Fixed Formula

Is “Rowdy” the new “Luchche-lafangey”?

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Published:June 23, 2012 1:43 am

Is “Rowdy” the new “Luchche-lafangey”? Those who remember the Bollywood of the ‘80s,not to forget the ‘70s,because that’s where it all started,will recall how the heroines would recoil in horror at the improper advances made by the villain. Luchche-lafangey is what a generation of bad guys were called by the leading lady,before she did the shrinking violet act,and after the hero gave him (the villain) two tight slaps. Or a punch to the jaw.

What’s important to note is that luchche-lafangey,invariably yoked together to give it proper heft,was not exactly a terribly bad word. It could,depending upon the context,be transferred to the hero,too. When the hero was being his frisky,bachelor self,coming on to the girl of his dreams. Just a little,mind it. No more than a daring look,or an accidental bang-against-the-cycle,or a song to express what he could not say in words. In which case,the whole tone of the luchche-lafangey would change: it would become more endearment than expletive.

This blurring of the line allowed the ’70s and the ’80s to create a template in which the hero could do some wrong as long as he quickly reverted to the side of the angels,the heroine could don western garb when she was flirting but had to move to salwars and saris as soon as she became the star of the hero’s eye,and bhabhiji to the hero’s comedian friend,and the villain,of course,had to come to a dastardly end.

I lose count of the number of sad,dispirited films I’ve seen which adhered strictly to this format. Everybody,from A-list stars to the lowliest sidekicks,had to fit into the formula,and it went galloping happily through those decades,decimating all that had the temerity to stand up against it. When it came to the numbers,Bollywood knew exactly where the big ’uns were,till the ’90s showed up,and audiences started turning their back on these made-to-order movies. Luchche-lafangey,and its constant companions (the always-sick mother,the ever-suffering sister,the forever-virtuous heroine,and a bunch of other cliches) started fading.

But did it go away completely? Of course not. The stakeholders of the movie which we thought we would never see again held fast to their belief that if you needed the masses to rally round,you would need a film that erases all individuality,all spikiness,all difference. You need a film that helms a Big Male Star. Call him a Khan,or a Kapoor. Or a Devgn. It matters not who the heroine is. Add in dollops of low brow,crude,crass humour. Get in an item girl. Lower the denominator to the bottom. There are your 100 crores. The Formula is dead,long live the Formula.

Cut to the latest big Bolly 2012 hit,and what do you find? Rowdy Rathore has broken into the 100 crore club,rampaging through both single screen and multiplex. What does this signal to an industry which is forever looking for a sign? That while it is okay to mouth platitudes about doing different content,you put your money right here: in front of a star who does nothing,absolutely nothing new,who calls the heroine “maal” not once,but several times,and who goes right back to that thing: beating back 40 bad guys all at once,all by himself.

It also tells producers,directors,actors and writers that it pays to be completely,flagrantly unoriginal. The Hindi Rowdy… is the fourth iteration of a movie which has been made thrice in southern languages. Like all south remakes,it doesn’t know,and doesn’t care,if it is tonally confused. It couldn’t be bothered that it will turn a fine actor like Nasser into a cheap goon mouthing faux Bihari gaalis. And it practically revels in its misogynist attitude towards women. The 20-something heroine is made to exhibit her kamariya more than her acting abilities,and it turns rape and its grinning perpetrator into something children can watch with their parents.

It has returned Akshay Kumar to the big boys’ club: this is his first 100 crore hit,and it has pulled him back up the sticky slope that he was on,now that he has pulled off a solo biggie by himself. The success of a Rowdy Rathore will make him do more of the same. Bye bye,Akshay the actor. It will tell the studios,and not just the ones that backed this venture,that if you want the lolly,go after a Wanted,or a Singham. (I am not including Dabangg in this list; it had a sense of place and character that these remakes lack). And a Rowdy… Single name titles,simply understood,no pressure on the bheja.

Finally,it tells everyone who’s busy trying to hack a living in tinseltown,that it is almost mandatory to be lazy. Borrow a story,staple a hero on to it,do a song-and-dance-and-fight,just the way Bollywood’s always dunnit. The Formula isn’t broken,why fix it? The scourge is upon us.

shubhra.gupta @expressindia.com

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