Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
Since childhood, we’ve upheld perfectionism as an emblem of being successful, a concept widely celebrated in our society. We have been infused with images of princesses having ideal bodies and mannerisms and our prince charmings being the greatest warriors and dutiful rulers. Thus, we’ve been constantly trying to fit ourselves in what the external world tells us we should be.
OTT protagonists such as Srikant from Family Man come with flaws as well as positive traits.
But what is this myth of perfection? I believe nobody is perfect. Human nature comes along with all its flaws and frailties. And we can only strive to be the best versions of ourselves. This is the message being widely spread by the new tv-series and shows being aired on various OTT platforms.
Let us decode two such characters from famous Indian series-
Srikant( From ‘Family Man’), a middle-aged man from a modest family, is a secret agent. He is neither an ‘ideal’ father nor an ‘ideal’ husband for his family. A chain smoker and a perpetual liar. Like any other Indian government employee, he owns a government quarter, has a small car, and is always frustrated.
Now let’s see Tara Khanna (From ‘Made in heaven’), an ambitious woman with a humble background who wants to have her own business. She is trying hard to conceive to please her husband and society. Also, she is devastated to find out about the affair of her friend with her husband which rather than a shock comes back as Karma from her own hidden past.
Characters like these are unique to watch on screen although they are not quite distant from reality.
We tend to create an image of a perfect spy in our minds – he ( of course ‘he’ because patriarchy in cinema) would be macho. Definitely with abs, a good dancer, singer, playboy, and also a heartbreaking past. All in all a mix of Holmes and Bond. Our imagination is bound to the stories we see or read in our day-to-day lives. This is nothing but our ‘obsession with heroism’.
I wonder how ironic we are- on the virtual side we want things to be dramatic, adventurous, and illogical and on the other side our own realities are simple, monotonous, and nothing sort of fairytale bliss. We tend to suppress these monotonous realities only to glorify a heroic version of ourselves.
These shows have been an eye-opener and did change my perception of life.
I understood how dysfunctional everything around me is. By seeing someone on the screen confused about marriage, sexuality or ambition did evoke my inner feelings which I had consciously hidden deep inside. I learned not to set an ideal rather find myself in the web of personalities I was caught up in.
These characters make us realize that we are normal and everybody around us is having the same thoughts, goals, and fears in life. There is nothing called an ‘ideal being’. But movies by large have been about fantasies, away from portraying realities on the big screen. However, now the usual characters and stories are slowly losing their charm and with the evolving audience, the definition of entertainment is also changing.
Another aspect entrenched with stories is how well an artist presents ‘The End’. Childhood stories have always made us believe in ‘happily ever afters’ and though it’s good to be optimistic in life but living in a bubble of illusion will only cause us harm. Movies and web series have now started depicting sadness, grief, and happiness in a single frame.
It is often difficult to accept the abrupt, open endings with the audience having no idea of who defeated Tommy Shelby (Peaky Blinders) at his own game? Was Akash (Andhadhun) really blind? or what will be the fate of the professor (Money Heist) now? These questions have left us baffled and restless and we have been ‘scratching our heads to make meaning of these endings and have been trying hard to build up our own theories.
Similarly, our lives are also a big bowl of questions. It is both intriguing and surprising. We cannot always predict the future and must keep moving on.
Earlier depictions of heroes and heroines had a clear binary of good and evil.
Earlier the ‘hero and heroine’ were mostly born with a good character certificate, and on the other end, the villain was an evil person, who is always bad and nothing good exists in him or her. While reading mythical stories of Ram, Sita and Ravana we might have characterized even our real world into binary circles. Ram is ‘Purushottam’ (a supreme being), Sita, and her sister always loyal and virtuous, and Ravana a power-seeking demon.
Similarly, we have drawn a fictitious identity of a man being powerful, a protector, and the breadwinner for the family, on the other hand, a woman is docile, religious, and has to be tied with the sanctity of marriage. So initially while binge-watching, I also used to navigate this and used to sympathize or obsess with one character. But that myth slowly deflated as, under the aegis of the new platform of art, the blind- opaque divisions got blurred.
Indian cultural tradition talks about 9 emotions or Navras and so a person could be mischievous, jealous, rude, and at the same time be good, lovable, and caring. Culture, trends, and society do affect the content of the movies and in turn, movies also affect us. Today, they are not only questioning the established norms but are creating some of their own.
The message I received was how easily we try to judge one person as good or bad when we essentially know that good and bad, Ram and Ravana, both exist within us.