Thursday, September 30, 2010

If on a Winter's Night... Meenaxi

This may sound funny, but I had this post in mind long before I even had a blog. Maybe before I even watched the movie Meenaxi?... That's not as odd as it sounds as it was reading a line somewhere comparing Italo Calvino's book If on a Winter's Night a Traveller with MF Hussain's Meenaxi that prompted me to get the movie (ok, that and the fact that Dolce thinks Kunal Kapoor is one of the most beautiful men alive). Would I have seen the similarities on my own? Probably, since Italo Calvino is one of my favourite writers, but for what it's worth, the idea of comparing the two was not mine. However, since the brilliant person who came up with it never really expanded on the topic, I shall take the time to do that in their stead.

A few words about "If on a Winter's Night..." first. Calvino gives a whole new meaning to "frustrated expectations" as he tells the story of a Reader who starts reading a novel but ends up reading 10 beginnings of novels instead, as something always snatches the book from his hands right when it starts getting interesting.

The motif of real life events interrupting a story and then giving birth to another story seems to be the thread connecting the book and the film. But there are other more subtle threads too, and they are revealed one by one as we travel inside Meenaxi's world.

Meenaxi is the story of a muse. Nawab (Raghuvir Yadav, of Lagaan and Peepli Live fame), a very successful writer, receives the visit of a mysterious woman - Meenaxi (Tabu) - who offers to help him write his next novel by dressing herself up as the main character.

Intrigued, slightly outraged and still unconvinced, Nawab finds himself nonetheless interested in Meenaxi even when he can't admit he wants to write her story. When he finally starts writing it... we step into a fairytale. A fairytale of a road, a fallen kite and a black coat flowing off the hero's shoulder.
"You can start a story with just a face... with a feeling... and sometimes with just the smell of flowers", Meenaxi says in the first scene where we (and Nawab) meet her. And so it does, to the sweet sound of Sonu Nigam's voice.  

But no sooner have we started getting interested in Kameshwar's story, that we are rudely interrupted, just like Calvino's Reader. The whimsical fate that keeps interrupting the Reader's journey inside each book, is replaced in the movie by the muse herself, Meenaxi, as capricious and demanding as any goddess.

Namak: And surely she must have the stomach of a goddess because despite stuffing her face with something every time she appears, she doesn't seem to gain any weight.
Dolce: Give her a break, a woman needs her energy to do all that talking and deal with this sulky Nawab guy. 

Shut up guys, this is a serious post! Sheesh!

Meenaxi keeps complaining about the characters in Nawab's stories, about the pace of the story, about its capacity to entertain or to reflect reality. So Nawab starts story after story (we see three of them unfolding) in a series of attempts to please her. My interpretation of the movie is that he succeeds in the end, even if we are not shown the final cut. And I find confirmation for my reading in Calvino's words, in the second last paragraph of his book:
"In ancient times a story could end only in two ways: having passed all the tests, the hero and the heroine married, or else they died. The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death."

In order for the story to live, the author must set it free by removing himself from it.

All ten stories in the book talk about a mysterious woman (or sometimes even two). In fact, all the stories become interesting the moment the woman's secret is foreshadowed. Similarly, as is evident from the very beginning, Meenaxi is not as easy to read as she claims in the beginning, in fact the more the story progresses the more enigmatic she becomes while she gradually takes over the story.

They may be stories with and about women, but both the book and the movie offer a very male perspective, whether it's the fact that Calvino's novels are always narrated by a man, or the fact that Kunal Kapoor's characters are always the pivotal point of each story.

Dolce: I think we need a gratuitous shot of Kunal Kapoor right about here, eh?
Namak: What can I say? When you're right, you're right!

Heck, let's do a video too while we're at it!

Calvino's book and Hussain's film can be such frustrating experiences if one doesn't know what to expect. And whoever thinks that If on a Winter's Night is about the novels, and Meenaxi is about Meenaxi's stories, hasn't really understood much... But seen with the patient eye of the post-modern art lover, they can become an experience rich in flavour and texture, with some delicacy to be sampled at every step. When instead of one book we are given eleven stories, and instead of one movie we are given four, how can we not immerse ourselves in each of them with the enthusiasm but also the fickleness of a passionate art devotee?

While If on a Winter's Night gave the act of reading a new face, Meenaxi gave the act of writing and making movies a whole new meaning, which may have been old news for European cinema (Otto e Mezzo being a good example of a somewhat similar theme), but was certainly innovative for Indian cinema. Perhaps even before its time, as the movie flopped and even now is not very popular with Hindi movie lovers. How that is possible, I have no idea, since Meenaxi has some of the most exquisite picturizations, some of the most intelligent symbolic imagery, some of the most melodious AR Rahman songs and, Dolce feels the need to mention again, one of the most beautiful men alive.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Terrorism and the Ordinary Man

There has been an excess of movies approaching the theme of terrorism lately, for various obvious reasons. We've always had movies like Dil Se, Fanaa, Roja, Tahaan or Vedam, that use terrorism (to a wider or lesser extent) as a backdrop for telling a story. But in this new trend, I am thinking about films like Aamir, A Wednesday and to a certain extent Kurbaan (though the latter in my opinion glamorously failed in dealing with the topic), where terrorism is the story. (Leaving out New York because I haven't seen it.)

I was watching Aamir recently and I realized that there is something about Aamir and A Wednesday that makes both these films so interesting to me as a Westerner. Hollywood movies and American TV shows like "24" have been talking about terrorism forever, and I was watching this stuff for a while with a more or less excited disposition. Some made interesting points, some were just well done in terms of building up suspense ("Body of Lies" is one of my favourites, though I could be biased because of one of the main leads), some were just propaganda (ok, a lot of them were just that). But even if I was into them while watching, none of these films spoke to me on a personal level. They are fiction. Period.

On the other hand, I've always said that Indian movies are so much better at presenting the other side of the coin whether it is because they reveal the complicated path that leads to one becoming a terrorist, or the inner struggle of the ones who find themselves being a part of a fight that is not necessarily theirs. Regardless, I find Indian movies to be more fair in their search for what motivates one to commit unforgivable deeds in the name of a cause or of a religion. 

But Aamir and A Wednesday don't even do that. They talk about terrorism just like American movies do: it's wrong and it has no justification. And still, they managed to affect me on a much more personal level. I'm thinking that's because in American movies we always see the hero fighting against terrorism. Whether he's a cop, or an agent of some organization, or even if it's not his job to be a part of this war, he is an everyday hero in the American sense of the word.

Aamir and A Wednesday don't have a hero. Even when they are in danger of looking like one, it's simple brilliant images like running into a poll while chasing the bad guy or drinking chai out of a thermos that keep these men from crossing into hero territory. Both films are about an ordinary man, someone like you and me, who is trying to make his way out of the maze that has entrapped him in this new world of faceless irrational enemies. They're not selfless and brave, they're not trained in martial arts and they're certainly not exciting to watch. In fact I find both movies to be extremely slow in terms of build-up.

But precisely because I don't see these guys as heroes, because it is evident that any of them could be you or me, I am left thinking at the end of the film: what would I do? And for better or worse, I find that in both movies these anti-heroes react just like any other ordinary man: anger, distrust, cowardice, revenge, such basic emotions that influence our actions every day. It's not courage or self-abnegation that make us human, and it's certainly not what makes me identify with a character. It's the anti-hero's shortcomings and the moments when he behaves like I would (as opposed to when he behaves like I should) that make him remarkable. Even when what he does is wrong, I can't help but cheer for a hero (or an anti-hero) that is such a sincere embodiment of human nature.

Aamir and A Wednesday, despite what the trailers will tell you, are not action movies, not even thrillers, they're thinking movies. And that's what in my book makes them far superior to their Hollywood counterparts even if they will keep far less people on the edge of their seats (or even on their seats) until the end. But whoever makes it to the end is guaranteed a far more rewarding intellectual experience than the thrills and chills that an American movie will deliver. Certainly more memorable.

Monday, September 20, 2010

That (Emo) Girl in Yellow Boots

Anurag Kashyap's That Girl in Yellow Boots featuring his "Dev D." heroine Kalki Koechlin has been doing the Festival circuit since last week. Not entirely sure why I went to see it, probably a reflex: Indian film from a director I know? -> click "purchase ticket". That and, of course, the opportunity to hang out with a friend, which I can never say no to. So I went.

The movie seems to have been quite a different experience for the makers. Kalki concisely summarized it when she was on stage at the end of the movie with Anurag: "He (Anurag) thought about this movie for about a year, I wrote the script in 2 months, we shot it in 13 days." The shooting part of it is by the way amazingly done, but... it's definitely not my kind of movie.

But... BUT. Even if this is not a movie I would normally review in this space, I do feel that it's somehow our duty to talk about films that we have the privilege of seeing before the rest of the world at this Festival (we love you, Cameron Bailey, just had to say it again!). So with this duty in mind, I'd like to introduce my partner in Bollywood crime, Simran (@elegnt_hedgehg on Twitter), who was kind enough to review the film for this space. Simran is an even bigger movie buff than me, and also a great Kashyap fan, so she is far more qualified than me for this task. 

"Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots is the story of Ruth (played by Kalki Koechlin) a half-English half-Indian girl who has come to India from England looking for her father. He left when she was 5 years old following the suicide of her half-sister, and she hadn’t heard from her father since, until recently receiving a very loving letter from him. Unfortunately he forgot to include his address. Ruth has an unhappy relationship with her mother who, she tells us, “went quiet” after the death of her elder daughter. She also seems to have taken comfort in religion, which further infuriates her remaining daughter. So Ruth runs away to India, where she has to pay a lot of bribes and rely on a lot of unreliable people, including a coked-out Indian boyfriend. She makes ends meet by working in a massage parlour where she gives the (exclusively male) clients hand jobs for an extra 1,000 rupees. And she searches for her father.

The movie was filmed using a digital camera, which makes That Girl in Yellow Boots feel both very contemporary (in terms of visual style) and very immediate (in terms of the plot). There is also an interesting use of sound in the movie, with a lot of obvious background noise in addition to a musical score, and a technique in which the volume of the noise and/or score seems to increase as the tension in a scene increases.

I have to admit that one aspect of the movie’s conclusion I had already guessed earlier in the film. So I was perhaps not as shocked by the climax as the movie wanted me to be (but I was still disgusted). Although it is a theme that has been covered by non-Indian television and movies, I believe it is a theme that is rarely, if ever, dealt with in their Indian counterparts. So while some might argue that the movie is needlessly sordid, I think it’s important to sometimes shine a light on the underbelly of life, rather than pretending that it doesn’t exist.

The movie isn’t unrelentingly grim, however. There is humour provided by the receptionist at the massage parlour, who is constantly chatting on her cell phone, by the Kannadiga gangster Chittiappa, who is alternately hilarious and horrifying, and occasionally even by Ruth’s boyfriend Prashant (an excellent performance by the actor of the same name). Naseeruddin Shah is typically lovely in a small role as one of Ruth’s regular clients at the massage parlour. 

During the Q & A after the film, Anurag said that the idea for the movie was inspired by several (unrelated) stories that appeared in the Indian media. However, he wanted a woman to write the script because he didn’t want the movie to become the story of a girl as told by a man. I heartily commend him for that. So Kalki co-wrote the script with him. The movie is a good showcase for her talents - she is a wonderfully expressive actress and is equally credible while portraying vulnerability, cynicism, girlishness, anger, and determination. I look forward to the work she does in the future, which will hopefully include more collaborations with her partner Anurag, because I found that (presumably) under her influence, this movie lacked a lot of the machismo that characterized his other films, and therefore made it more accessible to me as a female viewer."

See, I knew Simran would do it more justice than me. Thanks, girl! 

And just because, as someone I know always says about me: "she is nothing if she is not opinionated", I have to add that while I agree that it is a story to be told, I did not find it a story to pull me in. I blame it on the fact that much like in real life, I have problems relating to characters who cannot appreciate what they have in their lives. The whole quest of the girl in yellow boots, as is quite evident right from the trailer, is for the one person who will love her unconditionally, the one person she thinks cares about her without any expectations: her father. Meanwhile, she seems to have no respect for the two characters, one seen, one unseen who do genuinely care about her: her (admittedly strict) mother in England and Diwakar, the character played by Naseeruddin Shah (and what is it with Naseer who keeps doing these blink and you'll miss him roles? I miss the man!). Now where exactly Ruth figured that the man who left her and her mother when she was 5 and managed to only write one letter in 15 years, was the one who really cares about her... it's anyone's guess. But because my personal belief  is that people who are not appreciative of the gift that is their life (and the people in it) deserve everything that's coming to them, the emotional connection to this character was lost on me completely.

Oh well... TIFF is over! It's been beyond awesome this year! But all good things come to an end, and the great thing about it is that as of next week I can go back to reviewing movies with both Dolce and Namak having a say, giving cheese ratings, being cheeky, and doing all the things that make this blog such a fun experience for me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Namak Went to See Dhobi Ghat at TIFF

It's hard to explain why I went to the Toronto Film Festival to see Aamir Khan not as a fangirl but as a movie lover, so I won't get into that in this post. But it must be said that even for a non-fangirl it was quite the fan experience to be there.

I'll get to the movie in a bit, but first the stars' entrances. People were waiting for at least an hour across the street from the venue, ready to mob the stars when they came in. Funnily enough I didn't even see Kiran when she jumped out of the SUV and squirreled into the theatre, and it's not because she's so tiny, but because I was too fascinated by the wave of people descending upon Aamir Khan like a tsunami. To give you an idea of what it looked like:

Haha! Fun times! By the way, Aamir is the wee little thing in the maroon suit (which I was impressed that he wore for us, AND with dress shoes FTW!). He was very gracious and walked the line of screaming fans twice.

Then we were shoveled inside and Cameron Bailey (can I just do a big w00t for this guy who manages to rock my world every year by bringing the most exquisite Indian films to the festival? w00t! w00t!) introduced the director (Kiran Rao) and the cast (Aamir Khan, Prateik - he dropped the last name by the way, Monica Dogra & Kriti Malhotra). They all came on stage, Aamir last, of course, and Kiran and Aamir said a few words.

Among the things that amused me (and also made me a bit sad) was Aamir mentioning (twice!, the second time just as he was getting off the stage) that "Guys, this is not a Ghajini". Ahem... Aamir, darling, I love you, but don't you think you're underestimating us? Maybe I am projecting a little much here, but does any festival goer expect to see a Ghajini? Or do they all, like me, expect to see beautifully crafted movies that were selected because they carry the film industry forward? A tough one, and I will admit I could be way off since this is the same festival that held the premieres of Dil Bole Hadippa and What's Your Rashee last year. But still, we could have done without the warning...

Anyways, on to the film. I don't usually tell the story of a film in my reviews, because it's available everywhere online and plus I like to think that my reviews give people reasons to watch a movie that are independent from the story. But since this one was such a secret until now, I will make an exception.

Dhobi Ghat is the story of 4 characters: Arun, the famous lonely painter (Aamir), Munna, the dhobi who wants to be a star (Prateik), Shai, the banker on a sabbatical in India (Monica) and Yasmin, the recently married Muslim girl who records her life in Mumbai for her brother back home (Kriti). They say that Mumbai is the fifth character in the movie, and if so, I found it to be a silent character, an immovable witness to the harmony and turmoil in which the characters function simultaneously. Much like the aunty in Arun's neighbouring apartment: always there, always seeing everything, but always silent. Not sure if that was a parallel that Kiran had in mind, but it seemed relevant to me.

The movie is a piece of their lives, and the narrative juggles a recent past and the present time beautifully. Among the daily routine of the characters, which is really what the story is about, we see a love story unfolding and it's not a love triangle but a love square. With a missing fourth connecting line. I swear I'm not trying to sound cryptic, but it's so charming to watch this play out that I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

So maybe I won't tell the story after all...

But I will highlight the three superstars of this movie, and neither of their names start with two Aa's.

First of all KIRAN RAO. 

Tiny little thing, with such a big heart! And this picture captures everything that is adorable about her! But I won't ramble about that now. I had no doubt that she would make a good movie, I knew it would be a well thought out story. What I didn't know was that she would wow me with the little touches like a bunch of fake grapes hanging from the rear view mirror in a car during the monsoon, which is the opening shot of the film. Or the chance encounter between Shai and Arun in the street when Shai is on her way to literally stalk Arun in his apartment which is so subtle and funny in so many ways. Or the painting that Arun makes towards the end of the film (who made that? I want it!). Or the old neighbour sitting in her chair with a vacant look - the most powerful image in the whole movie in my opinion. Or Munna leaning over Shai when she's asleep. Or the women on the train that Yasmin is filming. I could go on... but then I'd just be telling the whole movie. Suffice to say that every single shot in this movie tells a story, every image counts, and that is no small feat for a first time director.

When I heard that Dhobi Ghat was being filmed guerrilla style, with handheld cameras and moving shots, I was a bit terrified, because there's a right way to do this, but mostly I've seen it done the wrong way. Kiran, thankfully, got it right and I cannot praise her enough for this!

At the end of the screening when Aamir gave the mic to each of the actors to say a few words, before Prateik even touched the mic he got a long, loud, standing ovation from the audience. He was so shocked and overwhelmed that he literally was speechless. He tried to mumble a thank you to Kiran and I bet he would have had some very heartfelt words to say, but he was so choked up that he didn't manage to put two words together. It was beyond charming!!

Well, he stole the show, it's no secret. He had the audience's emotions in the palm of his hand: when he wanted us to laugh at his shyness, we did; when he wanted us to bite our fingers for his next move, we did; when he wanted us to be in love with him, we were; when he wanted us to pine with him, we did. An outstanding performance if I've ever seen one! Between Kiran's deeply intelligent script and Prateik's immensely intuitive acting, there was not much room for it to get better. 

And still it did, because then there's...

It's been said enough times by now that this is not a Bollywood story. But I don't think that stops it from being an Indian story, and if Bollywood continues to do stories like this, then I am on board with this new wave of what Cameron Bailey reluctantly jokingly calls "hindie movies". In a way I can't help but compare Dhobi Ghat to Slumdog Millionaire because they both show various aspects of poverty in Mumbai. But Dhobi Ghat succeeds for me where Slumdog somewhat failed because it shows me the little things that make one happy despite the poverty, unlike Slumdog which was always focused on wanting more. Munna has his own world with its ups and downs, with things that make him sad and things that make him smile, but his life does not revolve around poverty, his life revolves around his feelings, as it should.

And I know I tend to talk more about Munna than about everyone else because he was the star of the show for me, followed closely by Yasmin's story, but make no mistake, this movie is about all four of them in equal measure. More importantly, this is a story about people. It's not about lessons learned or growing up, it's not about relationships created or maintained, it's not about finding yourself, it's not about careers or hobbies. It's just a series of snapshots of 4 people... living. And while that can sound boring, it's really not, because the film is so well crafted that much like in real life when someone is telling a good story, you keep asking: "and then what?"

And lastly AAMIR KHAN.

Without presuming to know what's really in this man's head, I will say that I think I know why Aamir so badly wanted to be in this movie instead of letting Kiran pick another fresh face. In a world where Om Shanti Om, Ghajini and 3 Idiots are blockbusters, a soulful movie like Kiran's would have probably gone unnoticed had it not been for the presence of her superstar husband. Sad, but true... At the same time, I appreciated that Aamir played the part in such a subtle way that, much like in Taare Zameen Par, Aamir The Actor was rightfully overshadowed by his costar and by the director. I know he could have made this his movie, but there's a reason why he didn't, there's a reason why he played the part that many other actors could have played without making it an Aamir exclusive role, and I like to think that generosity and love are that reason.

I won't give a rating to this movie because as I said, Dolce was left at home (actually I suspect she was one of the people who mobbed Aamir on the street there and then she probably snuck into the theatre and saw the movie anyway), but I will say: don't miss this when it comes out in theatres!

Monday, September 6, 2010

2 Degrees of Separation: The French Romantic Hero in Tollywood

This post is written in collaboration with Tollywood is My Bollywood’s Jjake, whose sister post you can find here. After reading her post, I’m not sure I will ever be able to see an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers without getting upset that the leads are not Prabhas, Mahesh, Arjun and the other boys… Make sure to check it out!

I haven’t written a 2 Degrees of Separation post in a long time, but I’ll have you know that this particular one is what prompted the series to begin with.
The Tollywood (and to a certain extent Kollywood) action hero has always intrigued and attracted me, and I always thought it’s not just because the actors are hot. Though, let’s face it, that is a pretty big part of it. For me what differentiates the Tollywood hero from say, the Hollywood action hero is his Romantic disposition. And I don’t mean romantic as an adjective, but as the movement that sits at the base of modern literature, dominating the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, pretty much all across Europe.

As I was researching for this post I stumbled upon a very interesting old book called The Hero in French Romantic Literature. This book goes into quite a bit of depth defining the characteristics of the Romantic hero but the first thing that occurred to me while reading it was that, much like in Indian movies, there is a clear divide between the mass Romantic hero and the class Romantic hero. To my great disappointment the book focuses on the class one, whereas I find the mass hero to be the one closer to our Tollywood badasses, but luckily for me it’s mostly the appearance that differs, at the core, they’re both one and the same.

Before I go on, I should specify that I use the term class Romantic hero to refer to characters made famous by such authors as Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, F-A de Chateaubriand, Lord Byron, in other words, the stuff that you would study in a University Lit course. Whereas the mass hero is the creation of less critically acclaimed authors such as Alexandre Dumas Pere, Michel Zevaco, Ponson du Terrail, and a million other smaller writers who would publish each chapter of their heroic tales in the daily newspaper. The latter is the breed that interests us.

I am picturing the moment when the prototype of the Tollywood dishoom hero was created and wondering what were the building blocks that helped shape him. So let’s see, how do we build the perfect Romantic hero?

Any Romantic hero is defined at his core by individualism and self-awareness, or in lighter terms: the Romantic hero is exceptional, and he damn well knows it. His uniqueness takes many forms, whether he is the misunderstood genius, or the frustrated poet, or the visionary who will rebel against society. Or, more often in mass literature, he is a good for nothing wanderer, possessing superhuman strength (and definitely some great sword wielding skills), quite a bit of wit, and an unhealthy amount of pride, all paired up with the obligatory scorn towards authority (be it political rulers or the church). But he is always different, a cut above the rest: we know that he is the hero from the first moment he appears in the story. Note however that just because he is the hero, he doesn’t always have to be good, in fact more often than not, he’s quite imperfect in his uniqueness.

In Tollywood, most of the above characteristics of the mass Romantic hero are kept as such, but just to make sure we get exactly how special he is, he invariably gets an intro song that talks about how badass he is. Here's a sample from the movie Athidi:

And here’s another awesome one, even if it doesn’t have subtitles. I’m sure it’s not very hard to figure out from the visuals that the lyrics go somewhere along the lines of “I’m so badass, so badass, there’s no one more badass than me… la la la”

The Romantic hero is handsome and kind hearted (even though he will usually try to play it tough), which results in him being always ready to help a damsel in distress, even when that derails his own plans. He is more often than not an orphan, and while we’d love to call him a self-made man, the truth is he hardly ever has money in his pouch and when he does, it goes just as easily as it came, usually to some inn keeper or another as nothing makes our heroes happier than a good meal washed down with a few bottles of wine. Ah… these Frenchies and their joie de vivre…

Of course, that must sound very familiar, since the Tollywood hero falls short in none of the above categories.  Except he replaces the bottles of wine with some glasses of hot chai, and the inns with the street, because more often than not we have no idea where the hero lives. Jjake goes into more detail about these parallels by assigning the best known French heroes a South Indian equivalent!

Another very important physical aspect the two kinds of heroes have in common is of course: the moustache! What would a Frenchman in the 18th century and a South Indian man in any century be without their moustache? Nothing I say, nothing! And just because Mahesh Babu gets away without one we will not be fooled, we know hero = moustache. Mahesh is just trying to trick us. We’re sure he grows one at night to stay as badass as he is!

No matter his physical appearance, it all boils down to the Tolly hero being cool as a cucumber and raw as a steak (uh-oh, did I just compare him to a piece of meat, Freudian slip, sorry about that), all while unsuccessfully trying to hide his soft side. (Unless of course he’s doing the opposite and stalking the heroine, but even then he plays it cool enough for the heroine to not figure out until the end that he’s really a softie and, of course, a great catch.)

Fate was an interesting concept in the 18th– 19th century, at a crossroads between the self-made man of the 20th century and the religion governed one of the Middle Ages. But many Romantic heroes are conditioned by fate in one way or another, whether it’s because they have a higher destiny to fulfill or because fate has robbed them of their birth right.

Similarly the Tolly hero seems to be driven by forces above his will, whether it’s the need to avenge his family, or his past catching up with him. And unlike the Romantic class hero, but much like the Romantic mass hero, a tortured soul he’s not. He just takes it as it comes. He has no spleen, no anguish and usually knows how to look after himself. He may give up on some of life’s pleasures (such as pretty girls throwing themselves at him) for the sake of his mission, but he’s hardly ever bitter about it. Most of the times he’ll laugh it off and… we will too, because we know he’s still getting the girl in the end.

Sometimes, rather than being at the mercy of fate, the hero reverses the equation and becomes a changer of fates. This usually happens in films that focus more on the social message and perhaps less on the lead actor’s cuteness (Chakram and Chatrapathi with Prabhas; Dhool and Kanthaswamy with Vikram; Stalin, and from what I’ve gathered from descriptions, quite a few other Chiranjeevi movies). I’d have more examples if I were also interested more in the social message and less in the lead actor’s looks, but since I have yet to reach that high state of selflessness, I don’t.

Thinking about everything else that surrounds the hero and his story, I am picturing the conversation between Alexandre Dumas’ Ghost and the First Telugu Dishoom Storywriter going along these lines:

ADG: Monsieur, my stories are too French at heart to be adapted. How can you presume to do so?
FTDS: Rreyy, I dare you to find one element that we cannot translate into a South Indian movie.
ADG: I have evil dukes, jealous queens and mistresses, and cardinals who are up to no good.
FTDS: And we have evil goondas, underworld lords, jealous aunties, and all kinds of corrupt Ministers and Chief Ministers just waiting to chew some hero meat.
ADG: Hm… I also have family rivalries and backstabbing.
FTDS: That’s ok, we have factionists!
ADG: And what about the damsel in distress whose greatest asset is not her wit but her beauty and her virginity.
FTDS: Ah, for that we have Kajal!
ADG: I also have lyrical speeches and heart tugging emotional love scenes.
FTDS: Heh… Our script writers are not very good with that, but we’ll make do with plenty of songs, dances and sensual poses instead.
The Ghost of Alexandre Dumas has no choice but to slap his forehead and return to the darkness whence he came.

Of course, it’s more than likely that whoever came up with the Tollywood dishoom prototype had never read about Pardaillan, Bussy, Rocambole, La Mole and Edmond Dantes, but I don’t care, because that is how I like to think the Tollywood hero was invented! Jjake of course begs to differ, and you know… after giving it some thought, I could be persuaded to see things her way… 

While I ponder that some more, I leave you with my absolute favourite hero to come out of Alexandre Dumas' pen: Bussy d'Amboise from La Dame de Monsoreau.