Ajay Devgn did it with Singham, Akshay Kumar with Rowdy Rathore and John Abraham with Force. Why has Bollywood suddenly developed a penchant for the 80s style raw action?

When Prabhudeva met Shahid Kapoor at an awards function last month, speculation was rife whether the two movers and shakers would collaborate on future projects. Prabhudeva, of course, is hot property after Wanted and Rowdy Rathore, and Shahid is not doing particularly well, with the dismal Mausam and Teri Meri Kahani having all but taken him off the filmi radar. Within weeks of their meeting, the announcement was made. Sasha was doing Prabhu’s next film titled Namak. The film (about the drug mafia in Madhya Pradesh) is a hardcore action masala entertainer in Prabhu’s signature style and will portray Shahid like never before. While he has done no-glam roles earlier, in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey, Pankaj Kapur’s Mausam and Kunal Kohli’s Teri Meri Kahani, this will be Shahid’s first foray into action and it will probably take the mettle of a Prabhudeva to bring out that aspect of the boy with the perennial chocolate looks.

When the leading men of Bollywood go about demanding more ‘action’ in their kitty, it’s not unusual. After all, who wouldn’t like to look all suave and sporty while pulling off action moves like a magician pulls out rabbits from his hat? But when that demand specifically mentions hardcore raw action with the men sweating it out and fighting fist for fist in a hand-to-hand combat minus even guns, it certainly makes you roll up your sleeves.

If you have been following the blow-by-blow account of Bollywood action, there is much to marvel at. Lathis, maces and menacing feudal lords are climbing out of the woodwork, threatening to swallow our muscle-rippling hero and his family, blissfully unaware of the might that rests behind his neat collared shirt. If Ghajini brought back the old school of brute force, then Wanted, Dabanng, Singham, Agneepath and the recent Rowdy Rathore have taken it forward with great aplomb. Whether as the man wronged, the tough-as-nails honest cop, or even as the man who leaves no stone unturned to seek revenge, getting physical makes for the perfect moneymaking potboiler which has not just the audience asking for more but even A-list actors queuing up.

Why has Bollywood suddenly developed a penchant for the 80s style raw action? For many filmmakers who have gone down the slick action film route, the writing is on the wall. Producers have realised that Hollywood-style stunts don’t work for Indian audiences who can find computer graphics-generated stunts fake. “Take the instance of some of the biggest action slick films failures till date — Blue, Ra.One and Players. The slick action movies that had all the ingredients to make it to the top spot failed to ignite excitement. Compare it with the shrill thrill of a Dabanng or a Rowdy Rathore and it’s easy to see that audiences have not really moved on from taking dishoom to be a synonym for action,” says an industry source.

Rohit Shetty, whose Bol Bachchan is going great guns at the box office, has injected enough of his trademark action into his largely comic film. “Action’s got to be part of my movies. I like the fights and the thrills; they are good to keep the audience hooked. I avoid gore; even in a film like Singham, heavy on violence, there was no bloodshed. But raw action is in demand totally,” he says. Through his film, there are as many wolf whistles for Ajay Devgn’s arm-twisting helicopter throw of the villain as there are for his crazy English translations of Hindi proverbs.

The resurgence of the beastly force has made many A-list actors return to their ‘favourite’ genre after a break. Ajay Devgn did it with Singham, Akshay Kumar with Rowdy Rathore whereas John Abraham is using all his Force to get some action back with Shootout at Wadala and (surprise, surprise) even Race 2. Race, the original, was known for its slick action by director duo Abbas-Mustan who have reportedly included hand to hand combat to cash in on this trend! The actor is on record saying, “I want to push the boundaries when it comes to my action on screen.”

Many agree that the raw action hero has the attitude that Indian audiences identify with. This larger-than-life hero, as director Milan Luthria had mentioned, is “flamboyant, rebellious and aspirational.” Concurring with this viewpoint, Ajay Devgn says, “In India, we don’t even need superheroes. When we have a Salman playing Chulbul Pandey (Dabanng) who flicks his sunglasses to the back of his shirt and beats up goons with the ease of someone dusting dirt off his hands, why would you need someone flying through the air to do the same?”

Akshay Kumar has probably summed it up in a statement he made on the release of his Rowdy Rathore: “I believe in manpower and not technology power.” Can you hear the audience clapping and hooting already?