Masala Hero

No genre is as schizophrenic in its portrayal of male protagonists as the South Indian commercial cinema.  It’s fascinating to watch Indian masala movies dish out super heroes, ever so consistently, wet their pants if a woman so much as winks in their general direction. It’s the hero who can take on Darth Vader, Anton Chigurh and Godzilla – all at once, but won’t find courage to send his lady love an email.

As implausible as these characters are, their popularity is undeniable. And it’s no surprise. They do, unfortunately and accurately, portray an average Indian middle aged teenager’s medieval fantasy – of scoring a woman, ridiculously beyond league, with little effort, no courting and above all, needing little to no intelligence; about truly getting lucky.

As if the resulting portrayal of women in such movies isn’t shamefully regressive enough, what is also mind numbing is that Indian cinema consistently portrays these men, absolutely impotent in courting women, as characters worthy of emulation.

Here’s a typical scenario – A woman, always fair, usually rich, sometimes intelligent watches the hero – typically a rickshaw driver, petty thief or, hold your breath, unemployed orphan – beat up at least twenty, usually fifty, bad guys. So bad is this beating up that all furniture of the fish market, flower market, police station or generally any place filled with stuff which is eye pleasing as it flies around is wrecked to skies. She is head over heels.

And then the humiliation begins. She confesses her love. He says no. She begs him, sings around trees for him, dresses skimpy rather than sexy for him, he says no. She protests. He reveals, not that the woman wouldn’t already know, that he is poor, uneducated and generally totally undeserving of her. She persists; threatens to jump off a cliff, into a well or on a railway track and finally, out of pity, yes – out of pity, the uneducated, unemployed hero accepts her love.

How pitiful is it that South Indian movies must earn profit from repeatedly whistle-blowing on this perverse and, more importantly, embarrassing fantasy of its audience. It is just as pitiful as its unimaginative audience, oblivious to the fact that it is his fantasy on screen.

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