Men in uniform always managed to woo more women than the average civilian. But the visual effect that the phrase ‘men in uniform’ has on the mind is that of your typical tall, dark, handsome Mills & Boons’ hero – in uniform.
Somehow the colour ‘khaki’ didn’t much fit into that stereotype of perfect men. In India, men in khaki uniforms were – at a point of time – believed to be the lazy, procrastinating, inept people who always played second fiddle to the hero and arrived at the scene of crime only after all the action was over. Their hirsute chests and the buttons of their shirts that threatened to give up the difficult task of covering their enormous paunches were no help either. Policemen fitted into a mould of the barely acceptable and occasionally loathed characters in Bollywood.
Enter Amitabh Bachchan. Clad in khaki, the man radiated pure anger. Each word that came out of his mouth was nothing short of a bullet. With ‘Zanjeer’, the baton-wielding gun-at-his-waist police officer became the fantasy of every woman. They pined for their own angry young Vijays, and they thirsted for a glimpse of the policeman. As the dynamic, short-tempered, vengeance-seeking Vijay, Amitabh redeemed the image of the policeman in the minds of the Indian audience. And the fickle-mindedness of the crowd embraced the new avatar of the policeman, put him on a pedestal and prayed for his success through every twist and turn that the plot of a film placed in front of them. A policeman had hardly enjoyed more screen space or more space in the minds of his audience.
With Vijay, Amitabh had established himself as a monument. An unshakeable, insurmountable, indomitable man, cast in steel and moulded to perfection. With Shashi Kapoor donning the khaki mantle of the police officer in ‘Deewar’, another dimension was added to the by-then-on-its-way-to-perfection police officer. That a cop is not necessarily alien to the feelings of ‘lesser mortals’, was branded beyond doubt on to the minds of the audience.
This policeman loved, joked, cared – effusing effeminate streaks at times and staking his ‘masculine’ profession at others, the teary-eyed Ravi Verma succeeded in providing the hitherto mercurial policeman with a more fleshed out, rounded image. Honesty and goodness, above all, were conferred the status of ‘exceedingly acceptable’ in the Hindi film industry. And as far as the women were concerned, their minds were in a fierce tug of war between the Amitabh Bachchan’s dishonest smuggler Vijay Verma and Shashi Kapoor’s hardworking honest Ravi Verma. The tussle for supremacy of one facet over another probably never happened, though the scales might have tipped a bit towards the dashing smuggler-with-a-heart.
Cut to 2010. In the three and a half decades that elapsed since the honest Ravi Verma won the hearts of his audience, Bollywood saw the rise and fall of many police officers on the silver screen. From Akshay Kumar to Aamir Khan to Shah Rukh Khan, they had all had their stints in the khaki uniforms. However, till 2010, no matter how good or bad the actors appeared as policemen on screen, they were all in the realms of human beings.
With 2010, however, the cop underwent an alien transmutation of sorts and dropped on the face of the earth in the guise of Chulbul Pandey. In ‘Dabangg’, the policeman seemed to have transcended the territory of mortal beings. Chulbul Pandey could do anything and everything. Period. The moustachioed cop stole the hearts of the women, and he smiled at them from behind his heart-shaped sunglasses. The policeman, apart from having been engendered by an Ubermensch, now had a comical side to him too. ‘Dabangg’ was swallowed by the audience with an intensity that only somebody who’d been thirsty for an eon could have matched. Such was the charm of the policeman. And Bollywood did not leave any stone unturned in tapping the potential of the resurrected phoenix called the Police Department.
What it resulted in, was a barrage of films where the hero was dressed in the garb of a policeman. Moustachioed or un-moustachioed, the men showed their iron-board abs off and proved their mettle at their departments before trotting off into the sunset with the objects of their love beside them.
And then, as recently as just a few days back, ‘Rowdy Rathore’ came into being. The nation is still recovering from the shock of the film – which can provide a healthy competition to any Korean preparation of the <i>Kimchi JJigae</i>. ‘Rowdy Rathore’ is no misnomer. People are killed and beaten to pulp and body parts are gorily decapitated at the drop of a hat. And the crowd cheers their Shiva/Vikram on through the heap of bodies. Mindless violence is exuberantly welcomed and Akshay Kumar the cop is never – even for once – viewed with the eyes of logic. The film doles out – in extra-generous doses – pure, unadulterated spice, the likes of which might be found in the <i>Bhut Jolokia</i> (conferred the status of the hottest chilli in the world). The policeman is no longer the one who arrives at the end of all action – he is the rallying point of all action that happens in the film.
When a trend is set, how can the big names of the industry be left behind! Aamir Khan’s moustachioed khaki manifestation in ‘Talaash’ has already shot to the fore – what with the constantly postponed release dates and the craftily created digital posters.
But for now, ‘Rowdy Rathore’ seems to have had all the cake. The film, while on the one hand has been slammed by many, on the other is all set to make its ‘rowdy’ entry into the 100 crore club. Akshay Kumar and Prabhu Deva sure knew their audience well – they hit, they killed, they wooed, they danced. In uniform and with a moustache, the police(super)man/(super)policeman rose to a level that is hardly unputdownable now. The men in uniform who walk, run and shoot all over the screens – know that.