Trendwatch: The Toxic Alpha Male arrives from the South!

Ranbir Kapoor’s Animal is the ultimate Toxic Alpha Male in Hindi cinema. With Anil Kapoor in the film. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

It’s the most violent phase for Hindi cinema. In the 1980s, we did have a slew of violent cinema, which began with politicians being shown as villains. One can almost single out the whopper hit from the South, S.V. Rajendra Singh’s Meri Awaaz Suno in late 1981 as the “unholy beginning”, though Deewaar (1975) was arguably the first blockbuster to make a negative character look like a hero. The :political epidemic” came mainly from South Indian-made Hindi cinema but was by no means restricted to them. Soon, there were followers in Mumbai as well, both for political dramas and violence, like Aaj Ki Awaz, Pratighaat, Hukumat and many more.

The South has always continued with such fare, but the renaissance of romantic dramas in the 1990s in Hindi cinema took violent movies quite a bit into the background, though there were examples off and on every year. Critics of those times wrote about and panned the excessive violence, and so did the censors, which even banned certain films or cut them ruthlessly, from mainstream to offbeat. The audiences, of course, exercised their veto by turning most such films into duds. Perversely, in the millennium, some films of deviant filmmakers like Ram Gopal Varma, Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bhardwaj, among others, were critically acclaimed!

But there was one crucial difference all through: most negative characters were shown to be negative, and only a miniscule fraction was glorified as “cinematic license”. The public, in turn, rejected almost all the films, with few exceptions—Satya, Company and a few others among them.

Shahid Kapoor, filmmaker Sandeep Vanga Reddy and the film Kabir Singh pioneered the true-blue Toxic Alpha Male in Hindi cinema in 2019. Photo: Universal Communications

The Toxic Alpha Male Ahoy!

The saga of Toxic Masculinity may then be said to have really commenced with Sandeep Vanga Reddy’s Kabir Singh in 2019, and its great success just before the lockdown probably left an increasingly fickle and flippant audience wanting for more. Shahid Kapoor was shown as a deviant doctor, breaking ethics and social etiquettes with equal impunity. As was the case with many a South film, a dollop of emotion was put in and the people lapped it up, especially the climax.

But outrageous dialogues and conduct, a heavy dose of both kissing and the “F” word made the film cross Rs. 275 crore nett in India alone and do good business overseas. The director made the hero treat his beloved in particular and women in general as objects, and that factor needed redemption in the end, which probably accounted for the happy ending at the box-office and for a purportedly romantic tale!

The implication began here: The Alpha Male behaved like a toxic soul because he was hurt by society and in love. It gave us the preposterous message that the toxicity of a man who flouted convention, social norms, decent behavior, ethical conduct and did all the right things only when he wished, was justified—in the circumstances shown. The poor (!!!) guy was actually a victim!

The next such case was again from the South: KGF 2! Abhorrent in its violence, the Hindi version of this dubbed film, with an amoral hero who only loves his mother and goes on another violent spree when his pregnant wife is murdered tried to justify a credo that anything is fair in love and war. The end justified his means and another aspiration-based Alpha Male was endorsed by the audiences, with the Hindi version alone garnering Rs. 434 crore-plus. (2022 remains the second year after 2017 where a dubbed South film beat all Hindi movies in collections, but in 2017, it was the wholesome Bahubali 2—The Conclusion that had scored.)

Sign of the times?

The OTT platform, methinks, had had a major role in boosting the acceptance of negativity, foul characters, unimaginable violence and expletives, fields in which Ram Gopal Varma, Anurag Kashyap and their ilk failed. Mirzapur (into 3 seasons now!), Sacred Games and Paatal Lok were but the leaders in this genre wherein toxic masculinity also abounded with similar “justifications” and some without any such reasons. Human frustration after the pandemic must have added to this miasma because of professional and economic frustrations, and a mindset that could accept anything in the name of entertainment at home.

As family outings were avoided for long, when Pushpa—The Rise: Part One arrived, it was welcomed despite the lack of a Mumbai star. This was but the first indicator, months before KGF2. But after KGF 2, we had extreme violence in Jawan, Jailer, Vikram and Leo, each one connected with the South, and only Jawan being an original Hindi film. But all these were at best about only graphic violence, not really toxic masculinity or Alpha males. They were merely the Deewaar’s of our time, or the Sholay’s—in spirit. Evil was always punished, and violence against evil was cheered.

Animal spirit!

And then came Animal!

Again co-written and directed by Sandeep Vanga Reddy, the film made all the earlier movies (including his Kabir Singh, the Hindi remake of his Arjun Reddy) look like children’s innocent outings in the quantum and intensity of the negativity that is justified and even accepted in-film, besides now also by the audience. The trade predicts that it will soon overtake Jawan (with its pretensions of nationalism), Gadar 2 and Pathaan in business.

But it has already overtaken all films in toxicity, brazen dialogues and scenes and more. Surprisingly, it is Ranbir Kapoor who headlines this aberration, and equally ironically, it is this film that can make him become the next addition to our superstars, where Brahmastra failed!

Purists are raging against the film, but the trade, Ranbir fans and the opposite viewpoint-holders are raving about it. And though it is not everyone’s cup of tea to deliver, I am sure many more versions of “Toxic Alpha Male” will be gestated and created in time.

Though here again, it is the South that shall lead, if the trailer of Salaar is any indication. The KGF makers are behind this latest extravaganza of violence, and Yash, the hero of the same franchise, is even starring in a film that is actually named Toxic.

Well, well, one man’s toxic dose (poison) is another man’s food! Let us welcome the toxic Alpha Male the way we welcomed the double-meaning songs exactly 30 years ago. That wave faded with its overdrive, and hopefully, so will the Toxic Alpha Male.






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