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Showing Male Machismo in Movies? Do It Like Anurag Kashyap, Not Like Vanga

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

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An Anurag Kashyap social media post disconcerting a particular section is not unprecedented. It is a recurring occurrence. 

Yet, his Instagram post on 13 January was a deviation from the rudimentary. There – posing with Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the director of Animal – Kashyap, often India’s summa cum laude representative in prestigious film festivals, had defended the filmmaker (who has been criticised for his problematic scripts) with adjectives such as ‘misunderstood’, ‘judged’, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘reviled’.

Tables had turned, and this post irked not the anti-Kashyap, anti-woke, anti-everything-under-the-sun gang, but his own fans and collaborators. 

“Cringe” – wrote Neeraj Ghaywan. 

“No” – said Varun Grover. 

Another user commented “Two privileged men celebrating misogyny isn’t new. But what the (expletives redacted) Anurag?”

‘Does this mean Kashyap will now narrate stories like Vanga?’ – feared many.

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

Anurag Kashyap's 'support' for Sandeep Reddy Vanga was met with unsupportive comments.

(Photo: Instagram)

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A month later, Kashyap arrived in Kolkata for a screening of his latest directorial venture, Kennedy. Apprehensive but wishful, a sizeable crowd turned up. As the end credits rolled, a collective sigh of relief could be discerned.

Reason?

Like Vanga, Kashyap portrayed male machismo on the screen. His protagonist, like Vanga’s, is a kill-at-will psychopath. Except, Kashyap ensured his treatment of the character provoked vexation instead of empathy and adulation, bringing us to the point of this article – should you portray masculine braggadocio in movies, do it the Kashyap style, not the Vanga style.

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

Anurag Kashyap, at the screening of Kennedy in Kolkata.

(Photo: The Quint)

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What’s the Problem With Showing Male Machismo In Cinema?

Here’s the sum and substance – there isn’t any.

Portrayals of extraordinary men, despite being incredibly delusory, have perennially captivated the nescient movie-goer, predominantly owing to the urge of experiencing what we lack, be it for a few hours only. Guns, ammunition, gore, violence, bravado – all the ingredients that stoke pent-up rage. More than being a form of art, such films have worked as cheap catharsis sessions for passive aggression.

That, in isolation, is fine, for it mirrors the mood of the era.

The 1970s saw the peak of frustration among the Indian youth. Engulfed in unemployment and inflation, the disillusioned section screamed for a digression in cinema, resulting in the emergence of the highly successful ‘Angry Young Man’ era.

In contrast to the era of the Shashi Kapoors, ruled by charmers and romantics, the Amitabh Bachchans were rugged and valorous, serving the purpose of fighting societal injustice, as opposed to merely wooing the opposite sex.

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

Amitabh Bachchan, the icon of Indian cinema's 'Angry Young Man' era, in Deewaar.

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So, We Shouldn’t Have Any Issue With Vanga’s Protagonists, Right?  

Turns out, we should.

Stories of the seventies and eighties, despite being driven by masculine machismo, resonated with the collective struggles of the society. Salim Khan, who co-wrote most of the successful ‘Angry Young Man’ films like Deewaar and Zanjeer, stated that they were crafting protagonists who were rebels with causes.

To rebel is human. To do so without any reason – idiotic. Vanga’s protagonists masquerade as rebels, but beyond the façade of bravado, are insecure misogynists.

Consider the 2019 Shahid Kapoor-starrer, Kabir Singh. In a scene, Kabir is shown brandishing a knife in a bid to threaten a girl, asking her to undress. Whilst the scene in itself is problematic, it is accompanied by heroic background music, leading the audience to believe it was an endorsement of the undisputed male dominance.

Scenes of the protagonist slapping his seemingly dumb and meek love interest – apparently out of love, per the director – and marking her as his territorial achievement, among other things, have been condemned by many.

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

Kabir Singh brandishing a knife, threatening a woman to disrobe.

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A similar theme follows in Vanga’s latest ‘cinematic phenomenon’, Animal. As protagonist Ranvijay Singh’s love for his father triumphs over love for his wife (the film was released before the Ravindra Jadeja controversy surfaced, conspiracy theorists are advised to remain calm), cheating is prevented as a perfectly reasonable act.

The director takes it a step further, as in addition to music, he also offers a justifying dialogue – “If you didn’t have a problem with me killing so many men, you shouldn’t have a problem with me sleeping with a woman.”

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

Ranvijay Singh is perplexed at his wife's disapproval of his cheating.

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How Does Anurag Kashyap’s Protagonists Differ From Vanga’s?

Having set the premise, let’s return to Kennedy, a film yet to have its theatrical release in India.

The plot revolves around Uday Shetty – an ex-cop, portrayed by Rahul Bhat, who officially has ceased to exist. Deceased. Except, he is very much alive, in every frame and action, flexing his machismo muscles.

Now a clandestine aide for the powerful, Shetty goes about eliminating whoever he is asked to. Having once been ousted from the ‘force’ for his excessive use of it – killing an innocent man – Shetty goes about killing at will, and with alarming ease.

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

Anurag Kashyap's protagonist, Uday Shetty is very similar to Ranvijay Singh, yet vastly different.

A brutal murderer, with an insatiable bloodlust, a Herculean physique and the superhuman ability to fight back despite being battered – in many ways, Kashyap’s Uday Shetty bears a striking resemblance to Vanga's Ranvijay Singh.
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The major difference, however, is that Shetty has to deal with the consequences of his actions. With each act of violence, we see him spiralling further down a dark spiral, before he eventually reaches the proverbial point of no return – both metaphorically and literally. Ranvijay, on the contrary, walks scot-free after killing a gazillion, intimidating a woman about to give birth, and cheating on his wife.

Post the screening of Kennedy, Kashyap further confirms that he was telling the story of an irredeemable psychopath, not a heroic braveheart.

Shetty is not a one-off, but an idealistic example from the Kashyap handbook. In the Gangs of Wasseypur duology, the characters of Sardar Khan (portrayed by Manoj Bajpayee) and Faizal Khan (portrayed by Nawazuddin Siddique) embody the archetypal kill-at-will lunatics, but their actions had fatal repercussions.

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

Faizal Khan, another 'Alpha Male' protagonist of Kashyap, had to bear the brunt of his actions.

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Another notable distinction lies in Vanga's protagonists' propensity for flaunting an anti-feminist, misogynistic aura. Both Kabir and Ranvijay take pride in denigrating their love interests – the latter does that even in front of his kid (no prizes for guessing this kid is a boy).

Kashyap's heroes, despite being engulfed in a male-dominated world, are respectful towards female characters. The delineation between chivalry and chauvinism is clearly defined – the Faizal Khans and Uday Shettys operate solitarily from the former side.

Hell-bent on avenging his 'baap ka, dada ka, bhai ka' deaths, Faizal is usually intimidating, unless he is with his wife, Mohsina Hamid (played by Huma Quraishi). The same character who has an abject disregard for consent and boundaries, is timid whilst being confronted by Mohsina for touching her hand without 'permission.'

Want to have a violent psychopath as your film's protagonist? Fine, but know how to add method to the madness.

In Anurag Kashyap's movies, the boundary between chivalry and chauvinism is a well-defined one.

Uday Shetty, a savage ruffian indifferent to fear, is meek whilst conversing with wife. The bravado is noticeably numbed when his wife and daughter leave him, as Shetty could barely hush a word.

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But What About Artistic Freedom?

Fair enough.

Curbing artistic expression might equate to unwarranted censorship, and hence, demanding the complete eradication of violent protagonists is unfounded. Yet, ensuring the audience is not inspired by psychopaths can be expected from the filmmakers, who bear the responsibility of knowing about the societal implications of their work.

Else, in a nation ranking 135th among 146 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index (indicating gender parity in the country), and with a year-on-year 4% rise in crimes against women (from 2021 to 2022), celebrations of ‘Vangaism’ and ‘Animalism’ can result in a hazardous predicament.

(The author now runs the risk of being called ‘uneducated’ and ‘illiterate’ by the filmmaker.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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