The male body and the female gaze


By IndiaFM

Enough has been said about Om Shanti Om and Saawariya – the box-office collections, the weekend opening, high expectations, publicity overkill etc., so I’d rather not go there. Let me dwell instead on the widely reported finer aspects such as the superlative display of male anatomy – SRK’s fab abs and the scene wherein Ranbir Raj Kapoor almost drops the towel!

The verdict is almost unanimous – the men are jealous as hell that SRK managed to pull off such a feat at 42 while the women like SRK with or without the shirt. In fact, most women in the audience at a downtown multiplex where I watched the movie, were of the opinion that King Khan is a delight not because of a beautiful body but because he has a beautiful mind. High praise indeed!
Be that as it may, fact is that for a while, the Body had become almost central to all talks about the two films. Perhaps it was the novelty of the idea that worked like magic for publicity. Time-tested Bollywood wisdom follows that an 'item' number by well, an 'item girl', or a top-drawer actress is a good way to pull in the audience. Soon followed attempts to have an 'item' boy and then the lip-lock. But projecting the male body as a unique feature of the film must be a first of sorts. And even though both the films in question starred women with arresting looks – Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor – it was the male physique that was touted as the surprise highlight of the film. Quite a role-reversal.

There were actually quite a few gender rules being bended here. Farah Khan, who has blown to smithereens the notion that women directors can’t make commercially-viable films, can take a bow. In the film industry there are few women who have managed to break the glass ceiling and Farah certainly counts as one of them. Om Shanti Om, for all its failings, is likely to be this season’s hit. That the director, a woman, has (with the help of some very influential friends of course) managed to score over a film made by a competent director like Bhansali is something akin to storming yet another male bastion. Her second triumph is significant in that it pole-vaults her into the league of Bollywood’s extraordinary gentlemen, where no woman has gone before.

In Saawariya’s towel-dropping scene, Bhansali almost makes an exception and allows light to filter in, to let his young hero shine through. The camera lingers indulgently, capturing the rise and slip of the towel on his rump.

Male directors have long been known to help their leading ladies make the transition from mere mortals to screen goddesses…if Farah can replicate the same magic for her stars, she would probably make it to the annals as Hindi cinema's only Godmother.