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Amar, Akbar Or Anthony?
It's not easy being a woman and a Hindi movie fan. We womenfolk haven't been served too well by our predominantly male filmmakers. Often, we have been landed with some truly execrable specimens passing themselves off as romantic leads. In some other cases, we have been pleasantly shocked to be treated as adults. Let's cast a female gaze on some of the leading men of Hindi cinema down the ages and rate them on a scale of one to five.
He often played the loser lover, but there's something quite delectable about watching Dilip Kumar drown. Perhaps it had to do with the smile in his eyes and the softness of his voice. Unlike Raj Kapoor, he wasn't an alpha male. Unlike Dev Anand, he wasn't an overgrown adolescent. Dilip Kumar was distant, thoughtful, tormented even, and fully romantic in a heart-tuggingly old-fashioned way. Watch Madhumati or Jogan again if you don't believe me.
Way back in the 1940s, when black-and-white cinema made even the most po-faced actor look interesting, Dev Anand was desirable. Then he developed a disorder that made him react to women by bobbing his head and flapping his hands. There should be a retirement age for romantic heroes.
His guileless smile made it seem as though he didn't quite realise how good his looks were or how broad his chest was. No female, or male, in the audience was fooled, but we went along with the deception, whether in Bandini or Anupama or Phool aur Patthar.
Many years before some smart copywriter coined the phrase, he was the complete man. He bashed up the baddies. He wrote poetry. He loved his mother. He got between the sheets. He slunk about nightclubs and lolled by swimming pools. He horsed around in dhoti kurtas. He loved and lost and wept, but silently. Then he moved on.
Dharmendra's direct descendant in the Punjabi good looks department guaranteed a quickening of the heartbeat, whether he played a dacoit or a cop. VK (it sounds sexier) restored at least this critic's faith in the discernment of Indian women. A personal favourite is Shaque, in which his derriere has been lavished some attention. No surprise that Shaque has been co-directed by a woman (Aruna Raje).
A poor man's Dev Anand with bad skin and three expressions, Rajesh Khanna makes for depressing viewing. Is this what women desired in the 1960s and '70s? Or was this some kind of backlash orchestrated by studio bosses to keep women in the kitchens and bedrooms and warn them that if they stepped out, this is who they would run into?
One of Bollywood's original bon vivants, blessed with acting skills and the ability to carry off outrageous costumes without appearing camp. At the height of his persuasive powers, Rishi embodied a zest for life that provided an alternative to both Amitabh's angst and VK's heat. Kapoor is the boy next door all women wish they had—the type who looks good, has brains and a sense of humour, and can dance.
Aamir Khan's first breakthrough role was in the romance Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. But he has succeeded a bit too hard in shedding his lover boy image. His last great romantic role was in Rangeela, as the lovable tapori, but the twinkle in his eyes has been replaced by an unnerving sense of purpose. In Lagaan, he's too busy wagging his finger and waving a bat to make your heart flutter. In Fanaa, he seems to be in permanent shock about the fact that his co-star Kajol is stealing the film from him. He makes a smooch look like homework.
Salman Khan is the kind of romantic hero that Indian men adore more than Indian women. He represents an unreconstructed male whose idea of maturity is growing muscles. The typical Salman character goes about wooing women with as much grace as a bull in a china shop. When he doesn't get his girl, he either bawls or goes mad. When he does, he hops up and down like a nine-year-old.
Okay, so he hams, and he always sounds the same, whether he's singing a song on a snow-capped mountain or selling fairness cream. Whatever they say about Shahrukh, no other contemporary actor can spread out his arms and not look silly. Or mouth corny dialogues and appear as sincere as a social worker. When he's actually given something to do apart from following the heroine through the reels of a film (Josh, Dil Se), he's even more convincing.
If Amitabh was the complete man for the 1970s and '80s, Hrithik Roshan is the complete package for our times. There's something too sculpted about his physicality, but what a body! And there's something too chiselled about his face, but what eyes. If there's anybody who can make Ice Queen Aishwarya Rai melt, it's Hrithik, the lambi race ka ghoda who happens to be a stud.
(The author is Films Editor, Time Out Mumbai)