It is time we admitted the naked truth.
The ultimate straight guy pinup fantasy in India is not Sunny Leone or Poonam Pandey.
It’s Salman Khan.
Men claim they go to a Salman Khan film for the action. But Ankit Jasani lets the cat out of the bag after going to see Ek Tha Tiger.
“Salman Khan’s shirt ripping itself off his body is a defining moment in all his blockbusters. We were just waiting for that scene.”
When it came, Ankit and his friends exploded into wolf whistles.
Ek Tha Tiger’s great suspense is not its spy games plot but the will-he-won’t-he take-his-shirt-off tension. That is apparently the question on every red-blooded Indian man’s mind. Almost every review of Ek Tha Tiger, good or bad, makes sure to answer it.
Verdict: For those asking, yes, Salman Khan does take off his shirt.
Our own Firstpost:
(There is) believe it or not only a single scene where he takes his shirt off.
Rediff’s Raja Sen obviously thinks just once is almost as good as none. He begins his review with the heart-sinking line “The shirt stays on” and goes on to call the “un-unpeeling of wardrobe” in a Sallu-bhai film a “movie miracle.”
Salman Khan is the Helen of our times. He is our unacknowledged item boy, his mujra is his striptease. Helen at least had different peek-a-boo outfits, with feathers and sequins. Salman’s (un)dress is the same in ever film. Yet a nation waits with bated breath for his buttons to pop so that we can all then collectively exhale in the darkness of the movie theatre and think paisa vasool. And Helen just stripped down for her film roles. Salman tweets muscle flexing pictures of himself taken on his camera phone and hosts “shirtless” parties where all the guys take off their shirts and pose.
That leads to the question we dare not ask – why do we need to see Salman Khan take his shirt off? Ursula Andress emerging wet from the sea in her skimpy white bikini in Dr. No sent millions of men into hormonal overdrive. But Salman the Shirtless is not really meant for female consumption. He strips for Ankit and his friends. Look at this video of Sallu bhai standing on his balcony in a black tanktop. All those voices screaming at him to take off his shirt are men. And they erupt into applause when he finally obliges. One almost expects them to shower him with currency notes.
In Maine Pyaar Kiya Salman flaunted his chest hair to show off his masculinity, his mardangi. Now the hair is long gone, waxed into oblivion, because it’s the muscles that separate the men from the boys. In the MPK days the hairy chest was on display for everyone – boys and girls. Now it’s all about the boys, hordes of whom follow suit by waxing themselves as well, something few Indian men would have ever admitted to doing a decade ago. “Chest hair was the six-pack of the 1980s” tweeted Shirish Kunder. Now body hair just gets in the way of displaying the eight pack. Men pretend they put in hours at the gym every day to impress the girls. They are really at the gym to impress each other, unable to take their eyes off themselves in the mirror. It’s a mutual admiration society, the ultimate boys club.
Unlike women, men were not supposed to care about their looks (and certainly not about other men’s looks). So it was women who carried the little compact mirror in their handbags. But men obviously did care. That’s why they were always sneaking looks at their hair every time they passed the side mirror of a car. But it was sort of a covert act. Salman Khan liberated men from the secret shame of that narcissism. He made it okay to preen, to work out for hours at the gym. He made it okay to admit to supplements and pills instead of pretending that you came about that body of yours just naturally. In Salman Khan female vanity went macho.
What few will admit in this muscle worship is that it’s all very gay. Writing about the evolution of gay desire in Firstpost, Vikram Phukan says that while once gay men found sexiness in different kinds of stolen images – an underwear ad, the Oneida devil, a photograph of bronzed men jumping off the parapets for a dip in the Ganga – now beefcake comes in only one flavour. American body beautiful.
The centrespreads of Indian gay magazines like Fun are photo-processed to the point that the male models are like strange, hairless bionic men. Not a hair out of place, not a freckle to be seen, not one muscular cut invisible.
That sounds like, well, Salman Khan. A completely western gay porn star aesthetic – buff, bulging and baby smooth – rules Bollywood. And Salman Khan is its size queen. Jai ho.