Enough of these cheerless warriors in gym-rat bodies, says Anupama Chopra
Too many recent releases have centered on superhuman men bashing and smashing. It’s exhausting to watch, leaves no room for a story, and offers far too little for even the men to do.
It’s been four consecutive weeks of major Bollywood releases and I’m already suffering from an overdose of testosterone. Heroes with sculpted abs, biceps bulging like tennis balls, and the ability to defy all laws of physics abound.
Every week, we’ve been asked to suspend disbelief to a greater degree than is fair, as these men — many of them playing cops — flaunt the fiction of their superhuman strength.
In Sooryavanshi, Akshay Kumar as the titular Veer Sooryavanshi hangs from a helicopter with one hand and with the other, manages to grab an escaping criminal by the collar and pull him off his motorcycle. In Satyameva Jayate 2, two John Abrahams — he plays twins — hold down a helicopter with their bare hands so the villain who killed their father can’t take off.
That film is a paean to John’s formidable body. One of the characters he plays is a police officer. When a goon taunts him about hiding behind his uniform, he replies, “Saaf saaf bol, body dekhna chahta hai. Teri galti nahi hai. Public ki bhi yehi demand hai.” He then proceeds to takes off his shirt while the camera swirls around him as if in raptures too.
A similar scene features in Antim: The Final Truth, in which Salman Khan plays a police officer named Rajveer. At one point, while fighting goons, Rajveer also removes his vardi, ostensibly so that he loses his authority and it becomes a battle of equals. (Mainly, of course, so that we get the Salman shirtless frame that is de rigueur in his films.)
I haven’t yet seen Tadap, but the trailer gives us a hero, Ishaana, played by debutant Ahan Shetty, who is so strong that he can do the vrikshasana or tree pose (shirtless, of course) atop a motorcycle parked on the edge of a sheer drop. Which made me wonder, were all the yoga studios occupied?
All these characters are celebrations of a hyper-masculinity that is borderline cartoonish, and exhausting. Satyameva Jayate 2 even features a scene in which one of the John characters is donating blood directly into his wife, who has been severely injured in an accident; he is attacked by goons whom he takes on with one hand while the other remains hooked to the IV. By the end of this film, I felt physically depleted. (The high-decibel background score didn’t help.)
But more problematic is these films’ suffocatingly narrow view of what makes a real man. Women naturally get sidelined — they become glorified junior artists appearing for a few minutes as the girlfriend/wife, mother, sister (a case in point is Katrina Kaif in Sooryavanshi). After all, when there are three John Abrahams in the frame (he also plays the twins’ father), how much of a role can the female lead have?
The pity is, it’s not much of a role for the male lead either. The men are reduced to hollow stereotypes. They become cheerless, noble warriors who are in the spotlight mainly to flaunt their gym-rat bodies. The best part of Sooryavanshi was Ranveer Singh as the mischievous Simmba saying to Singham and Sooryavanshi: “Kiska zyada bada hai (strategic pause) entry?” That really seems to be all these films are about.
Thankfully, we can always rely on Ayushmann Khurrana to mix things up. Coming soon is Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, in which the actor also has a gym-rat bod, but the story has him falling in love with a transwoman. I hope this movie provides the much-needed antidote to the current onslaught of superheroes. Even they are starting to look tired!