WHILE ON SCREEN HE IS A MACHO MAN, OFF SCREEN HE IS APPROACHABLE. THE TWO TRAITS IN TANDEM WORK WONDERS FOR BRAND SALMAN
Initially the melodrama and colours of Parsi theatre on one hand and Indian mythology on the other inspired the making of Hindi cinema. So hero would always be virtuous, villain loathsome, and women hapless victims of circumstances. But now we have Chulbul Pandey, the corrupt cop (Dabangg), slacker (Vicky Donor), buffoons (Golmaal), rule bending cop (Singham), thieves (Dhoom), all finding acceptance. Rom-com (Band Baaja Baraat), juicy scandals (No One Killed Jessica), dark underbellies of Indian society (Love Sex aur Dhokha), or the bawdy comedies (Singh is Kinng) are all formulae for success. The new breed of filmmakers don’t want to push fake stories about nonexistent perfect (heroes) or totally flawed (villain). The hero may be crass and corrupt, mom swigs rum, while the heroine is feisty. The value system is changing, so are films, which mirror them.
In poverty-stricken India of 1950s and 1960s the hero belonged to masses, conformist and virtuous. In 1970s he started taking on the establishment, expressed his resentment (Deewar), and even flirted with law (Sholay). However, he still retained the heart of gold, never turning baddy out of choice. 1980s presented before us superheroes, raunchy songs, and, what film critics prefer to call, decadent cinema. First whiff of liberalisation of 1990s, and behind the glitter and glamour of metro multiplexes it was presumed that the old cinema of lower working class was to be replaced by YRF’s glamorous realism’ depicting modernising India. Hindi cinema started projecting values and aspirations of emerging middle class, including NRIs who had become affluent in US and UK but were unable to snip away the umbilical cord joining them with traditional Indian family values. Lavish lifestyles of the yuppies and puppies became de rigueur (HAHK, DDLJ). But these films could connect with only niche middle class. The common man, still visiting single screens, found it phoney. He wanted to see one of their own – the mofussil town man – as hero. Hero who wears unfashionable clothes, swears and utters profanities, and exhibits inyour- face machismo. He is the real Mc- Coy-Robinhood, Rambo, Shahenshah, Singham – who stands up and fights against all odds and emerges victorious. When he is ‘one of them’ these masses begin to believe that anyone can cope any challenge. So the eighties formula of loud action and melodrama is back even if film critics criticise that era. The hero has to have a macho physique, attitude, and personality. That is why when Salman was shooting for Bodyguard at Patiala his gym equipments arrived in two truckloads, which he used to workout daily for five hours, besides doing 2,000 plus abdominal crunches and a 5-6 km run everyday in between the shoot. All this to execute the mandatory shirtless scene in the climax of the film Bodyguard.
To be sure this kind of cinema exists alongwith the small budget out-of-thebox films likes Gangs of Wasseypur, Paan Singh Tomar, and Vicky Donor, multiplexes ensure that ‘modern’ films like Dil Chahta Hai or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara too do reasonably well. All these genre cohabit because there is a clear audience divide. The small films with unusual premises are fit for multiplex audience. Their makers may be from metros or mofussil towns, but they come sans hypocricy. Biggies, riding mindless formula, however endear themselves to the masses. Many of these movies are actually rehashes of south blockbusters, trademarked by loud dialogues, raw action, suggestive dances. They provide a good escape from the daily drudgeries of life.
The alpha male caricature has always mesmerised the working class audience. Their hero should live his life on his own terms. He is imperfect, mercurial, but large hearted, friend’s ally but enemy’s foe. They don’t want their hero to be cute. They would much rather prefer someone whose dialogues are laden with a thick regional accent, who grooves on folk beats, mouths expletives, gulps down desi booze, flaunts his chiselled body, and can bash up a dozen baddies alone. Let the suave male protagonist who lived in a mansion, may be abroad, spoke fluent English, wearing designer clothes be someone else’s idea of a hero!
MACHO, NOT THE METROSEXUAL
That’s why while Aamir scores high on talent & technique, SRK has charisma & unbridled energy, only Salman has five hits in a row – Wanted (2009), Dabangg (2010), Ready (2011), Bodyguard (2011), and now Ek Tha Tiger (2012) – the last one having already grossed Rs.194 crore in mere three weeks of its release. Only he is everyone’s hero, who is there to entertain, not to build his reputation or charisma. Today, when nine out of ten films fail to extend beyond the first week, mostly because these film producers are not cued in to viewers’ preferences, which anyway are ever in flux, and when the number of available weekends for releas- ing a film is diminishing (thanks to IPL), giving five hits in a row is no mean task.
It was actually Salman who reminded us that the ‘alternative’ (to multiplex variety) was still desired. Salman co-starred with Govinda in Partner, a movie that presented the viewer the worldview of the lower middle class. In his last few hits a new star persona has evolved which is closely linked to his off screen image. His muscular shaven physique remains central to the male working class ideal of the body. He dresses in Indian style with earrings, bracelets, bright clothes, patchwork designs, lives in same building in a one bed room apartment with his parents; this is where he grew up. Although a Muslim, he participates in the Ganesh festival.
His star persona embodies many of the values of the lower middle class, such as devotion to his family and his generosity towards his friends and people who work with him. He is seen as more emotional than rational, not intellectual, who expresses himself in painting. He tweets in Hindi or broken English. Unlike Aamir, who becomes the character, Salman always remains the star, bringing his own mannerism to the role.
Chulbul Pandey of Dabangg is a flawed hero, like Salman in real life, with a heart of gold and an irreverent sense of humour. The film clicked because it became difficult to distinguish where the real life superstar began and the character dominating the reel ended. Salman is both endearing (to masses) and enduring (five hits in a row), the twin qualities that help differentiate a star who inhabits his time from the one who lives beyond. In fact, there’s an interesting mobile sms which is doing rounds: “Hollywood has Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Ironman, while we have Salman.”
BEING HUMAN PAYS TOO!
While being alpha male has worked for him, Salman should really be called an alpha beta male. Because he runs Being Human campaign, focusing on providing education and healthcare to poor. At any point of time 30-40 people are standing outside his home waiting for some kind of help. Money or assurance is regularly doled out from Salman to them. This makes him noble, likeable, and wanted. While on screen he is a macho man, off screen he is approachable. The two traits in tandem work wonders for brand Salman. That is how he scores over even, say, Rajesh Khanna and SRK, the pure lover boys of their time, or Bachchan Senior and Aamir, the social crusaders. He does both, but without a great deal of fuss.
So will the good times last forever? Well, soon we will have Dabangg-2 to find out. For now, we can say that he has hit upon formula number one for delivering hits. According to Kaveri Bamzai of Today Group: One, his movies have catchy songs with easy recall. Two, he wears affordable clothes in his movies, something any tailor can copy. Three, he adorns cool, inexpensive accessories like the heart shaped glasses of Dabangg. Four, in each movie he makes a dramatic entry in the first frame, say by kicking open a door. Five, Khan always rescues a girl in peril. But only he can be the sex object, not the leading lady. Six, he does not disappoint his fans who love to see his bare 42 -inch chest. Seven, his dance steps are very easy to copy, like the biceps dance of Bodyguard. Eight, he cracks silly jokes (I am not a fool, you think I am in a nursery school) which invite laughter from his fans. Nine, his onscreen names – Lovely Singh, Prem – reflect his professional transition. And, Ten, with a deadly squint he sizes up his opponent first and then delivers a deadly dialogue, of the Mujhpe ek ehsaan… type (in Bodyguard).
Salman has reached a state of adoration among his fans where they happily ignore the routine requirement of the film – story, character, coherence, craft. He dwarfs everything. So much so that even if Salman, the secret agent of Ek Tha Tiger, forsakes India for Katrina, his Pakistani lady love, in the film released on Independence Day, people still love him. Besides he has ascended a pedestal whereby, like Rajinikant, his fans watch his movie simply because Bhai appears in it. So if Amitabh Bachchan can endure, through reinvention, without doubt Salman can too. He sure can teach a course in self branding at Harvard.