It seems like the difference between good acting and a convincing portrayal in Bollywood can actually be measured by a hair’s breadth. Not figuratively but quite literally. Elsewhere actors would do the unimaginable like gain 60 pounds or get their teeth disfigured to look the part but here sometimes a moustache is all you need.
Following the success of Dabangg (2010) every superstar of the day is out there looking for his 100 crore box-office hit with the help from a moustache. Salman Khan’s ode to manhood would have almost been clean-shaven as he kept the director hanging about the moustache till the last moment. Singham (2011), Rockstar (2011) and Rowdy Rathore (2011) owe a lot to fuzzy logic and this trend seems to be in a mood to stay with Ajay Devgn all set to revisit Jeetendra and his pencil thin moustache laced dancing days with the new Himmatwala remake. It’s crazy but suddenly the moustache is nothing less than a character who needs to be cast well.
There is little doubt that Bollywood loves its moustaches. There are dialogues – Mooche ho to Nathulalji jaisi ho warna na ho (Sharaabi, 1983) and even films (Golmaal, 1979) that celebrate it. The moustache enjoys a hallowed place in the subcontinent’s popular culture and every strand of cinematic facial hair is now worth its weight in gold. This renewed fascination with the mooch might owe a lot to Dabangg but it was Aamir Khan who sowed the seed with The Rising – Ballad of Mangal Pandey (2005). Aamir’s intensity hasn’t spared the moustache as well; he wanted Bhuvan in Lagaan (2001) to have a moustache, as he couldn’t imagine the character shaving everyday with such water scarcity and for Mangal Pandey he spent two years twirling his famous growth to perfection.
Although most leading men like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan have played more clean-shaven characters than mustachioed they couldn’t help but rely on the mooch for that something different. The moustache has successfully helped actors to look different- Dev Anand in Hum Dono, taken seriously while oppressed – Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jamuna (1961), look mature – Amitabh Bachchan in Kabhie Kabhie (1976), and be prominent – Rajesh Khanna in Daag (1973). It’s strange that in spite of such on-screen significance attached to it barring Raj Kapoor and, on some occasions, Guru Dutt none of the leading actors sported a moustache in real life. The only other partial exception would be Pradeep Kumar but then he wasn’t really that popular.
The Dabanggs and the Rowdies might have fooled us into thinking that the moustache is what a hero needs to look macho or in control but then none of Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man films (Zanjeer (1973), Deewar (1975), Trishul (1978) or Kala Patthar (1979) felt its need. Om Puri didn’t miss facial hair to render his version of the angry young man in Ardha Satya (1983) neither did Sunny Deol feel the need to rely on it to wield authority in Arjun (1985) or Ghayal (1990). The moustache has always made it different, daring and even loving like in Golmaal but to believe that sporting a mooch is the new mantra of success is nothing more than a fad.
Anything that helps rake in the big bucks is welcome and any formula that is successful can’t be stopped from becoming the norm. At times Bollywood has even attributed the failure of films to a lack of moustache – Anil Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha sans their signature stache in Lamhe (1991) and Rakta Charitra (2010) were doomed to begin with.
The love for the moustache was always there but now Bollywood believes that it’s the shortest distance between nothing and a hundred crores and it won’t stop at anything to keep the love going. It might even revive genres dead for decades like the dacait and cops for other than Bandit Queen (1994) no daku is clean-shaven – Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jamuna, Amitabh Bachchan in Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978) or Sunny Deol in Dacait (1987) but more importantly a mooch makes everything better like Bhavani Shankar argues in Golmaal, ‘Jis ke pass mooch nahin hain, usske paas mann hi nahin hain …’
Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here and follow him @gchintamani
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