Tiger Shroff is no Baaghi; the action star's appeal is restricted to homogeneous roles in the age of versatility
It is ironic Tiger Shroff is the face of the Baaghi franchise since he is not rebellious by any standard when it comes to defying tricks of the trade.
Tiger Shroff is a rebel for no reason. It is ironic then that he is the face (and/or kicks, punches, and washboard abdomen) of the Baaghi franchise. Rather than going against the tide, he is just swimming with the flow, and doing it with aggression and flexibility to camouflage his one-dimensional streak.
In an era where every young star is constantly breaking barriers, avoiding stereotypes, and pushing the envelope in terms of acting, here is a Tiger Shroff whose filmography is merely a large blob of homogeneity. No one can take away the huge base of popularity he enjoys or the box office records set by his films, most recently Siddharth Anand's espionage thriller War from last year and Ahmed Khan's action drama Baaghi 2 from two years ago. But since he is stuck, comfortably so, in his image of an action hero, one cannot help but worry that he'll get jaded or burn out very soon, if not already.
His defense is rather simplistic: "In the industry which has so much talent and so much competition, it is very difficult to create an identity for oneself. So whatever little I am today it is because of the action genre. Yes, action does takes its toll but as long as I have my youth and physicality, I will continue with it." The place where he comes from seems logical. But in the long run, his plan may be thwarted by the fact that this genre may soon become too convenient for him to venture out of, and try something new. Worse, his extremely loyal fan base may not accept him in any other avatar, especially if it is not something he is exceptionally good at.
Going by his recent confession, Tiger is quite conscious and mindful of the expectation from his fan base. "I got a lot of feedback from my fans saying that we are used to seeing you as a one man army and you take on machines, people single-handedly, but here I was a college guy who was getting bullied and beaten up and they couldn’t digest that. It didn’t go down too well with my audience," he said on the failure of his last solo release, Punit Malhotra's campus caper Student of the Year 2 in 2019.
Punit had revealed he had to tweak the sequel of his mentor Karan Johar's 2018 directorial Student of the Year in order to make it a home turf for Tiger. Despite the several modifications to the tone and syntax of the franchise film, Tiger could not lift it on his shoulders because it was not a full-blown action entertainer. When his invincibility came under doubt during a bullying incident, typical of a campus caper, it did not go down well with his fans, Tiger claims. If that minor chink in the armour of the action star could do so much damage to his box office appeal, when he does pull out a completely different trick out of his hat, it runs the risk of costing him even more unconditional love from his fan base.
In that case, he should take a cue from his self-confessed screen idol, Hrithik Roshan, with whom he shared the screen with in War.
Hrithik was introduced as a new-age hero in Rakesh Roshan's 2000 film Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai. His next few films, in the same capacity of a 'complete package,' did not work at the box office. On the verge of being written off, he delivered a monstrous hit in Karan Johar's 2002 ensemble family drama Kabhi Khushi... Kabhie Gham. It was a youthful yet emotionally charged role, a far cry from the 'hero' roles he had done till then. Tiger could take a page out of Roshan's book, and learn how he has experimented with his roles over the years, not just relying on his impeccable physique, unparalleled dancing skills, and the ability to do action convincingly. In fact, Hrithik has commendably re-calibrated himself last year with two polar-opposite roles in War and Super 30. In the latter, he completely transformed into a bihari school teacher and in the former, he embraced his age and flaunted his charisma.
Alternatively, if not Roshan, Shroff could take a cue from his father Jackie Shroff. Had the veteran actor restricted himself to the action or romance genre when he began his career in the 1980s, he probably would not have grown up to be the seasoned actor he is today. He dabbled in various genres right from the start of his career, in order to keep challenging himself as an actor, and also prepare him for the time when he ceases to be a leading man in the eyes of both the trade and the audience. He knows how difficult it is for stars to break out of image. Jackie is now celebrating his 2.0 phase as a character artist in films like Brothers, Happy New Year, Dhoom 3, and the upcoming Sooryavanshi. The money is not on him, which liberates him as an actor willing to take risks. Jackie may have a distinctive identity, style and accent in his off-screen capacity but when he takes on a role, he completely blends into it, without letting any sign of his inimitable persona creep into the part.
Lastly, he could learn from the trajectory of his contemporaries. Just like he owns the genre of action entertainers, Ayushmann Khurrana has also carved a niche with his small-town-set family comedies addressing taboos, the most recent example being Hitesh Kewalya's Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. But even he determinedly steps out of his comfort zone to do an Andhadhun or an Article 15 to great success. Similar examples can be quoted from the filmography of Varun Dhawan, who takes a detour from his comedies to do a Badlapur and an October, or Vicky Kaushal, known to have proven his credibility with Bhoot - Part One: The Haunted Ship and Uri: The Surgical Strike, completely different from his initial boy-next-door appeal.
Tiger's quest with the franchises he is developing with Ahmed Khan, Baaghi and Heropanti, is only to scale up the action. But he is merely getting bigger, not wider. The tagline of his next film, Baaghi 3, is "He's up against a nation." And the tagline of his subsequent film, Heropanti 2, is: "The world wants him dead." Tiger may be raising the stakes by increasing the size of his odds but he must realise there will be a point when he will have to play an average Joe from the nation/world he is currently fighting.
The conundrum is simple. As he said in his debut film Heropanti six years ago: "(Heropanti) Sabki aati nahi, meri jaati nahi."
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