No heroes in Bollywoodhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/no-heroes-in-bollywood/

No heroes in Bollywood

The once noble leading man has been undone — by toilet humour.

The once noble leading man has been undone — by toilet humour.

So I am here to write this obit on the Bollywood hero. He died when we saw him watering the mustard fields,from his very own personal spout,singing : “tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam”. Really,I wanted to ask Ranbir Kapoor,“kya dekha”? Just what did you see in that story that made you want to put yourself on screen and draw attention to the fact that you can urinate,rotate your pelvis,and sing a song,all at the same time?

Strictly speaking,the young Kapoor’s eliminating act in Besharam is just the tipping point. The Bollywood hero has been dying,movie by movie,for some time now. No literal deathbed scenes decorated by a sickle-carrying figure or a “yamraaj” on a buffalo. But join the dots,and you can see nothing but the death of creativity. And The Hero.

The Hindi film hero began by being noble. He had to be Maryada Purushottam Ram. The man who upheld tradition and respected his elders and betters,touched their feet and,asked for “aashirwad”. His romances had to be conducted with societal approval. He could also be Krishna and flirt with many “gopis”,but only briefly. Having established his masculinity,he was expected to be happy with holy matrimony.

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When the hero started getting unshackled from these two variants,he began lunging towards the bad,but it was never the evil that is interred with the bones. He could do bad things,and then repent. Or he could,alternatively,die in his mother’s arms,in front of a religious edifice. Maa and Bhagwan — there could be no better double-bill appeasement.

Then came a time when all this was old hat. We began thirsting for some real men who could live with their infirmities. But that was a short-lived deviation. We decided that the superstar-heroes we were willing to pay the most for were not going to be caught living a life,doing the things you and I do. Which meant that the stars and their writers began looking for things that sold the most,and this has led to the present situation: the Bollywood hero getting jammed between a rock and several hard places.

Below the belt has become the sweet spot du jour. That is where our eyes are trained,as the Bollywood hero shakes his booty and lets fly the pee-and-fart jokes,which get the maximum laughs,whether it is a single screen or a multiplex: it is astounding how lines about bad smells and orifices always,always manage to convulse so many people.

The Bollywood hero has gone past being a vulgarian,the sort of Chaucerian vulgarian whose foibles were so essential to the script. He is now a guy who is able to fire off base jokes about women and private parts and everything in between,simply because it makes mass audiences guffaw. He is now,if I may coin a phrase,a crassarian.

There may be something faintly amusing about a dog looking for a pole to lift a hind leg at. When you transfer that act to a human,it may still be all right,if done right. A scene in Ship Of Theseus,where a guy waits for his ill grandmother to finish her business on a bed pan,is supremely affecting. In circuses,a clown used to mock-pull-his-pants-down,but a clown was a noble vulgarian,engaged in a high order of performance. He could raise a leg,but he could also pull a great face. We laughed with him and at ourselves,because that was his function: he held up a mirror,made us encounter ourselves,and provided healing laughter.

When Salman Khan talks about making so many “holes” in a lout’s body that he won’t know where he will pass wind from,he is blurring the line. Several years ago,this same Khan broke wind and got a beautiful girl to be his personal fart-wrangler: she waved the air in front of her and the smell vanished. We smiled because that is what the scene in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was meant to do: show that the hero was human,and the ingestion of too many “undhiyaan” caused gas that needed releasing.

Salman now gets maximum applause when he talks about “chhed karna” (Dabangg). Shah Rukh Khan’s pelvis becomes a body part that jerks,jerks,jerks even when he is playing at being a child-pleasing robot (Ra One).The latest in this line is Akshay Kumar,talking about “paani nikaalna” (Boss) and the camera cutting away to a guy wetting his pants.

Does the fact that both Besharam and Boss have performed sub par at the box office tell us something?

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com