By Sumeer Mathur, VP & Strategic Planning Director (JWT Gurgaon)
Self-centred, shallow and weighed down by expectations.
What the popularity of characters played by Ranbir kapoor tell us about the youth.
That the popularity of a Bollywood superstar can be insightful about the generation that worships him or her is an established fact. The “angry young man”, was a product of the license - raaj and a moribund economic system. The state had failed to deliver and the only option left was to rely on oneself even if the means were far from scrupulous and would have been rejected even a decade earlier.
Shahrukh Khan’s roles gave us an insight into the next generation; the angry young man had given way to a mostly urban struggle between tradition and modernity. The newly liberalised economy unlocked personal ambition and he typified a generation working very hard to make dreams once considered unrealistic, come true. His ambition never made him rebel and in countless films he held his mother’s hand or sat at her feet at least once, ironing out the contradictions and explaining himself.
Ranbir Kapoor’s appeal with the current mobile phone, social network addicted Gen-Y audience is un paralleled in recent times. Even a back of the envelope count of his films and roles in the last five years signals to the fact that we are witnessing a new phenomenon. Admittedly he portrays very divergent characters, yet there is a singularity which defines them. So what do characters that are portrayed by Ranbir have in common? Analysing his roles, may throw light on the generation that connects most intensely with him.
Kapoor’s characters do not struggle with any external conflict that needs resolution. There are no bad times to get out off; there is very little to prove to the world. Things usually come to him on a platter, he decides to either take it or reject it and most often he rejects it. Growing up on a full stomach with very little uncertainty will do that to you. In film after film RK’s characters run from responsibility and the consequences of their actions. Obligations whether of love, family or of a professional nature are discounted and dismissed. There is a refusal to grow up, to see the world through others eyes. Like a child in an amusement park, his own amusement is of paramount importance; after all he talks to a generation that came up with “selfies”. As he sings in a popular song “Ayaashi ke one way se khudko modna jaane naa, Kambal bewajah sharam ka Odhna jaane naa ,Zidd pakad ke khadha hai kambakht Chodhna jaane na…”
His characters are selfish and self-centred as he plays out his audience’s secret desire to get away with this selfishness. In “Wake up Sid” he is happy in his slacker ways eventually being kicked out his home, only to start living with an older woman. In Rajneeti he is compelled to enter politics but by the end of the film he returns to the US, far from the family business and responsibility. In Rockstar Janardhan does not care for his fans or the woman who loves him. There is a shallowness with which he treats both. When he becomes a star he is frustrated with both his fans and his record company.
Early on he claims a desire to feel love but unlike a Shahrukh he does not want to fall in love, it’s too tedious and too much of an investment. In his latest Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, once again he has a selfish, personal philosophy which he must live out, and though called “banajarapan”, it’s far removed from the concept of a romantic exploration of the world. Sample this “Poori duniya ka gol gol chakkar leke, Maine duniya ko maara dhakka”. It’s more a cry to get out and runaway than a pure desire to experience a different life of exploration.
Even in romance, he breaks the Bollywood tradition of selfless love. He is probably the guy more worried about how he looks in a couple picture than how they look together as a couple. Growing up in times of relative equality of the sexes gives him the license to be casual about his affairs. No he does not worship the women he falls in love with, pays scant regard to their dreams and desires and has a tendency to run the minute he decides he is getting suffocated. He isn’t staying around because you love him, pinning for him is expected. In “Bachna ae haseno”, “Rajneeti”, “Rockstar” and “YJHD”, love soon turns into a four letter word and we wait till the very end where his character either has a change of heart or meets his match and accepts a happily ever after.
The relations with his parents are usually strained. Mothers and Fathers cannot understand what makes him tick. He is disconnected from them, far from seeking their approval his characters usually reach a flashpoint where all communication breaks down and he gladly leaves the house. Unlike the 80’s, or 90’s this is not the good son unfairly thrown out or the bad son who cuts ties with his family. This is the son who is rejecting his family because it’s not working out. In Rockstar, his character feels stifled at home and misunderstood, in “Wake Up Sid” he is a slacker eventually thrown out. In YJHD he has trouble explaining or communicating with his father, even though the father in question wants to help him.
20 year olds today have grown up in times of relative affluence. They are more likely to be from smaller nuclear families, they enjoyed more individual attention whilst growing up than earlier generations.Opportunity according to popular culture waits all around; they just have to reach out. But if the popularity of Ranbir’s characters is any indication, they feel burdened by the expectations and secretly desire to run away from them. Alternately maybe this generation does not wish to become anything, only to be.