Let’s admit it – we all secretly make fun of the quintessential Bollywood hero. Once the euphoria over their smashing dialogues, classic mannerisms and the routine song and dance settles down, we all relegate our heroes to dumb charades, comedy shows and ‘how-much-do-you-know-Bollywood’ quizzes. The Amitabhs, the Shahrukhs, the Salmans (the list can have at least a dozen more names) – they are all icons, etched in the memory and idiosyncrasy of generations of cinema lovers but they are ‘typical’ at the end of the day. Each different from one another but more of the same ‘hero’ we pay to watch on the big screen. Some bit of memory jog and you would realize that an entire clan of actors or ‘heroes’, as we fondly call them, have grown up under the aegis of this iconic few – giving Bollywood a plate full of characters that taste almost the same.
In the midst of it all, Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) released across the world on March 18th. From the looks of it, this Shakun Batra film looked like a regular family drama with sibling rivalry, familial bonding and love triangle as its central themes (lest the audiences knew what awaited them in the theater). Yes, the film was a family drama on the expected lines – there was sibling rivalry, there were questions raised around strained familial bonding but there was no love triangle.
Shakun beautifully hoodwinked us into believing that Fawad-Alia-Sidharth were the three angles of a love story. Till the very end. It was only towards the climax that the director final pulled out the ace up his sleeves and, to our pleasant surprise, subtly let us know that there is no triangle here. Rahul Kapoor, the elder Kapoor son, played with great restraint and conviction by Fawad Khan, was a homosexual man who in his own words ‘never had or could never have’ feelings for Alia’s character.
But the real triumph of Kapoor & Sons was not just limited to having a homosexual character as one of its protagonists. The fact that Shakun’s Rahul Kapoor was portrayed as ‘normal’ as you can imagine has been a big breakthrough for Bollywood which has been notorious for its stereotypical portrayal of gay characters. Many Hindi films still have gay characters only for poking fun or having some cheap laughs – if you dare, you can watch the recent sex comedies of Tusshar Kapoor to know more.
Gay men in mainstream Bollywood have mostly been typified with one hand hanging near the chest, girlish demeanor and some weird, unexplainable lust for anything remotely male. Rahul Kapoor in Kapoor & Sons bridges this huge chasm of prejudice by being the most balanced and sorted member of the dysfunctional Kapoor family. He is the mother’s boy, a very successful novelist, does not wear sexuality on his sleeve through a fetish for pink or something, is not exactly ‘best friends’ with the girl gang, is suave, sophisticated and cultured – so much so that the heterosexual actress in the film falls for his charms without ever suspecting his sexual orientations (of course, it may have helped that Rahul Kapoor was being played by none other than the handsome Fawad Khan).
It is for these reasons that the character of Rahul Kapoor in Kapoor & Sons is a landmark of sorts. The gay characterization is not in-your-face, doesn’t ask for your validation – it is simply sitting there in the backdrop like a quiet cat on meditation. So, it is only fitting that Fawad (and his character Rahul) come out to be the cleanest, bravest and the most admirable at the end of the Kapoor & Sons drama. Thank you Fawad for the courage and Shakun for the subtlety. Interestingly, both of them are just 2 films old in the Industry.
Close on the heels of Kapoor & Sons, came R. Balki’s Ki & Ka (it is a weird coincidence that both the films have that uncomforting ampersand in their titles). The film is quite inferior in almost all departments when compared to a little marvel like Kapoor & Sons, but it gave us another interesting avatar of the Bollywood hero.
Here, another Kapoor – this time the real-life Arjun Kapoor, playing the character of Kabir – a man who wants to become a househusband, breaks a few more stereotypes when it comes to our on-screen heroes. Arjun’s Kabir was not shy or uncomfortable in switching conventional gender roles with his ‘Ki’. He manages the kitchen, asks Kareena for money to run the house, cleans the entire apartment, basically does all the household chores – something which is a complete antithesis of the our typical hero who is supposed to be all macho, brawny and brooding. Not just that, Arjun Kapoor also pulls off some of the stretched gender role reversals like wearing a Mangalsutra or red high heels (he even dances wearing those heels!) with panache and dignity.
Mind you, Bollywood heroes have had their trysts with some horrendous cross-dressing (I still gawk in horror whenever I think of Ram Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Riteish Deshmukh coming out of water wearing swimsuits in Sajid Khan’s Humshakals). Most such instances have either been poor attempts at comedy or simple illustrations of poor taste. The gun-wielding, the bike-riding and the ‘cool’, trendsetting Bollywood hero usually stays far away from attempting anything that’s even borderline feminine. So, it takes a lot of guts for an actor to go ahead and be the ‘better half’ – it is akin to risking your fan base. Ironically, Arjun Kapoor’s last film before Ki & Ka – Tevar, catered to the same fan base which he seems to have put at risk here.
Have no doubt that these are interesting times for the quintessential Bollywood hero. The Rahuls and Kabirs are changing the way we perceive, identify and accept our heroes. Time to revamp the quizzes, revise the dialogues and brush up our dumb charade acting skills. May be?