The six-pack of the Bollywood hero has had its run. An expected part of the “package” that every new and old actor offers to directors—groovy dance moves, polished walk and talk, fashion-kissed metrosexuality, height and “body”—these rippling abs are now boring. Everyone and their nephews have had them. From Hrithik Roshan’s once famed six packs to Farhan Akhtar’s for reasons only Milkha Singh can be blamed for to Aamir Khan’s Dhoom 3 abs or those of Salman Khan’s ever ready to grin or sulk in tune with bizarre dance steps, beef is big in Bollywood. It’s a longish menu, in fact, of beef cakes, take your pick. It makes the lean Irrfan look reassuringly nice and normal and Shahrukh Khan wise about withdrawing from the six-pack race after Om Shanti Om.
Consider Ali Abbas Zafar’s recent release Gunday, starring Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor in lead roles of innocent young boys-turned-refugees-turned-gun-and coal-dealers living in Calcutta of the 1970s. Singh better watch out. His hunky deltoids in Lootera, his oiled muscles in Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela and now his smug abs in Gunday are getting as much mention as his roles. Does he really want his body to overshadow his acting talent? Kapoor, on the other hand, is uncontested as Bollywood’s biggest loser (where weight is concerned). He lost more than 50kg, turning his formerly obese body into one worthy of a Bollywood hero. As is known, for taming body fat, Kapoor is the disciple of none other than Salman Khan, a place of pride, we are told. If only he could act and say his dialogues without grating your nerves.
The thing is that a Bollywood hero’s body has become like an item song—unavoidable on the resume of every film actor but falling rapidly on seduction charts. Nudge a few Bollywood trainers and out spill the stories of these must-do and easy-to-do-abs. Kapoor, of course did not have it easy as for him rediscovering the space called the abdomen by bulldozing through the many layers of stubborn fat was an arduous task. So, credit folks where it is due.
But if a man is fit and can afford a full-time trainer (they come dime a dozen in Mumbai suburbs, ready to roll out a wannabe actor), getting a six pack these days is a two-month job. Starvation and training for 4-5 hours a day at the gym does it. Steroids and supplements help, too, though no A-list star has yet gone on record to say he took to artificial measures. Surf the net and you will find a dozen articles on how to get Aamir Khan’s body in Dhoom 3. An irony of this six-pack trend. If anything, Khan looked odd and shorter than usual in that film—why would anyone aspire to look like him? The very emphasis on Khan’s disproportionate body in Dhoom 3 disregards his fine acting—the only salvageable part of an otherwise mindless film.
If some print publications add a log to the fire by using Photoshop on naked torsos of male models, films show shirts automatically sucked out into thin air. Singh and Kapoor’s shirts—like it happens in movies these days—rip and fly off as a reflex of mutual animosity in Gunday, revealing their starved, albeit shapely abs dipped in a thick paste of oil and liquid concealer. Then they wrestle with each other and you are supposed to gape in marvel at this twin display of masculine aggression as a cinematic moment. At one point in the film, Singh’s abs contract and coil in anger making them look like crumpled flesh—if anything, the scene should be labelled as the rock bottom of Bollywood male abs. I pray for the demolition of these silly six-packs that misinterpret muscle for resilience, unrealism for healthy male vanity. Also because of the confusing message that film directors beam through these tools of cinema.
Is modern Indian masculinity, as seen in Hindi cinema, an unabashed celebration of the brawny? A bit complicated, isn’t it, as masculinity has been already confused in its definition by preening heroes obsessed with colours and jacket silhouettes, headgears, necklaces, bracelets and pointy shoes? Or is this a fleeting fad of our times, just a modern hero thing, a quick distraction from pure talent, to compete with Photoshopped models on men’s magazines, a foil against metrosexuality?
What the six-pack trend has done to the regular guy in India, his envy complex, his relationship with his gym and his body may be another story; but what it has done to the Bollywood hero is clear. It has made him a look-alike. Cinema will eventually remember originals.