Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Of Men and Man-Children

We've talked about action heroes recently around here, so as the natural progression (or regression?) dictates, the time has come to talk about lovers. Ok, so it's really not the progression, it's more the fact that I've been thinking about this post for over a year now, and well, it's high time. And reading the beginning of this excellent post about the evolution of love stories over the decades reminded me of it.

Rockstar - my favourite love story lately
It's hard to ignore the fact that for the past 10 years of Indian cinema a new prototype of hero/lover has evolved, and it's more or less adequately summarized in one word: the man-child, defined as an immature grown man who still has no direction in life, nor much emotional maturity. Without getting into how generation Y is probably the biological father of this character, while globalization is its mother, we'll have to accept the fact that for the past decade it's been the back-bone of most love stories. And some non-love-stories too!

Wake Up Sid! - the title says it all
Gone are the days when fate or a fortuitous chain of events would finally unite the lovers who had agreed to call it quits for the sake of their families. Gone are the days when the crushed lover was willing to let the girl he loved walk away with the other man, and if we still see that man, he is no longer the hero, he has become the other man, pushed somewhere in the background while the main couple holds the sympathy of the audience firmly away from him. Sure we get all kinds of excuses for it: he was abusive (City of God), he was cheating (Kismat Konnection), he was too boring (I Hate Luv Storys), he was not really in love with her (Mere Brother Ki Dulhan), and sometimes no excuse is even needed (Rockstar), but the general rule is that it's the hero's right to get the girl. He certainly seems to think so. And it's this sense of entitlement that is, I feel, the first and most important trait of the man-child.

Sure, there's something to be said for his immaturity, as well as for his self-centered-ness, or for his fear of commitment. These are admittedly all important for his characterization, but unlike the sense of entitlement, they're nothing new. And this is also something that puzzles me personally, because there are few things I hate more in this world than entitlement. And yet... and yet, I am always on the side of the man-child, no matter how spoiled and obnoxious he is.

Dil Chahta Hai - the movie that started it all!
Thinking back about the lover prototype of the 90s/early 2000, one thing seemed to consistently annoy me in all the movies that I couldn't avoid from that decade (though for the most part I did well with avoiding them): the hero's helplessness. Devdas and his eternal self-pity, Raj willing to give up his Simran because the parents said so, Sameer's departure for similar reasons, even Ram giving up Sita for the sake of his people and his honour. All examples of the kind of man I would despise. What use do I have, as a woman, for a man who will not fight for me? How is this coward the ideal husband? Maybe that's why despite their extreme OTT-ness, I found Aamir Khan's old movies more palatable: he never did play the hero that just gives up. For all the ridiculousness of the chair-marriage in Dil, the man at least had the balls to stick to his guns. Don't get me wrong, I avoid those as well (sorry Aamirou), but when I do watch them, I appreciate that at least I don't have to yell at my TV screen: GROW A BACKBONE ALREADY!!

Devdas - It doesn't get much more pathetic than this
I don't know if it's my generation, my upbringing, my star sign or something altogether different, but giving up is not something I would ever have sympathy for. And my real life aversion for weak people seems to translate to my filmi preferences as well. So for all his alleged cuteness (I suppose that's a matter of taste with actors like SRK and Salman), I cannot cheer for a hero who puts his hands up and goes to mope in a corner. Unless of course, she's the one pushing him away, in which case insisting would turn into stalking and we all know how much I hate that.

So I guess when I think about it this way, I'm not really admiring the new hero's sense of entitlement, but rather his willingness to stay and fight once he finds the one thing he cares about. Whether it's through ridiculous and completely implausible plot twists, a la Break Ke Baad, or through hilariously complicated plans a la Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, or with the wild determination of a jungle predator a la Ghajini, or just by speaking up a la Dil Chahta Hai, I find myself always attracted to this hero who doesn't know what quitting means. Obviously all this goes for the heroine too, though sometimes I can understand her weakness where I would have zero tolerance for his. Still, it's much nicer if she is as determined as him.

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan - a most tenacious pair!
On the other side of the coin, it occurs to me that this is most likely why I hated Mausam. But let's not digress.

Yes, he's a man-child, and yes, he needs to do some growing up, and yes, he will probably do at least 2 or 3 offensive things in the course of the movie, but when it's all said and done I am guaranteed to not see him feeling sorry for himself until the girl decides to call it off. And even then, in most cases, that's the catalyst for his growth (whether it's growing up, growing stronger, or growing famous), so you never get that sense of self-inflicted helplessness from him.

I don't mind spoiled brats. Of course, we'd never work out in real life, but they do rather amuse me on screen. I do however get an irresistible urge to slap them when they turn out to be quitters too, on top of being brats. And this seems to be the difference between me hating Devdas and loving Dev D. Between unabashedly despising Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and embracing Jab We Met. Between thinking Dil To Pagal Hai's ending is a lame cop-out and finding the ending of Dil Chahta Hai exhilarating. And let's not even try to pit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge versus Rockstar. Talk about going for it!

Jab We Met - selflessness done right
Now don't get me wrong, before the desis start explaining to me the importance of family, honour and "doing the right thing", let me preemptively state that I am vigorously of the opinion that no one who loves you should ever stand in the way of your happiness. Also, in terms of parenting, I firmly believe that the young ones should be allowed to make their own mistakes, though feel free to practice your "I told you so" diction in the mirror all you want in anticipation of their failure. So with that in mind, I guess it boils down to: why care about the family honour when the family couldn't care less about your happiness? And if others do and can relate to these heroes, so be it. I just don't think I will ever be persuaded to.

If I absolutely have to have a Raj, I'll take Saawariya's Raj, despite all the film's faults, because at the end of it all, he's still boxing with unhappiness.

Saawariya - so many things wrong with this one, but what a memorable Raj!
If I have to talk about a noble soul who gives up the woman he loves, I'll talk about Jab We Met's Aditya Kashyap who goes on to make something of his life as a result of his heart-break. If I am to love a quitter, I will choose Lakshya's Karan who, despite his completely unrealistic trajectory, makes a strong case for learning from one's failures. And if I am to cheer for a man who chooses the honour of his family over the happiness of the woman he loves, I'll choose Pinjar's Rashid because he more than makes up for it.

Pinjar - another favourite love story, and don't think there are that many!
While they may not all be man-children per se (unless we broaden the definition to encompass all emotional immaturity), they all go against the norm of the mopey, honourable end-of-century lover as made famous by Shah Rukh Khan, though far be it from me to lay the blame solely on him. It was definitely a trend everyone was a part of, he just happened to be the most famous, and therefore his movies are the hardest to avoid. So you know, I tend to rip on him more, but the problem extends to most movies from the 90s and early 2000s.

Taal - Oh, don't even get me started!
I find that the past decade has happily solved this problem for me! They may have brought in the slacker to replace the struggler, and the video-games player to replace the hard working college student, but hey, it's the SMS generation, isn't it? There is a short cut for everything, values and ethics have definitely changed.

Tere Bin Laden - how do you not love this slacker? And see, it doesn't even have to be a love story!
I must say I do love this generation. It's not just that I love the actors and the fact that they refuse, for the most part, to be stuck in the same role, but I also love this spirit of independence, this effervescence and yes, this streak of immaturity about it. On and off screen.

I love that they want the world and they think there's no reason why they shouldn't get it. Yup, I'll take the immature fighter over the mature, righteous quitter. Any day.

Road, Movie - what a classic!


Unknown said...

Dear Dolce and Namak,
I am convinced you were Indian at least in your last birth. I can think of no other explanation of how you can get us better than the phoreners who live in India and can never figure us out, forget our movies.

me said...

Fascinating! Truly fascinating, because, even though everything I've read about Rockstar makes me cringe like fingernails down the chalkboard of whatever passes for my soul, I love so many of the others you laud - WUS, DCH, TBL, MBKD, JWM and Road, Movie - AND dislike (with a quite ferocious passion) the dire SLB's hideous Devdas.

I would not have thought to connect TBL and Road, Movie or JWM, but of the movies you mention that I've seen, my reaction is the same as your on every one. I have a slight problem with your mention of DDLJ as an example of the "mature quitter" because it ends with that quite ridiculous fight scene where he proves not to be such a quitter after all.

I think I'm probably coming at it from a slightly different place. My dislike for many of the heavy "family honour" dramas is more about their OTT melodrama, and my fondness for movies like WUS and (especially) Road, Movie is driven by the character's growth. That's especially true in Road, where Abhay's character was almost repellently unlikeable to start with. It's the journey from immaturity that appeals, rather the immaturity itself.
Others elsewhere who have seen Rockstar have very cogently outlined all the reasons I know I would *really* dislike seeing it, for me it would be as unsatisfying and aggravating an experience as Mausam (yrch!), which is why I find the remarkable synchronicity of our views on the other films mentioned so fascinating. Thank you very much for making me take another look at *why* I like the films I do.

mm said...

Strangely enough, I've also been thinking for some time about the new immature hero and what that portends for Hindi films. But unlike you, I have almost completely opposite sentiments. :) So rather than go into that here (which would really require me to start a blog and do my own post), let me just ask: Isn't being "immature" and "independent" something of an oxymoron?

mm said...

If you like lovers who won't quit, let me recommend a Telugu film for you: Prayanam. I'm not sure the hero qualifies as a "man-child" in the vein of the ones you have quoted above, but maybe he does. In any case, it's a pleasant enough film.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Hari! Nice to see you here again! And as always you put a smile on my face! :) I'd be indeed curious to see how many of my filmi observations will apply to real life people when I go to India (though I'm willing to bet there won't be much overlap).

Thank you for the smile! :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Maxqnz,

All these movies have a similar type of character at the core, IMO, but that doesn't mean their stories are similar, or that they behave in the same way, or that the result of their journey will be the same. So I don't think it's necessarily an indication that you will like all the movies that have this particular kind of character. In that sense, the Rockstar character has a different arc than all the others: where WUS, Road Movie and DCH have a somewhat linear graph from low to high, Rockstar is more of a sine/cosine style graph. But no point going into that in too much detail since you won't be seeing the movie. Suffice to say he is a man-child in his own very original way.

As an aside, I personally don't see much in common between Mausam and Rockstar, even though I too have read reviews that compared them, so can't comment on that. Certainly my feelings for the two are in complete opposition...

Last but not least, I agree 100% with you that the journey and the change are what we watch the movie for (there's no satisfaction in watching a character who doesn't learn anything by the end of the film), but that was already a given for me. So this time I just focused on the starting point of their journeys, the character that the story starts with, because it's that character that I root for (to change, to grow up, what have you), where I would not be rooting for a different type of character. I wonder if that makes sense. I think what I'm trying to say is that unlike you, I am equally interested in the immaturity/lack of direction itself, along with the journey.

As for the fight in DDLJ, let's see if I can remember it in enough detail without hurling too much... I believe after the fight, he ends up leaving without her, no? And then she eventually breaks away from her family and follows him. That was the giving up aspect I was talking about. But maybe my memory is off? I only watched that movie once and it was years ago, so there's room for error... :-/

As always, thanks for reading! :)

Dolce and Namak said...

MM, hallo! *waves*

Haha! I would LOVE to read that post, I am well aware that my fascination with these boys is somewhat odd (which is I think why I felt the need to write this post), so I'm sure you'd make an excellent case for hating them. ;)

In regards to your question, no, I don't think independence and immaturity are in any way mutually exclusive. If you think of your typical man-child in the Western world, he's usually a bachelor, reasonably stable financially, and out partying every night. So you can be perfectly independent without actually growing up. Also, when I was talking about their spirit of independence, I was thinking more in the lines of not attached to the family bonds anymore, or not letting their parents run their lives. That said, just because you're not letting others tell you what to do, doesn't mean you are mature enough to know what to do yourself. So you see how the two go quite well together in my head. :)

Oh, and thank you, will remember to get Prayanam on my next spree! :)

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post! On one side, the characterisation of the 'hero' reflects or is meant to reflect the mores of society. When I see archaic concepts of honour, blind obedience to elders, family well-being ahead of individual well-being etc in films, much as I quetsion these concepts, I see it only as a reflection of the times and society. Even hero-is-stalker (I SUPER HATE this, which idiot of a girl would consider this romantic?) is a reflection of times when no acceptable mode of interaction existed between men and women in India; though there was no purdah, young ladies were still protected and segregated. What gets my goat is the way film-makers manipulate the sentiments of society to make their movie more saleable..Cheers. Suja

Remini said...

Ah, yes, my sentiments exactly. I also 'quite dislike' the heroes who go to all the lenghts to get their girl, yet choose to bow out when the almighty patriarch/family speaks up. No, thanks. On the other hand, there's a certain level of immaturity I'm just not able to take anymore - Wake Up Sid and Jab We Met being the cases (although in JWM it was Geet who was the immature character not able to do anything right on her own).

I'm quite curious about Rockstar, but many things I've read so far don't sound too encouraging. I'll still watch it with an open mind, but maybe it's better if I don't view it as a love story? I used the same set of mind with Dil Se, otherwise I'd have ended up hating it :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Suja,

Yes, I know, I know... Even the stalker bit was explained to me before and my brain somewhat understands it now... but it still annoys me to no end. :P And I think when DCH came out, that was exactly why it ended up being such a mad hit, because it was finally reflecting the real urban crowd, no? That's what I meant when I talked about who his parents are. ;)

But I am curious about that bit at the end of your comment about manipulating society. What did you have in mind when you said that?

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Remini, you're a tough one to predict. Sometimes you totally love the same movies as me, and other times you hate my favourites with a passion. Point in case: WUS and JWM. So I won't venture to guess if you'll like Rockstar. But as I said above, he's a slightly modified man-child, so you can't really judge him by the same criteria. If I were to make a bet, I'd say it's not your kind of movie, you seem to like the neat and clean more, and this is fairly dark, or, as someone said about Imtiaz Ali, "coming from a darker place". But if it becomes the super hit I wish it to become, then you'll have to see it anyway. ;) And I still hope you like it!

As for the love story, to me it's more love story than rocktar, though with every rewatch (I've seen it 3 times already) I am more and more aware of how present the rockstar part is, even if sometimes so subtle it takes a couple of rewatches to see it. Just go in willing to change any expectations you have. That's how I went and I loved it. It's the people who can't let go of what they expected from the movie that are the disappointed ones, from what I can see so far.

Thanks for dropping by my dear!!

Dream On.. said...

Dear D&N, I have been following your blog for quite some time now. But commenting on it for the first time. Actually the discussion touched a cord. I have to say that me or most of the 'Desi' girls these days would anytime take this Man-Child as our guy. Though it sometimes will result in frustration due to his childishness or arrogance bt its better than those guys who would give you up without even a thought to fight, forget the actual fight :)

also i agree with Hari. You are more Desi than our so called film critics albeit may be in previous birth.

I loved JWM, Dev.D, WUS so this post was really awesome

Dolce and Namak said...

Aww! Thank you, Dream on, both for following my blog and for the compliment! :) One day I must do one of those tests that tell you who you were in a previous birth. LOL

It's actually kind of funny what I enjoy on screen and what I appreciate in real life. For sure in real life I would not have the patience for most of these guys, even though I love them as my friends. But on screen, they're such a blast and so easy to root for. I think it's because a part of me doesn't necessarily want to be WITH them but rather wants to BE them. :) Ok, maybe not in the case of Dev D, but you get the idea. :D

As far as having them as your guy, well, for sure the fun is guaranteed! :)

Thanks for reading and glad you're enjoying it here!!

Remini said...

Oh noooo, Dolce, you got me wrong!! I don't HATE those movies, they just don't touch me the way they should!! :P Most of the time I just get annoyed with the characters and stop caring whether they end up together, and what's the point of a love story if I don't root for the guy&girl to have their happy ending? So I do find something to like, but I don't see them as something special :)

Hmm, to be totally honest, I did hate the second half of BBB exactly for that reason - both Bitoo and Shruti got so annoying that I felt like slapping them silly :P I don't mind some drama in a relationship, but the source of their 'confict' was so sloppyly constructed that I just had to cosntantly roll my eyes. I honestly don't know what to think anymore when people refer to it as one of the best romcoms of recent years... :\

I don't know, I really don't mind childish or unreasonable characters... but if they cross the line with their antics and/or depiction of their immaturity/zest, then that's it for me. I'll finish the movie, but I can't get really involved anymore :(

Dolce and Namak said...

Hehehe, Remini, that's why BBB is not mentioned in this post. :P I was also not a big fan of the extent of their immaturity in the second half of BBB and the climax didn't do enough to convince me that they deserved a happy ending.

That said, I think that fine line you talk about is set differently for me, I definitely tolerate a ton more antics than you. In fact BBB is pretty much where the line is for me. That's why I always hesitate about it. I don't have it on a pedestal like most people do, but I did enjoy it quite a bit and consider it a lot of fun, so I'd rather not think about where it's off in terms of characterization. But no, Bittoo would not be one of the manchildren I love to love.

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