But, do they get the girl? Hardly. In the changing equation between the sexes, the bad boy is the new good boy.
As the world gets more complicated and conquests more layered, the means to a virtuous end are no longer what they used to be. Once upon a time, Phantom did his best for mankind and Mandrake went abracadabra with his heart in the right place. These days, cartoon characters take twisted routes to stardom. And it is not their fault, they are just drawn bad.
The good guy is tiresome. With him next to you, you are the fan, the groupie, the wannabe. There is not a hope in hell that you will get to be a hero yourself. You can bask in reflected glory all you want, you can be a sidekick, you can smile adoringly, but Robin can never be Batman. Now, consider the other scenario: stand next to the Bad Boy and instantly he will make you look good. Just like that a neon light will go up over your head, saying, ‘Mr Nice’. That is, if you are still hung up on being Mr Nice.
Is it cool to be bad?
If you aspire to that, you have to begin young. You come in with an improbable report card, saying, “Maa, mei first class first aaya hoon.” And if lissome lasses throw themselves at you, crooning, “Raat akeli hei, bujh gaye diye...” you beat a hasty retreat. You have to, you see, save her from herself. Your smile has to be beatific and your testosterone, in neutral gear. You are allowed to lose your temper only in the villain’s den where the sight of your mother tied to a pillar unsettles you vastly since you have only seen her in the puja room amidst joss sticks until now.
You are the paragon of all virtues, you can do no wrong. And you never get to say interesting stuff to starry-eyed girls, like Emraan Hashmi in some film did, “Chipak ke rehna, heroine bana doonga.”
That’s the main thing — heroes are not paired with heroines anymore. They get the dull, witless type, who is grateful to be in the background, smiling tirelessly at the same old jokes and generally playing doormat-doormat with the washing machine and the mixie. They take over the tradition of garam-garam roti from their mother-in-law, who — after that one thrilling trip to the villain’s den — is back to inhaling all the joss-stick fumes.
Don’t get me wrong. I would have loved to live in the black and white era. India had already gained independence from foreign rule by the time I was born, so that my chances of going to jail for the country are now slim. When dragons made away with little maidens, I would have liked to poke at the beasts with my sword and say, “shoo.” Or be around when wars were waged. I mean, Ashoka in that battlefield, saying enough of bloodshed in the best photo-op moment of history — I could have done that. Against a sunset, with face in left profile.
The times when men could be men are officially over. Things changed. The world became ordinary. Mythology had vacated the map. Morality tales started to tweak their endings. There are now just a lot of regular men and women with an eye on the main chance. At least from the time I joined kindergarten, there has not been a single opportunity for me to save lives en masse.
We live to blab. We cry on TV, confide our darkest secrets to anyone, celebrate our weaknesses, greed and stupidities in public. We create pin-ups only to pull them down the next minute.
We play the number game for we like to laugh at the loser. We love to watch our idols grow their feet of clay. If we can’t spy on them and expose them as a lower form of life than us, then, hey, what about our moment in the sun?
Shades of grey
Meanwhile, we get on with our fights by devious methods — back-biting, back-stabbing and playing dirty politics. Of course, even now, some hero type will suddenly stick out of a queue, foaming at the mouth, “I will not give a bribe,” etc. But he just stands there feeling foolish as the man at the counter will call out in a bored voice, “Next!”
Bollywood got this one thing right. When twins routinely got lost at Kumbh ka mela, one became the pompous-bore hero and the other was the wisecracking, moll-dating villain. In Deewar, Shashi Kapoor mouthed the dialogue — Mere paas maa hei — but Amitabh Bachchan got the whistles. When Shah Rukh Khan chucked Shilpa Shetty down a terrace in Baazigar, he had his reasons. From then on, we’ve had many anti-heroes menacing us in 70 MM: Once Upon A Time in Mumbai, Darr, Dabangg…
Heroism is no longer the big picture, the devil is in the detail. As pop singer Nena put it in ’99 Red Balloons, Everyone’s a super hero, everyone’s a Captain Kirk…. Once we got to thinking why and who, we, the audience, realised that people like us — with the same dilemmas, circumstances and complexes — are the ones we can relate to. The man who towered over others and mouthed jargon about winning is from another time. He is the saviour of another people.
The hero of the hour is the average Joe. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon. He has no connections; even a gas connection takes him considerable time and effort, just like the rest of us. He lives in a vast country teeming with people exactly like him. He goes into crowded places knowing very well that some idiot backpack may contain a bomb that can go off and kill him for no reason at all. And still he greets each day cheerfully in the only form of bravery he knows.
An icon can’t drink or smoke or cheat. But the anti-hero can do all that and more. One has all the goodness of heart you can ask for and adequate bank balance, but the other has attitude. If you ask me, the second dude is more fun to hang out with.