Adarsh Bharatiya Purush: Why Salman Khan movies like 'Kick' are superhits
With Kick all set to be 2014's biggest blockbuster so far, Bollywood's answer to the human, Salman Khan, continues to baffle movie critics and those who entertain the notion that films should operate on the basis of logic.
Never mind that Kick takes every nugget of stupidity from a variety of sources. From the three Dhoom films to Rajinikanth's Sivaji and even Harry Potter (newspapers in Prague have moving images like the Daily Prophet), Kick has taken the absurd turned it unwatchable, liberally basted Khan all over it, sprinkled some Jacqueline Fernandez here and there and topped it off with an impressionistic Honey Singh rap on the travails of being a shuddh desi romantic.
So what makes audiences flock to a Salman Khan film as though its the last film to release before apocalypse strikes? From Wanted, which may have been the blueprint for what is now known as the Bhai film, to Kick, there's one thing that goes without saying when it's a Salman Khan film: it taps into India's Bhaisexuality. This isn't simply fandom for Khan, it's devotion to the ideal he embodies.
Khan's hit films of late are an unabashed celebration of a brand of masculinity that can best be described as the adarash Bharatiya purush. Here are this hit formula's key ingredients.
The aam hero: Stand back at take a long look at Salman Khan in a film like Kick. Or even a Dabangg. Biceps bigger than neighbouring aunty's nimboo pickle jar: check. Shirts which have no right to call themselves shirts: check. Too much styling gel: check. Shades in colours that most of us associate with Gems: check.
Metrosexuals care about fashion. Bhai and his bhaisexuals are above all that. With his bizarre wardrobe, Bhai makes sure that any man who has worn a say purple embroidered silk shirt to a party ever never feels ashamed at his wardrobe.
Now that the wardrobe is out of the way, let's talk about the man he chooses to play in the films. Apart from glorifying the lout, most Khan films also make stalking seem absolutely acceptable. Say for example this bit in Dabangg.
Man turns up uninvited in woman's house. The woman, his future lady love, happens to be a potter. Man offers woman money for the pots he has bought. Woman refuses. Here's what the man says, "Pyaar se de raha hoon, le lo. Nahin toh thappad maar ke bhi de sakta hoon (I am giving you the money with love, take it. I can also slap you and make you take the money)."
Admittedly Khan is continuing a long Bollywood tradition of "harassment = wooing", but let's give Khan the credit for having the gall to carry on the legacy without any shame in the 21st century. Because a man worth his mardangi can't really be masculine. His expression of love, to match the exacting standards of conventional Indian maleness, has to be assertive and not persuasive. If it comes with an undercurrent of violence, even better. Because nothing gets a woman going more than the idea of a man who could punch the daylights out of her if she sneezed out of line.
Curiously enough, the woman's chilling response "Thappad se dar nahin lagta hai saab, pyaar se lagta hai (A slap doesn't scare me sir, love does)", actually went down in Bollywood's hall of famed dialogues, with Sonakshi Sinha being made to repeat it at any given public appearance.
Similarly in Kick, Salman's character Devi Lal Singh is shown making repeated calls to a Fernandez's character Shania, who evidently is disinterested, hence keeps disconnecting the call. Devi, who is standing outside the cafe where Shania happens to be in, sees for himself that she has consistently refused to take his calls. What does he do? Retreat because she clearly doesn't want him around. No, he comes right in and plonks in front of the girl initiating the most absurd conversation ever. In another world, that would qualify as harassment. But in a Salman Khan film, it's just romantic pursuit.
A punch a day, keeps bad guys at bay: So he might be corrupt, an alcoholic or simply annoying, but never let go of a man who can land a mean kick on anything that looks like human.
Apparently, what defines an ideal Indian man is his capability to inflict violence. He can't recognise a woman he has been talking to for hours from her voice (Bodyguard) but he can still beat up people. He might have the conversation skills of a fly, but who cares, he can beat up people. He might be uncouth (the finest Salman Khan dialogue in the recent times was from Dabangg and involved farting) but because he can beat up people in inventive ways, he's a hero and a good man.
So here's what a Salman Khan hero looks like. Beefcake, stripped of most other life skills, but adept and violent behaviour - some would say necessary to 'protect' women. In the complicated, and grossly stilted, gender-roles that the Indian society continues to breathe life into, the Salman Khan man is ideal because his primary role is that of protecting a woman the way he wants to, which may or may not be what she needs. His heroine, by virtue of her sex, is disempowered and has as much individuality as a mosquito. In fact, just as Salman Khan is the same man in all his recent films, his heroines are mostly the same woman in all his films.
Except say for Ek Tha Tiger, the women in Salman Khan's films are included in the film to underline the sheer awesomeness of the man they are paired against. The characters they played have only as many life skills or grit to walk from their bedrooms to the kitchen without getting killed or molested. In Bodyguard, Kareena Kapoor needs constant protection from Khan. In both the Dabanggs, Sonakshi Sinha was the faithful doormat and in Kick, Jacqueline Fernandez is a psychologist who ideally needs to consult one immediately.
Only love, no sex or dhoka: You would have though that flowers snogging each other was a thing of the past in Bollywood. But as long as Bhai is around, sex remains strictly banned from his films. In his raging successes, Salman Khan is seen wooing the woman with gusto, singing, dancing, playing with his belt and hip pocket. But in Bhai's world, there's no sex. Because that's not the stuff for family audiences.
At a time when Bollywood has taken to the kiss like an item song, all self respecting Salman Khan films avoid any display of physical intimacy like plague. Which again fits just perfectly into the great Indian scheme of honour and maryada, where anything that has sex has to be evil and dishonorable. In fact, Kick has Honey Singh spell it out for you, "Irade nek mere, na koi ganda kaam baby." Don't weep for irony, it wasn't designed to survive Bollywood.
If you have managed to found yourself a Salman Khan-esque lover, you're most likely to get a brain hemorrhage from every sentence he speaks, but you're least likely to get punched in the face by a Ram Sena activist out to get his day's quota of good karma while you're out on a date. Come to think of it, that goes a long way in explaining the raging Bhaisexuality in India. So go, get your Sal-man!