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Redefining the ‘mard’: 7 times Bollywood showed us the true meaning of ‘real men’

. 6 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Redefining the ‘mard’: 7 times Bollywood showed us the true meaning of ‘real men’

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this decade was most certainly revolutionary for Bollywood. With films like Pink, Lipstick Under My Burkha, and Queen, Bollywood finally took the plunge into the unexplored realm of a feminist narrative.

But what was even more inspiring to see was the rise of male characters giving as many hoots about feminism as women themselves. So here’s a throwback to all those times when the men didn’t have to show belligerence or be insensitive to be called ‘men’. So here’s a list of 7 best portrayals of male characters that showed us the real meaning of being a man.

Amitabh Bachhan in Pink

This was a film that hit too close to home. As an urban independent woman, I related to Meenal (Taapsee Pannu) defending herself before a bunch of men judging her strength as something that could be easily won over. As someone who has no inhibitions in being open about her relationships I related with Falak’s (Kirti Kulhari) emotional acceptance and maturity. And as someone who feels suffocated in this intrinsically patriarchal environment despite being all those aforementioned things, I related with Andrea (Andrea Tariang).

But the most impressive part about the film was that a man who belonged to the millennial condemned baby-boomer generation also related with them. And the most painful truth about the film – that it took a man to explain this basic conundrum to a bunch of patriarchal dictators.

Deepak Sehgal’s character (played by a brilliant Amitabh Bachhan) is a lot like the film itself. Both the film and Deepak Sehgal attempt to break open the Indian skull with a sledgehammer and drill it with the basic concepts of human dignity, respect, honour, and most importantly – consent.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to associate Deepak Sehgal with a universal teacher trained to set notorious students straight. Because it is only with the drilling and the sledge hammering that the student bothers to listen. Don’t believe me? Just Google the box office collections of ‘Kabir Singh’.

Aamir Khan in Dangal

The interiors of rural India are where the hopes and dreams of women go to die – but not if Mahavir Singh Phogat has his way. Played by an incredibly talented Aamir Khan, Phogat is something of an accidental feminist.

No different from conventions at the beginning of the film, he spent years distraught over the fact he didn’t have a son to carry on his legacy as a wrestler. But an accidental encounter instills in him the realisation that his daughters are just as capable as a potential son could have been.

He has no qualms in realising his mistake for the want of a son. He leads the resistance against society for the sake of his daughters’ success. And he ensures that he goes all the way to create an adequate path for the success of his daughters.

A brilliant lesson in gender neutrality, he knows there is no difference in the success that his daughters receive as compared to what a potential son could have.

Amitabh Bachhan in Piku

Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachhan) was most certainly exasperating (to put it lightly) but he is also a lesson for all the Indian fathers out there.

As women we’re quick to call out the display of toxic masculinity by our partners. But the same promptness to identify toxic behaviours somewhere fizzles out when it comes to the men in our own families.

Bhaskor Banerjee may severe obligatory expectations from his daughter but he is also her biggest champion. He is enviable comfortable with his daughter’s sexual emancipation. He knows marriage is a significant institution but he also knows that it cannot be his daughter’s life goal – or something that should impede her career path. He doesn’t make her feel bad about her sexual life. He does not define her self-worth by the relationships that don’t dominate her life.

But most importantly, his attitude towards her life outside of him borders on being indifferent – the kind of stark demarcation and the void of intrusion that we can only hope to have.

Imagine having parents who don’t question you about your relationships? That’s the dream.

Farhan Akhtar in Dil Dhadakne Do

Sunny (Farhan Akhtar) is perhaps the only openly feminist male character to have thrived in the history of mainstream Bollywood. Perhaps from a time way into the future, Sunny cares about the notion of feminism and the problematic latent equality in Indian societies as much as women who have to endure it.

Manav (Rahul Bose) is the pseudo-feminist modern man that misunderstands his authority to be something equivalent to female emancipation. And Sunny does a brilliant job of calling him out on this intrinsic bigotry.

This is perhaps the reason why Sunny as a character is so revolutionary. Most Indian men – even if they do identify as feminists – would refuse to call out other Indian men on their oppressive behaviour. Which is why the true meaning of the notion of feminism very conveniently gets lost in these unchecked conversations.

Sunny not only identifies as a feminist but also believes in the cause of educating other men so that they stop believing that they have the right to “allow” their wives to work professionally.

Ranveer Singh in Dil Dhadakne Do

Kabir Mehra’s (Ranveer Singh) journey may be starkly different from Sunny’s but when it comes to women, the undertone of empathy is most certainly there. Journeying away from the ‘lost rich boy’ stereotype, Kabir is more than inclined to step away from the conventions that his family has imposed on him and pursue his passions – he just doesn’t know what that is yet.

The film in itself is a modern-day feminist manifesto for the Indian society.

Alongside his internal demons, his close relationship with his elder sister is a major catalyst in his personality development. He tries to defend her and stand up for her in every way that he can. He understands that she is a lot more capable than him to handle the reins of the family business. And more importantly, he tries in every way that he can to help her get the due that she so thoroughly deserves.

Being the ‘golden boy’ of the family, his journey could have taken many different paths – but he acknowledges this position of privilege and uses it to his sister’s benefit. Now who wouldn’t want a brother like that?

Abhishek Bachhan in Manmarziyaan

A film that helped explain that toxicity is not just a male dominated sphere, Robbie Bhatia (Abhishek Bachhan) is the kind of man one can only dream of. A modern day Mr. Darcy, his character is sensitive, intuitive and not afraid to stand up to his own family for their display of toxicity.

He is in love with a woman but he is fully aware of the fact that this does not make her obliged to reciprocate his feelings.

He is mature, sensitive and willing to work towards making his relationship work.

But more than his effort into the marriage, what is even more heart warming is his patience. He knows his boundaries and knows well to not cross them. He stands up to his mother when she’s unfairly judging his wife and has no qualms in calling her out on her sexism.

I went into the film purely for Vicky’s wild persona but came out of it head over heels in love with Robbie.

Pankaj Tripathi in Bareilly Ki Barfi

Being an educated and affluent Bengali living in one of the privileged sections of Delhi, the ideas of feminism perhaps come easily for Bhaskor Banerjee. But Pankaj Tripathi’s Narottam Mishra showed us that understanding ideas that render basic equality have nothing to do with an education or a privileged socio-economic background.

Living in a small town in Barreily and possibly of limited academic exposure, Mishra is right there with Banerjee in this list of feminist fathers. Though not all that explicit in his approach, but he is well aware of his daughter’s vices.

He is aware of her habitual drinking and smoking –and even encourages her for it. He is comfortable with her occasional rebellion without invalidating it or passing it off as something that’s just a ‘phase’. He is truly her partner in crime and wishes for her to be able to pursue whatever she sets out for.

A father who doubles as a smoke-buddy? Who wouldn’t want that!