Manning Down: How New Age Bollywood Actors Are Redefining Masculinity

All of us have grown up consuming Bollywood, not just watching it but consuming it. It has shaped our vision of romance, rivalry, femininity and of course masculinity. Bollywood’s portrayal of a traditional “hero” has always been based on a sort of hyper-masculinity, where the hero is tall and dark, and he is responsible for protecting the “dignity” of the women in his family and to do that he goes on to beat up 10 goons single-handedly. Amitabh Bacchan’s image of the “angry young man” was the perfect reflection of how a “real man” should be.

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Cut to the 90s when the Khans and the Kumar and the Roshan were wooing our heart with their charm.  The girls waited for their Rajs, Prems and Rahuls who would come crossing oceans to win them over and fight till their last breath to protect their women. Times changed but the way Bollywood portrayed the “ideal man” didn’t change much. Sure the hero is now more romantic, who is now ready to sing and dance for his women and sometimes he cries too but at the core, he is still that hyper-masculine man who wouldn’t tolerate anyone looking at his woman and most of all who will hide his insecurities at all cost.

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The late 2000s however, came in like a breath of fresh air where Bollywood started making movies where men were portrayed as real human beings who have their insecurities and faults. Who like everyone else also feel vulnerable. In short the so-called “heroes” were shown with imperfections and their imperfections made them beautiful and real. And the new age actors were the major catalyst in this change of trend.

Let’s take Vicky Kaushal for example. If the characters that he had portrayed are analysed, most of them seem very real and most importantly they have their flaws and inhibitions. In Masaan when Deepak’s lover Shalu died in an accident, Deepak did not go on a rampage as one would have expected him to do, instead, he sat and mourned, like we would and that is what made him special.

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Ayushman’s character in Shubh Mangal Savdhan was suffering from erectile dysfunction. Sure he was embarrassed about it but he did not turn it into a huge issue about the male ego. He confessed to his fiancé about his problem and when the entire family started pointing fingers at his fiancé about not being loyal or caring enough, he rose to the occasion and confessed that he was the one with the problem. He has no qualms in admitting that his fiancé was the one who never gave up on him and in fact, she was the one who made a man out of him.

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Raj Kumar Rao too doesn’t fit in the traditional framework of what a hero should look like. He isn’t conventionally good looking, he is lean and not buffed up and this realness also reflects in the characters that he plays on the screen. They aren’t perfect, they too have their weak moments, they also breakdown one in a while like every human being does. Yet they are beautiful and confident in their own ways.

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Seeing these new-age actors play such real characters on screen is such a welcome change. Maybe the world doesn’t need rough and tough hyper-masculine heroes anymore. Maybe what we need now is realness. Maybe we need more such characters and actors who tell the young men of the country that being vulnerable, having insecurities doesn’t make one any less of a man. These flaws make one real, they make one truly humane.

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