Our men... from Venus?

I heard an interesting phrase a few weeks ago, in connection with the film Shootout at Wadala. While I’d looked at the film as a stylish action film that was dramatically inert, I was told that the “dramatically inert” part didn’t matter, only the “stylish action film” did — for this was the ultimate “guys’ night out” movie. The same tag could be affixed to forthcoming Hollywood releases such as Hammer of the Gods (where a young Viking warrior embarks on a quest to locate his missing brother) and The Wolverine (where a not-so-young mutant embarks on a quest to locate bad guys who’ll provide an excuse to unsheathe those claws).

In other words, we’re talking about the kind of film you’d find if you located a multiplex playing a Sex and the City movie or an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel and ran all the way to the other end of the earth. The grossly oversimplified assumption is that men and women like different kinds of films — but in this age of the man who wears pink shirts and the woman who rides motorbikes, is movie-watching still dictated by gender?

This division of films into “guys’ night out” and “girls’ night out” is a decidedly odd endeavour in our country, whose mainstream movie tradition has traditionally been about satisfying family audiences, aged six to 60. Sure, there have been (and are) filmmakers, especially in this multiplex age, who target niche audiences, but you cannot make huge profits on those films. That’s why a film like Ghayal (to take an action movie with a man’s man of a hero) or Ghajini (to take an action movie with a more metrosexual hero) has to work in a romantic angle and family-based sentiments.

I suppose the logic goes like this. The children in the audience and the grown-up males will hoot and holler at the daredevil action sequences, while women and older viewers will stifle silent sobs at a family/couple being torn apart.

That’s why a Rowdy Rathore tries to tone down its barbaric violence with duets and a comedy track, and an Agneepath feminises its hero by having him wear his emotions on his sleeve, weeping openly. These essentially ‘male’ films went on to become huge hits, and huge hits cannot happen without a significant influx of female audiences into theatres.

Has there ever been a pure ‘guys’ night out’ movie made here, something such as Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando? No subplots with pining heroines. No faraway mothers. Nothing but hunks of muscle and innovative stunt sequences from start to finish. This isn’t a rhetorical question. I really am asking whether we’ve made — in any of the numerous languages we make films in — a lean-mean-action-machine kind of movie. I cannot recall one. I can, however, think of several “girls’ night out” movies that have proved big hits with guys too, such as the films made by Sooraj Barjatya or anything starring Shah Rukh Khan. Or, going back a couple of generations, the films of Rajesh Khanna or even Amitabh Bachchan in his romantic roles. After all, it wasn’t just women who made Kabhi Kabhie a hit.

Does this mean that Indian men are less stereotypical when compared to their American counterparts, and that they actively seek out entertainment whose predominant emotions are “feminine”? No. It’s just that the movies in Hollywood are spread out over a greater audience bandwidth, which allows for the targeting of specialised audiences, whereas here, we try to make movies for all audiences.

But who identifies these audiences in the first place? It’s the same people who target dolls at little girls and monster trucks at boys.

While this may be a true assumption, by and large, it’s not a universal truth. Perhaps the most touching instance of this was seen, recently, in Zoya Akhtar’s short film in the anthology Bombay Talkies, where a little boy, smitten by Katrina Kaif’s moves in Tees Maar Khan, dreams of becoming a dancer. He hates football, and secretly watches the girls practise classical dance.

What movie, one wonders, will this boy watch when he grows up? Is he just a male who likes to cross-dress and dance like a woman (in which case we shouldn’t rule out his downloading First Blood for his personal collection), or is there a genuine desire to be a girl and watch re-runs of Sex and the City? If this seems like a rather extreme example, remember that much of our macho posturing comes from the West, and that Jai and Veeru in Sholay were so thick that they sang out their feelings for one another: I’ll die before I leave your side. That’s why Shah Rukh Khan, who had no qualms posing in a bathtub strewn with rose petals, is still one of our biggest stars.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 11:05:25 AM |

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