Recent trends in Bollywood movies seem to suggest the demise of the sensitive, tenderly-in-love leading man. The contemporary hero is complex, brutish and muscular.
ANURAG Kashyap’s Dev D is about an emotionally dysfunctional guy who has to deal with two strong, sharp-tongued and liberated women – a childhood sweetheart and a sex worker – in what is being viewed as a post-modernist cinematic interpretation of the by-now-popular catchphrase, “immosunul atyachar” – emotional tyranny.
Whether the high-pitched romanticism of Devender Singh Dhillon could have worked with audiences even five years back (when Shah Rukh Khan played Devdas in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film) is, of course, a debatable point. All the 12 versions of the film made so far have remained faithful to the tone and tenor of the Sarat Chandra classic written almost a century ago.
Kashyap retains the template, but reinterprets the idea of self-destructive love in the light of attitudes and the sensibilities of present-day youth. The wastrel of Dev D is someone we all know of and, perhaps, could have even met in real life.
And yet, this is not the lover boy who can be said to be truly representative of today’s generation. He is as much an aberration as Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi who would go to absurd lengths to save his marriage.
Today’s lover boy is the Aamir Khan we see in Ghajini, who goes berserk on losing his lady love and turns into an unruly killing machine after shaving his head. He is John Abraham of an indeterminate sexual orientation flaunting biceps and butt cleavage in Dostana. He could be the Saif Ali Khan character of Race with more shades of black than white. He is also the prodigal son of Yuvvraaj who is all brawn and has to cross continents to fall in love with a cellist. Or he could be a star-struck fan in Om Shanti Om who avenges the death of the woman he desires on being reborn and more importantly, after displaying a set of six-pack abs.
These are some easily identifiable examples of lover boys from recent films which are a clear departure from the “chocolate heroes” we knew from the past. The Rajendra Kumar of Arzoo, Rajesh Khanna of Aradhana, Shashi Kapoor of Jab Jab Phool Khile, Rishi Kapoor of Bobby … are all history.
Even among the current heroes, chances are we might never again see the Aamir Khans and the Shah Rukh Khans in movies that show the softness in their characterisation, their sensitivity, tenderness of feelings, pains of separation and joys of meeting.
They have now been totally replaced by a display of raw machismo, physicality and brute force.
That nobody has either the time or patience for the finer nuances of romance shows up in other ways also. Dishonesty and betrayal have become recurrent themes, whether it is Saif Ali Khan in Ek Haseena Thi, Akshay Kumar in Heyy Baby or Emraan Hashmi in Jannat. Even Sanjay Dutt, as the endearing crook in both the Munnabhai films, actually bluffs the girls he courts till he gets caught.
And among married couples, nobody seems to have the heart in the right place, as everybody seems to be desperately bed-hopping and having affairs on the sly. Is it any wonder that we hear the female striking back with venom as Bipasha Basu does in Jism: “This body does not know love – it knows hunger, the hunger of the body”?
In hindsight, the indications of the irrelevance of love and romance on screen were there for all to see. From the time lighthearted romantic comedies (or romcoms) became a rage with multiplex audiences, love was getting trivialised. The good old Romeo-Juliet format – re-jigged variously as Laila-Majnu and Heer-Ranjha sagas – with all its intriguing permutations of parental opposition, economic disparity and caste conflict was being discarded.
Yash Chopra, Bollywood’s self-crowned “king of romance” could have had his last say on the subject way back in 2004 with a cross-border love story, Veer Zaara. And when “Juliet” herself went missing, the lover boy was left completely confused. The tradition of screen couples, which began even before the legendary Raj Kapoor-Nargis and Dev Anand-Suraiyya partnerships, came to an abrupt end with the Shah Rukh-Kajol pairing. Things have not been the same with Hindi heroes since.
However, the most devastating turn of events came when films like Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot and Company, Sagar Bellary’s Bheja Fry, Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par and Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla Ka Ghosla became runaway hits.
Many initially felt that these were mere flashes in the pan because conventional star-driven films with songs and dances and predictable plots (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Dil Chahta Hai, Main Hoon Na, Hum Aur Tum, Krishh, Jab We Met) were also turning out to be huge box-office grossers.
But when a film like Sooraj Barjatya’s Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon bombed, followed by other big-budget love stories like Saawariya and Love 2050 in rapid succession, it became eminently clear that Bollywood filmmaking was being guided by new aesthetic – one that promotes song-less, non-heroine films.
So where does this leave the romantic hero?
Well, he hasn’t become extinct. But he surely belongs to that endangered species of the vamps, villains and comedians of yore. Like them, he will be making one-off appearances in different guises, if only to remind us of his existence. He has already been reinventing himself as the trickster in Jannat, the demented beast in Ghajini, the shy and geeky Suri of Rab De…. Most importantly, he is sure to pick up girls half his age as romantic foils, rather than old tried-and-tested heroines like Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta.
Upcoming starlets like Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma hold the key to his survival. After all, there is one inescapable fact nobody can remain blind to: All our lover boys are grown-up men today
Source: Derek Bose/The Statesmen