The phrase ‘mellowing’ has come to associate itself with the positive implications of ageing today. This positive concept of ageing is represented very well in Indian cinema both mainstream and off-mainstream, national and regional expressions of good cinema, offering tributes to life rather than a tribute to ageing per se.

The celluloid portrayal of ageing does not sound much of a commercial prospect or as having appeal for the mass audience because the term ‘entertainment’ relates immediately to youth, romance, and an electric energy flowing through a film and lots of sound, action, dance and music.

But contrary to this theory, Indian cinema that is centred on ageing and aged characters has drawn a large slice of the Indian audience to the theatres and is doing so till this date.

Two examples from Bengali cinema would prove this argument. One example is the big box office hit Bela Sheshe directed jointly by Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy. Bela Sheshe means, “in the autumn of my life”, a metaphor for the aged couple who form the lead pair of the film which revolves around a married couple who decide to separate after 50 years of marriage and narrates a tale of how the decision will change not only their children’s lives but also their own, alone and together.

“There are moments in film that take your presence and turn it twist it, drench it with fact and rumble it through a drying machine to leave you dry, clean and washed with temperament…I went through Belasheshe which is creating some record runs in Kolkata and Bengal,” wrote Amitabh Bachchan in his blog after watching the film.

Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukhopadhyay have made it their credo to make wholesome family entertainment that leaves behind a feel-good sensibility when the film ends. In Belaseheshe, they carry the message of how within patriarchy, the husband does not even know what his wife likes to read, whether she reads at all or not, which film star she is a fan of, what she loves to eat and so on.

This is a grim reflection of reality as it exists within a husband-wife relationship where the husband is 75 and the wife is 66. Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta come together after 30 years since Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire. Belasheshe is a sweet love story of a couple who discover love for the first time when their marriage is about to celebrate 50 years of togetherness.

One more Bengali film that is slated for release is Benche Thakar Gaan directed jointly by Sudeshna Ray and Abhijit Guha who have a long track record in making socially relevant films over the past 20 years.

This film is set within an old age home and its members, each living with their distinct idiosyncrasies that have either grown with age or has been created by age. Their world, a bit out-of-sync because of the strict, autocratic director-founder of the home is turned topsy turvy with the sudden entry of Paromita Sen, a young psychiatrist who has taken up a job at this home to counsel the members who are burdened by a sense of isolation and yet cannot live together in harmony.

The outstanding feature is that the actors playing the senior citizens living within the home have ruled Bengali cinema in the past but are almost forgotten by contemporary Bengali filmmakers. Acting their real age with characteristic permutations and combinations, they come across differently, spontaneously and naturally in the film.

“The social system is changing. There are times in our lives when even children with good intentions cannot look after their ageing parents and live away from them. What will these parents whose lives have been spent mainly on nurturing and bringing up these very children now do? Will they languish in their loneliness waiting for D-Day to arrive and take them to Neverland? Or will they make the best of their present situation and learn to live Life this time, only for themselves? This is what we have tried to address through this film,” said Sudeshna Roy responding to what motivated them to make this film.

“We are not looking at a hapless group of elderly men and women who have been dumped by their children but the film is also about financially independent senior citizens making a choice to stay away from the younger generation through personal choice,” she adds.

Mainstream Indian cinema is often accused of gaining some sort of a malicious, sado-masochistic thrill in portraying artificial schisms between parents and children, where children are often, brazenly disrespectful towards their ageing parents to the point of humiliating, insulting and abusing them.

Exceptions have been few and far between. Examples are -Shaji Karun’s Piravi, Balu Mahendra’s Sandhya Raagam (Malayalam), four Kannada films directed by Girish Kasaravalli, namely Tabarana Kathe, Kraurya, Thai Saheb, and Kurmavatar, and among Hindi language films, - Mahesh Bhatt's Saransh, Govind Nihalani's Party and Hazaar Chaurasiki Maa. Buddhadev Dasgupta’s Kaalpurush is a moving tribute to the gap between a father and his son which is bridged only after the father is no more.

Satyajit Ray paid his own tribute to old age through his film Agantuk (The Stranger) performed by Utpal Dutt. Aparna Sen’s Paromitar Ek Din is a beautiful ode to a mother-in-law who dies when her daughter-in-law leaves the home and she cannot cope with the loss of this very young friend. Gautam Ghose paid his tribute to a lecherous old artist slowly losing his vision in Dekha.

Jayaraaj's Karunyam focusses on the pathos (Karunyam means 'pathos') of old age and loneliness. It defined a pointer to our growing awareness of the negative impact of modernisation, urbanisation and westernisation on the contemporary Indian mindset.

"My film unfolds the insecurity of the aged, visible everywhere today" says director Jayaraaj of his film. "Even in a small province such as the one I live in, the number of old age homes is increasing everyday. Glorified mortuaries with dead bodies of parents wait indefinitely for their children, settled abroad.

These real-life situations motivated me to make this film" he sums up. The film opens with the old woman looking through the misty mortuary glass window to see her beloved's frozen, yet, still-longing face, waiting as it were, to see his children. This was his last wish, unfulfilled.

Tabarana Kathe was based on a short story by Poornachandra Tejasvi. “We portrayed Tabara not in the manner of an outsider who looked at him and his situation with a critical eye but from Tabara's own perspective. He was a creature of his time, a man who admired bureaucracy and yet was suppressed by it,” said Kasaravalli about his film that deals with the futile efforts of a retired government servant to earn his pension.

The idiosyncrasies of old age as time turns into a kind of void in terms of decay has been redefined completely on celluloid by none other than Amitabh Bachchan whose current phase of characters reveal a different face of time slipping by that evolved from the alcoholic-turned-schizophrenic teacher of handicapped children in Black through the constipated, rude hypochondriac in Piku, the avenging grandfather in Teen to the angry old lawyer in Pink.

Compare this with Nirupa Roy’s screen mother in Deewar, or, Rohini Hattangadi’s mother in Agnipath or Nargis’s Radha in Mother India or Sharmila Tagore’s dignified mother in Aradhana, Shabana Azmi’s mafia leader in Godmother and you will find layers of the woman as a dignified senior citizen remembered for their wonderful portrayals.

Films like Saraansh, Avtaar and Baghban close with the protagonists winning against all odds. These offer very optimistic and positive image of old age that is portrayed with the right touch of dignity and grace that it deserves.

The senior protagonists in these films do not suffer in insecurity or fall into depression or rely on and overload of religion and prayers. The characters offer examples for both young and old to follow, throw up models of the difference between what old age can be and what it should be. Watch Benche Thakar Gaan.

It should be in many festivals in the near future asking us all to sing a tribute to the very act of living and not surviving.