Published on July 24th, 2012 | by Prasanna5
Of Hirsute Clauses…
You know that when Amitabh says “Moochhe ho to Nathhulal Jaisi” he’s only paying lip service to Mukri’s character. You know this because Amitabh himself is clean shaven in Sharaabi, as he is in most of his movies. Despite this dissonance, that line features in every collection of “Big B Dialogues”, a soapbox on which starry-eyed hopefuls either stub their toes, or triumphantly vault over. Why stub, you ask? Because unlike Manoj Kumar’s gimmicky face-palm, Dev Anand’s bobble head or Shahrukh’s ch-ch-ch-charisma, mimicking The Big B means having to use actual acting technique, the bassest baritone, impeccable timing, perfect diction and gravitas. But, I digress.
Why talk about moustaches? Because a moustache is a lifestyle choice that subtly alters the self image of the wearer, and modifies his interactions with the world. Besides signaling gender, it can project personality, state of mind, or attitude; at its least ambitious, it is the shade that grows under the tree of laziness.
We have already noted that even as Amitabh extolled the virtues of Mukri’s brush, he did not have one himself. Indeed, scanning the Hindi Film pantheon from 3am to 9pm, neither did any other hero. Except maybe “Jumping” Jeetu in Himmatwala or “Jaani” Rajkumar playing a Rajputana legend. These exceptions seem to prove the rule about North Indian leading men. The rule being, “North Indians are tough, South Indians like it rough”. The martial North Indian states Punjab and Rajasthan view facial adornments as ambassadors of valour and bravery. Therefore, reel representations of men from these traditions are as moustachioed as their real counterparts. To wit – Rajkumar as Ranjha or Manoj Kumar/Ajay Devgan as Bhagat Singh.
But martial or not, India-South-of-the-Vindhyas remains the Land of the Moustache. Just as the thrall of foreign conquerors from the north paled with distance, the likelihood of finding a shorn upper lip reduces with a southerly movement. The deep South’s shove-the-shave attitude as exemplified by Mohanlal, Mammooty or Kolaveri Dhanush, experiences a volte face in the higher latitudes of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Your suspicions about this inane-sounding rule will crumble as you gaze upon the clean-shaven visages of Mahesh Babu or Siddharth from movies made in Andhra Pradesh – that northernmost of the Southern states.
But wait, you say – What of Jeetendra in Himmatwala, why was his character uncharacteristically hirsute? For the simple reason that Himmatwala is a remake of the 1981 Telugu language Krishna – Jaya Prada starrer Ooriki Monagadu, in which Krishna was, of course, hair-lipped. Interestingly, the Amol Palekar starrer Gol Maal was remade into Tamil as Thillu Mullu with Rajinikanth, in 1981. In this movie, the normally moustachioed Rajinikanth appeared sans lip adornment. Why? Gol Maal, as you will recollect, has Amol in a double role – one, a mustachioed, button down character; the other, avant garde and bare lipped. Ditto the Rajinikanth roles – one moustachioed, the other clean shaven. Rajini’s depilation was done just so that he could become the Southern face of Amol Palekar’s clean shaven character from Gol Maal – no more, no less. As clearly as the obverse and reverse of a single coin, Himmatwala and Gol Maal provide us with bi-directional proof of this North-South divide. This is true even today with remakes such as Singam and Force, in which Ajay Devgan and John Abraham don the same hirsute pattern sported by Suriya in the Tamil originals. Do the Gol Maal – Thillu Mullu transitions happen because the movies share a director and a makeup man – or, does it go even deeper than that? Is there a hirsute clause in these contacts – a cultural marker written in stone, and printed on paper?