact, experiment with the younger man-older woman equation in Ketan Mehta's Maya Memsaab starring actress Deepa Sahi as the bored wife of a doctor craving a life of drama, glamour and passion.
And if SRK is Bollywood's first officially 40-year-old mainstream hero, a 49-year-old actress stormed the male bastion last year with a film about a middle-aged housewife taking English lessons. Sridevi, superstar of the '80s, made a searing comeback to the silver screen with the much-applauded English Vinglish.
English Vinglish director Gauri Shinde perhaps took heart from the success of her husband R Balki's 2007 film Cheeni Kum, starring a decidedly senior Amitabh Bachchan and a 30-something Tabu in a late-life romance. Last year, actor Boman Irani and director-choreographer Farah Khan played 40 plus Parsis looking for love in Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. And 2005 film Pyaar Mein Twist reunited Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor 32 years after teen romance Bobby without putting the brakes on the ageing process.
With SRK and Sridevi now blazing a trail, Bollywood may finally be growing up.