The big thing in the multiverse these days is a discussion around the male physique that may not be, um, 12 hard packs, straining at the jib. It’s okay, we are being told, for men to carry a little flab. It’s okay not to be a compulsive gym rat. It’s okay, in other words, to have a dad bod.
Because that’s the real deal. That other stuff, oiled and coiled and muscular? That’s for the movies.
Except it’s not. Despite our insistence on men to be heroes, the kind who will save the world while quipping sardonically, furling their cape, the movies are daring to experiment a little. Only a little, mind you. Because a lot would be too much. And Bollywood has turned out a couple of male persons in the past few months who may fail the conventional masculinity test. Knowing what we do about ourselves as audiences, constantly cribbing about same-old, and hastily withdrawing when something grittier hits us in the face, that’s brave on our filmmakers’ part.
Men who are not manly, in the way we’ve forced them to be for aeons? Who will not be either modern-day cavemen or hunter-gatherers committed to keep their woman in diamonds and silks? We know, to twist Harry Belafonte’s famous phrase, that they are out there. But for them to own up to traits other than these, on the big screen, is still a big, big deal.
To wit, Lappoo aka Prem Prakash Tiwari, the spoiled brat “leading man” in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. The girl, who is to be his wife, is set up to be the butt of his petulance, because, well, that’s the way it is. And has always been.
But the film gives him a chance at being better, to get past the feeling of inferiority. He is not well educated, nor does he have any special talents which can make up for the lack of degrees. The creation of what it means to be a couple is wonderful. Lappoo finds redemption in being able to walk, and run, in tandem with the girl whom he now thinks of as the one who will help him be a man.
No alpha stuff being strutted here, which is such a relief. Because, and this is what I have maintained for a long time, that the only way the “portrayal of women” will change in the movies is when you give the men something different to do. You keep the men imprisoned in the Marlboro mould, you will have their women orienting to them in the same tired ways: smoking is bad for everyone’s health.
The women in the Tanu Weds Manu sequel are striking. Datto is proudly provincial and well-crafted-and-played, but Tanu is more intriguing in a way: she may well be the first major Bollywood female character who is a rebel without any discernible cause. She gets rid of Manu for a temporary return to her pre-marriage state, which, the film tells us, was basically raising hell in her mohalla. She gets back to stringing a couple of smitten men along. Two men are interesting, and make Tanu more interesting too. But she does have an anti-contrarian gene in her somewhere, which raises its head after the hell-raisin’ is over, which makes her want to have second dibs at Manu.
Who is basically presented as a wimp, with a bod that screams dad. Who lets his wife run roughshod over him. Who will not clip her across the face. Who is being roundly pilloried for being a “loser”. Actually, he isn’t anything of the sort. He is just a guy trying not to be either bewildered or bored by the woman he is yoked to, via matrimony. And we all know how the boredom-bewilderment quotient plays out after the pheras are over, and the dust settles. His biggest victory is in letting Tanu be. Good man, I say.