What's the appeal of Bollywood men? I tackled this question in February of 2009 on LiveJournal and thought the post still has some relevance today — particularly as I now write Bollywood-themed romance.
(I really had to resist copyediting/updating this. Any mistakes and un-PC comments are exactly as they originally appeared.)
This weekend I was thinking about what it is about Bollywood men — and by extension men in musicals in general — that holds such an appeal for viewers. And, sure, it could be purely about looks, but I doubt that. Indian men, just like Indian women, are no more or less hot than any other racial or ethnic group. And anyone who thinks South Asians somehow cornered the market on good looks might want to look at their fetishization issues. (Tangentially related, I know plenty of ugly Indian men and women, okay?) So what I concluded is that it's something about the act of singing, of dancing, that renders a male character more emotionally accessible. Not necessarily feminine, but just expressive in a way that most western film doesn't allow for. Men in Bollywood cinema can do it all. They can get into fights, wield a gun, and serenade their ladylove without losing an ounce of machismo.
There are probably some who think the major appeal of Bollywood is its thinly-veiled gay camp, men dancing around in neon pants and whatnot; Hindi cinema has more portrayals of men than that. Sure, the '80s and early '90s have quite a bit of neon pants-wearing buddy-pyaari subtext, but we're also the country of Raj Kapoor, of Amitabh Bachchan, of the suave, slick Dev Anands, Rajendra Kumars, and Rajesh Khannas. And they all open up to the audience via song.
Men in western musicals are very similar. For all of Captain Von Trapp and Emile De Becque's tightly-laced control, their private pain, etc., when they sing, that's where Maria and Nellie and viewers realize what's truly in their hearts. And you have your Cornelius Hackles and your Tonys, who use song to reaffirm that they are romantics and dreamers. Why is the Phantom so damn popular despite the fact that he's a scarred, psychopathic stalker? It's because he's an emotional live wire. The heart on his sleeve is still beating, pulsing and bleeding for Christine. As scary as it is, there is something incredibly attractive about a guy who loves you enough to commit murder for you*. As opposed to a guy who never lets you know how he feels at ALL. But back to the singing/dancing and not so much the chandelier dropping...a musical number with background dancers and heartfelt lyrics...talk about a grand gesture, you know?
And as hunky and swoonworthy as it can be for a man to beat someone up for you, to fire off a couple of rounds with his Beretta and beat his chest ala Tarzan, there's also an incredible amount of bravery that comes from not just revealing how they feel, but for the act of singing and dancing. Both from the character's perspective and the actor's. Contrary to popular belief, Bollywood heroes do not come out of the womb with a sense of rhythm. It's something the actors have to learn and it's grueling and not everyone is a good dancer. And yet they do it. For every film that requires it. Even if the dance moves are utterly ridiculous. They throw themselves into it 100%.
Just look at Hugh Jackman at the Oscars. He put himself out there; he consistently puts himself out there, and was willing to push the theatrical limits. Knowing full well he has an action movie coming out very soon. Basically, "You're damn right Wolverine can step!" That is so freaking hot.
Music and dance are so freaking hot. For serious.
Why does the "In Your Eyes" moment in Say Anything stand the test of time? Because Lloyd, while not actually singing, is still using a song to say something he can't put into words any other way. Why does Dirty Dancing's Johnny Castle win Baby over with just the swivel of his hips? Because none of the other men she knows are willing to move that freely, that exuberantly.
*Present Suleikha would like to clarify that I don't find murderous intent attractive. This is just part of the appeal of the Phantom/stalker-love archetype.