Main Tera Hero: Machismo, Masculinity, and Masala

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, it had the vibe of any typical time-pass, masala Bollywood flick with male actors flaunting their six pack abs and female actresses showing off their bikini-clad bodies (i.e. a visual treat for both men and women alike). Needless to say, David Dhawan lived up to my superficial-mindless-entertainment expectations, with a few “wow” hatke moments interspersed with some scenes so stark in contrast that they obviously existed solely to bear the stamp of a stereotypical slapstick Bollywood comedy.
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Meet Seenu (full name: Sreenath Prasad, played by Varun Dhawan).  Upon first glance, he is attractive, sweet, and innocent but in actuality, he is, in his own words, a “harami type ka ladka” (basically a brat/rascal/scoundrel). He joins as a new student at Tift College in Bangalore and bumps into beautiful babe, Sunaina (Ileana D’Cruz), the college heartthrob and allegedly future wife of Angad (Arunoday Singh), an aggressive, possessive police officer with anger management issues. As expected, much to the dismay of Angad, Sunaina and Seenu fall in love. Due to misunderstandings and conflicting interests, Sunaina gets kidnapped by the father of Ayesha Singhal (Nargis Fakhri) because Ayesha loves Seenu and wants to marry him. Eventually, this complicated love quadrilateral gets sorted out through a series of quirky strategies with Seenu romancing both Sunaina and Ayesha.

 

Though I did not expect much from the film, there was one situation that was definitely a positive unexpected twist. In one scene, Angad’s posse lies standing around outside the main college building, checking out other college girls and rating their attractiveness on a scale of 1-10. One could argue that it makes it slightly better or perhaps more acceptable that the “bad guys” are the ones engaging in this behavior. However, in my opinion, it makes no bloody difference who is doing it because it’s still as superficial and demeaning to women. Just when I thought David Dhawan had already stooped to the lowest level to disrespect women (and I was about to stop watching the film altogether), Sunaina comes to the rescue and asks the group of men to rate her. After the boys face a few slaps from her, she says,
“Learn to respect a woman, no matter what shape, size, or color she is.”
I think it was very important for the director to include this snippet of empowerment in the film, not only for Sunaina’s character development but also because of the ongoing debates surrounding the role of women in India. Especially after the gang rape and death of Nirbhaya in December 2012, people in society are (hopefully) more conscious about gender roles and the oppression and harassment of women in public.
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As empowering as Sunaina was in this scene, the very next scene cuts to the song “Besharmi Ki Height”, which begins with a close camera shot of Ileana’s “hot bod”. The direction and editing of these two scenes back-to-back is counterintuitive. Even though Sunaina is portrayed as a strong independent woman, she is objectified within a matter of seconds in the song. I don’t think David Dhawan could have made it any more obvious that he was desperately trying to cross the boundaries of Bollywood representation by empowering heroines, yet stay within them by depicting them as their bodies. In doing so, he is neither being true to himself nor to societal expectations. My advice is to any filmmaker is be consistent, whether it is consistently objectifying or consistently empowering women (hopefully the latter) because these snippets of empowerment to keep the feminists happy interspersed with extreme objectification for the “masses” will not do. Also, in the “Besharmi Ki Height” song, it seems as if Ileana was not very comfortable dancing in her outfit, as can be seen by her inability to put all her energy and effort into the dance moves. Compared to how much energy Varun is putting into the dance moves, Ileana’s energy is subpar. Maybe the costume designers should fully clothe Ileana, like they fully clothed Varun, so that she is more comfortable while dancing. After all, who works out in a bikini top with tight leather jeggings and black high heel combat boots?
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The relationship between Angad and Sunaina is clearly an abusive one in which Angad emotionally and psychologically blackmails Sunaina to marry him. In the first half of the film, he constantly tries to keep an eye on her and prevent other guys from speaking with her. On top of it all, Angad is a police officer who is so built that it’s borderline scary. As a result of his ability to exercise physical harm, he is very dangerous. One could justify Angad’s portrayal as such by claiming that the director is trying to spread awareness of the existence of dangerous abusive relationships and the need to get out of them. But even the way Seenu, the hero, approaches and tries to win Sunaina’s love is slightly creepy and stalker-ish (i.e. he follows her around everywhere she goes). In that sense, one could ask, is he really a hero? Also, the fact that Sunaina gets out of an abusive relationship with Angad by pursuing another romantic interest is highly implausible. But hey, let’s justify it like we always do – Bollywood isn’t supposed to make sense!
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In the train scene towards the beginning of the film, the female-to-male and male-to-female harassment leads, of course, to Seenu saving the abla naaris (damsels in distress and in danger) that teased him from the gundas (street thugs) by nicely beating the bad guys to pulp. Once again, David Dhawan fails to move outside the box by representing the hero according to the social constructions of masculinity, which involves the use of violence to solve problems and/or to save women in order to appear macho and win female love and respect. In another scene when Angad challenges Seenu to make Sunaina fall in love with him within 3 days, Seenu takes money from Angad for date night outings and “pataofying” (wooing) Sunaina. This makes it seem like Sunaina is property and as if she has no individual autonomy of her own. Such a seemingly harmless bet/challenge actually has enormous implications for the role of women in society. Believe it or not, many people have had personal experience with being involved as “objects” of such bets and it can be really demeaning for an individual’s self-esteem.
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Contrary to popular belief, song lyrics have a subconsciously profound effect on people’s beliefs and psyches. In the lyrics of the song “Galat Baat Hai”, one line goes:
“Chhote kapde pehan ke yun nachna toh galat baat hai” (dancing in such short skimpy clothes is wrong/unfair).
Formally and first off, if wearing a specific type of clothing is an expression of a woman’s sexuality, why is it her fault if a guy gets sexually excited and is unable to control himself as a result of it? Later on in the song, one stanza goes as follows:

 Male voice: “Thoda khud ko o kudiyon sambhalo zara, yun khule aam humko pataana hai bura”
(Oh girls, get a hold of yourselves. Trying to woo me in public is bad)

Female voice: “Tum karo to sahi, hum karein to kyun galat baat hai”
(If you do it, it’s okay. If we do it, why is it bad/unfair/wrong?)

This stanza clearly articulates the double standard for women when it comes to expressing their sexuality. Even if the filmmakers may be trying to make a point through these lyrics, the overly-sexualized picturization of the song ruins any meaning or act of attempting to spread awareness of this sexual double standard.

 

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Of late, many Bollywood films (almost every single recent one, in fact) have been showing more physical intimacy (i.e. kissing and making out) on screen. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this western touch, as it ruins the long-lost innocence that Bollywood used to have back in the day in old 80s and 90s films where SRK could romance with a woman and make her fall in love with him with just a look or smile exchanged here and there. Although I applaud the current crop of actors for being comfortable doing intimate scenes with co-actors, the public display of affection detracts from the charm of the romance and gives too much away about the couple and their chemistry, leaving no room for imagination. Needless to say, there were quite a few kissing scenes in Main Tera Hero and most of them seemed awkward (probably due to my own apprehension and preconceived notions about their presence in Indian cinema).
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Final Verdict: Main Tera Hero had some very cute moments, such as when Seenu talks to different forms of God, including Jesus, Krishna, and Ganesha. However, there are obviously some issues that cannot be dismissed by simply labeling them as factors contributing to a “masala” film that lacks any deep underlying message or purpose. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for mindless romance, slapstick comedy, and eye candy, this David Dhawan flick is precisely that. If nothing else, it definitely promises entertainment, entertainment, entertainment!
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One thought on “Main Tera Hero: Machismo, Masculinity, and Masala

  1. burcidibollyreview says:

    The story sounds like a combination of Allu’s “Arya” and Prabhas’ “Darling” films from the South… I think masala films can have an underlying message, if they are done well. But mindless slapstick comedies don’t and they’re not meant to. I think the audience goes into the theater already knowing this and in fact, desiring it. Having a few laughs without having to think is not so bad on some days.

    I really enjoyed this review! I like your writing style 😉 Keep it up.

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