AFTER YEARS of emasculated metrosexuality, the macho Hindi hero is back on posters, baying for the enemy's blood

In 2008, when the coming-soon posters of “Ghajini” began to show up on compound walls and billboards, it appeared to the uninitiated that Aamir Khan's face had been Photoshopped onto John Abraham's sculpted body. Consequently, the coming-soon posters of the recently released “Force,” where John Abraham's own face rested on John Abraham's sculpted body, looked like a belated act of revenge, as if he were reclaiming from an upstart the title of Monarch of Muscle. (And the actor really has no other titles he can lay claim to with any legitimacy). “You stole my thunder with a six pack? Now watch me flex my eight pack!”

The unsubtle finishing touch to this game of virile one-upmanship was a really big handgun tucked into the front of Abraham's jeans. Considering the family-friendly nature of this space, let us eschew a Freudian exegesis of this image – but the intent appeared unmistakeable. This is how gossip columns are born. “A source who wishes to remain unnamed tells us that Aamir Khan is having sleepless nights after seeing John Abraham's look in “Force.” He has asked his trainer for a sixteen-pack look in his upcoming film, where he plays...”

Speaking seriously, though, the posters of “Force” can easily be construed as the howl of exultation of a Hindi film hero who is finally free to be a capital-M man again, one look at whose bountiful biceps tells us that the movie ahead doesn't need words to describe it, only onomatopoeic effects: dishoom-dishoom. If Abraham is overcompensating, he's merely making up for lost time. For too long, the Hindi film hero on the poster was hoisting mandolins on a shoulder while looking shyly across a sea of mustard flowers at the heroine on the other shore. That's Shah Rukh Khan's legacy.

While it's true that Aamir Khan (with “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak”) and Salman Khan (“Maine Pyar Kiya”) gently ushered the Hindi film hero away from the blood-spattered battlefield that was the cinema of the nineteen-eighties – something that the “soft heroes” of the time, Jeetendra and Rishi Kapoor, never quite managed – it was Shah Rukh, with his walloping successes, who institutionalised dewy sensitivity as the desired character trait in a leading man. It wasn't blood any longer but tears that spilled forth on screen – the posters, inevitably, turned anaemic, especially in comparison with the artwork from the heyday of the masala movie.

Look at the posters of the action films from the nineteen-seventies and eighties, and you'll see the name in block letters, often crudely drawn and bursting out like hastily constructed buildings that have survived an earthquake while the surrounding land has slipped away.

The message was that movies with real men in them could dispense with namby-pamby fonts. Today's action films are more sophisticated, and so their artwork employs stylishly thick typefaces without a trace of the cursive, without the semblance of a serif – but apart from this aesthetic upgrade, there is little change.

The snarl is back on the hero's face, even if his painstakingly chiselled body would elicit snorts of derision from the heroes of an earlier era, whose wattles and weighty midriffs only made them manlier. Vanity was for women. Besides, the audience for these films – as opposed to the primarily well-heeled watchers of today's multiplex movie – weren't paying for class but for catharsis, however vicarious, where at least the people on screen (who looked like them) were able to solve their problems with their own two hands. Today's audiences, however, want their order of heroism to arrive with a side of handsomeness.

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Brand AbrahamJanuary 27, 2013