It’s too much testosterone. Take it down a notch, say Anupama Chopra
KGF: Chapter 2, RRR, Pushpa: The Rise, Sooryavanshi... I hope the hyper-masculine heroes of recent hits, bashing and bathed in blood, don’t become the new industry standard, Chopra says.
Our cinematic landscape is awash in testosterone. A case in point: The many recent blockbusters across Hindi, Telugu and Kannada cinema fronted by heroes with a “chhappan inch ka seena” or the famous 56-inch chest. Think of Sooryavanshi, in which three superstars strutted onscreen and whose promo included the memorable question: “Kiski badi hai...entry?” Or the hit Pushpa: The Rise, the titular role played by a fierce Allu Arjun, who declares: “Pushpa isn’t a flower. It is fire”.
Take RRR, which had its heroes roaring back at tigers and squashing the British. And the current toast of the town, KGF: Chapter 2, in which a hero named Rocky uses a machine gun to decimate a police station and then, with panache, lights a cigarette on the red hot, smoking barrel. He also declares: “Violence, violence, violence, I don’t like it. I avoid it. But violence likes me. As does success.” This dubbed Kannada blockbuster had an astounding ₹134-crore opening in India, with the Hindi version setting an all-time record of almost ₹54 crore on the first day.
What does this mean for the Hindi-film hero? In the last 25 years, our leading men have expanded and evolved in intriguing ways. In 1995, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Shah Rukh Khan ushered in the era of the urbane, sensitive, stylish hero; a man of desi values wrapped in designer clothes. Raj fasted along with Simran on Karva Chauth, offered sartorial advice to her aunt Kammo and chopped vegetables with the women in the kitchen. The film reduced its leading lady to a passive player tossed between her father and her boyfriend, but the boyfriend wasn’t a lout — that was the villain of the piece, Simran’s betrothed, the loud, boorish Kuljeet.
The past decade saw another shift. The rise of stars who didn’t fit the tall, fair and handsome template redefined what the hero could do. Ayushmann Khurrana, who first made waves with Vicky Donor in 2012, forged his own sub-genre in which he played men dealing with deep insecurities and relatable issues such as balding and erectile dysfunction.
Rajkummar Rao was a smash hit as Pritam Vidrohi, a meek, mild-mannered sari salesman who puts on a tough-guy act, in Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017). Vikrant Massey made waves as the troubled, gentle Shutu in A Death in the Gunj (2016). Even actors who followed more traditional paths to stardom didn’t conform to the hero formula. Remember Ranbir Kapoor as the weepy, friend-zoned Ayan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) or the angsty Ved in Tamasha (2015)? In the climax, Ved prostrates himself on stage, before his girlfriend Tara, because her love has transformed him.
Ranveer Singh could be said to symbolise the current shift, doing equally well as the outsized, hypermasculine Simmba (2018) and the vulnerable but determined Murad of Gully Boy (2019).
The heroes of the last decade were more life-like than larger-than-life. As much as I enjoy the flamboyant moves of characters like Rocky, I hope that old-school machismo remains an additional film flavour and doesn’t become the norm. Because that would be tragically limiting, for the men and women on screen and for us in the audience.