So Akshay Kumar plays the bold role of a transgender in his forthcoming film Laxmmi Bomb. He has come a long way from the time he nearly fainted when the late Rituparno Ghosh offered him the role of a person with an alternative sexuality. Ritu, I remember, was most excited. He told me of how he would present Akshay, that he would wax the hair off the actor’s chest, and other details I didn’t want to hear. Akshay never came into the picture. Today he is willing to play the metro-sexual Indian male without getting coy.
But the image of the virile he-man with multiple women hanging on to his lapels is the one that Bollywood heroes love to propagate. Metro, hetero….Long before these new-age definitions of virility crept up Dharmendra was linked with almost every actress he worked with. On the sets his cronies (that’s what the friends were called during those days) would turn the pages of film glossies and point at various actresses. The garam actor would either nod or shake his head in the negative.
Such amorous anecdotes go well with the image of the True Hero that Bollywood loves to propagate. To Akshay’s credit, he’s at least honest about keeping up with ancient definitions of machismo. When Vishal Bhardwaj had gone to Akshay with Macbeth, the star found the character to be un-heroic.
Now that’s what I call carrying a Shakespearean tragedy too far!
Some years ago when Rituparno Ghosh offered him the aforementioned roles, Akshay baulked. Poor Ritu went scampering home to Kolkata while we in Bollywood had to wait for the non-star actor Sanjay Suri to play the first such hero in Onirban’s beautiful My Brother Nikhil. Is it a sign of Hindi cinema finally maturing? Let’s not uncork the bubbly just yet. It would take maybe another millennium for Hindi film heroes to actually delve into themes of dark, alternate sexuality. Before we forget…Dharmendra was the first superstar of Bollywood who took his shirt off on screen …Others in those times wouldn’t dare. Paunch showed. Then there was Feroz Khan who was the first one to get into a bathing suit on screen. Luckily there was a beach around.
It’s exciting to see the changing mores onscreen. But off it? Come off it! By and large our film heroes remain inhibited by their images. They would rather be defined by their publicists’ wisdom than the persons they are when they peel off their masks at night. “Problem is, our heroes don’t peel off their masks even at nights,” a happily married actress told me . “They go on believing they’re the Casanovas and Don Juans that they read and see themselves as being even when no camera is watching them. Some of the so-called studs of our industry are actually soggy noodles.” She names one very major star known for his ladies’ man reputation and also for regaling his friends with inside details on his score-board. “No one can guess this.
But this macho star is a terrible lover.”
He isn’t alone. If we make list with two headings --‘Posturing’ and ‘Prowess’ we’ll have a Houseful board outside the former flank in no time at all. There’s this notorious case of a young South-based music composer who was closely associated with Ram Gopal Varma for a few years. This man was seen in the company of some of the most stunning actresses in Bollywood. But the ladies’ man reputation was punctured when a very outspoken crooner who tried to form an intimate relationship with the musician, blurted out, “But he can’t perform! The dreamy artistic man’s image is all in his head.”
Of course there’s the other truth. ..there always is. Some of the most devoted married actors sow their seeds so far and wide we would need an archaeologist to trace their chromosomes. A model-turned-actor who holds his very beautiful wife’s hand in all public places has her tacit consent to perform even when the cameras are switched off. “Look, I know my husband is terribly attractive. When he works with these heroines they’re bound to throw themselves at him. Why not just accept the truth about his life and move on?” she once told a close friend. It’s like the old-man of letters, Khushwant Singh who spoke with a wink about hordes of ladies. But never slept a wink with them.