“Cinema’s characteristic forte is its ability to capture and communicate the intimacies of the human mind.”
– Satyajit Ray
For years now, society through mainstream media has constructed an unhealthy idea of hulking masculinity that men, on some level, are expected to aspire to. Which in return has given prominence to this archetype of “toxic or violent masculinity” with traditional traits including but not limited to—subduing emotion, carrying a hardcore appearance, or inflicting violence to assert dominance, and bullying.
INDIAN CINEMA’S OBSESSION WITH OVERLY MASCULINE HEROES
Cinemas cannot function on their own and are an integral part of the culture of the country. They have a big hand in shaping its norms, along with the ideals of the society due to their infinite reach. Indian cinema, throughout its history, has seen a comprehensive representation of masculinity from Rajesh Khanna’s tragic hero to Amitabh Bachchan’s “angry young man” image. However, since the 2000s, the whole gamut of masculinity in Indian films has shifted towards more overtly idealistic heroes with abs of steel which has seen the meteoric commercial success of such extreme mindless action flicks, like War (2019) or Baaghi (2016).
Larger than life personalities playing these shatterproof characters and glorifying an improper image of dominant masculinity through heavily heightened masculine escapades have led to a generation of men with fragile egos and suffocating ideals, like “big boys don’t cry”.
The success of this archetype can mainly be attributed to the fact that the majority of moviegoers are looking for empty-headed, easily consumable films to satisfy their entertainment-deprived selves and to feed into the commodity culture of the industry.
With the majority of the highest-grossing films still compromising films with buffed up male leads asserting their hyper-masculinity over films’ antagonists and the female leads, this ongoing trend is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Crisis of Masculinity & The industry’s VIOLENT MASCULINITY PROBLEM
The majority of films coming out of the Hindi film industry now represent a misogynistic form of masculinity that is disjointed from all its feminine aspects and emotions, and in return is overly aggressive and competitive, which has led to this crisis of a lack of proper masculine representation in films.
The influence of the Bollywood industry on the young male demographic and their tendencies of trying to adapt these Film-esque scenarios in real life has resulted in an improper understanding of their masculinity which has led to issues such as impulsiveness, promiscuity, and dysfunctional relationships, among others; all in vain attempts to prove how Herculean they are.
“They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
contains spoilers for A Death in the Gunj
The best representation of violent masculinity in an urban setting is shown in Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut, A Death in the Gunj (2016). The film primarily focuses on Shutu, a sensitive, brooding young man who unsurprisingly has a written list in his diary with words that start with the letter E. Most adults around Shutu, as described in The Great Gatsby, are hyper-verbal, indulgent, and plain ignorant. They are negligent in their carless violence towards him—careless in their ways as they fail to see the flashes of tormented rage building within him which finally becomes the catalyst for killing himself at the final arc of the film. The film further dissects how, despite the women of the family indulging in smoking, drinking, singing Elvis Presley songs, and belonging to an English-speaking and economically privileged class, are still overshadowed by familial patriarchy and misogyny. It paints a cautionary tale on violent masculinity, and its lasting impact on those who do not necessarily comply with its preconceived notions. Gloria Steinem perfectly summarised the problem when she said, “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”
The industry, to maximise their profits on the ever-shortening attention span of its audience, has given birth to this cancerous culture of instant gratification through bangs, booms, abs, biceps, and blasts, where they provide female leads with just enough screen time to objectify them and play the damsel in distress for the lead hero to play the “white saviour”. As long as systemic sexism exists within every level of the hierarchy, the mass audience will continue to flock over and drool over these overly masculine and equally less flattering male heroes as they beat up unapologetically stupid antagonists, and force their brute strength over the female heroines as they keep looking for similar validations in themselves. To say nothing of how most, if not all, these films will fail spectacularly on the Bechdel Wallace test, and these perceived morals and objectification bringing more money in than ever, this style of approach is more than likely here to stay.
Anindya eats music, fiction, and reality — all for breakfast. Send him fresh recipes at [email protected]