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The poor Indian protagonist

No-risk roles to nation-building plot lines — going behind the Indian actors’ balancing act

I feel bad for Indian actors because once the lights are off and the wigs returned, they still have to keep the act up. No other nation deifies their stars more than us. Which is kinda funny because in a country with a million or so gods, one would imagine they’d like to consolidate the count, instead of, say, erecting new temples to honour film stars and cricketers and invite further confusion into their creed.

Which is why Indian movies have had the same ending, no matter what the plot, since forever. The hero always comes out looking good. He may lose his loved ones, then fight a battalion and kill a gazillion people to avenge them, and nobody even once mentions PTSD. He will fall in and out of love like the changing seasons and no personality tests are prescribed to dissect this non-committal behaviour.

But, by converse, it also implies that a hero has to play the same kind of role every time. There is no variating your game. It is as if Henry Ford was making movies and every one of them had to be in black (and white). Get it?

This explains why certain actors make it their career to only address issues that enhance the feel-good factor. The kind of movies where everyone goes home feeling warmer than the popcorn. But to achieve that inner glow moment, reel life has to turn to real life for inspiration. From Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots to any of Akshay Kumar’s newer films where he tries to channel his inner Keanu “Mr Neo” Reeves while playing the common man. (Now that’s a hard balancing act!)

Mr Kumar has paraded everything on the silver screen — from panty liners to paratroopers, space travel to space cadet (and I’d deride him more if it weren’t for the fact that I thoroughly enjoy the humour his wife doles out.) However, I think every time our nation doesn’t do something great or worth lauding, Indians sigh a collective sigh of relief that we won’t be subjected to yet another ‘feel-good’ movie starring Mr Kumar. By corollary, companies might be checking with him for dates before they commit themselves to something truly noble, just to make sure he can accommodate it in his project. Speaking of which, his best bit of acting to date remains interviewing the Prime Minister and managing to appear to be interested throughout the episode.

There’s nothing wrong with depicting reality; trouble is that our industry just can’t address these topics with the gravity they truly deserve. No, they have to remain in the commercial, appeal-to-the-masses realm and yet deliver a sensitive message. It’s like sure you can talk about cancer, but throw in an item number or two to keep things light-hearted. Maybe Mr. Kumar’s next movies will explore Article 370 (with a song shot on the Dal lake), Article 377 (with a few homophobic jokes, nonetheless), and Swachh Bharat (where he single-handedly cleans up Villain-ville!)

In the end, the gameplay is simple — no matter the question the answer must be positive. Everyone likes a happy ending. No, not that kind... okay, those too, as long as they are consensual, tastefully shot, and integral to the script.

This column is for anyone who gives an existential toss.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 1:07:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/the-poor-indian-protagonist/article29110038.ece

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