So, Akshay Kumar plays a transgender in his forthcoming film. He has come a long way from the time he nearly fainted when the late Rituparno Ghosh offered him the role of a gay character.
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 metrosexual Indian male without getting coy about his character’s sexuality.
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 the role of a gay man, 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 homosexual hero in Onirban’s My Brother Nikhil.
Is this a sign of Hindi cinema finally maturing? Let’s not uncork champagne bottles 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. Nowadays, they strip without or without aqueous props.
It’s exciting to see the changing sexual 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.
“The problem is that 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 one even when no camera is watching them. Some of the so-called studs of our industry are actually soggy noodles,” she added.
She names one very major star known for his ladies’ man reputation and also for regaling his friends with inside details of his scoreboard. “No one can guess this. But this macho star is a terrible lover,” she quipped.
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 his ladies’ man reputation was punctured when a very sexy and very outspoken crooner, who tried to form an intimate relationship with the musician, blurted out, “But he can’t perform! And since, he’s not an actor you know what kind of a performance I mean. The sexy dreamy artistic man’s image is all in his head, not in bed.”
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. He’d have to be gay or impotent to turn them down. I know he’s neither. Why not just accept the truth about his libido 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.