Traditionally the Bollywood cop has been the butt of many a joke. Our reel cops generally arrived late at the crime scene, were caricatured, sported weird hairdos (imagine Amitabh Bachchan or Mithun Chakraborty of the 1980s with shoulder-length hair), wielded a baton and danced around trees.
Over the ’90s and the decade that followed, the portrayal of policemen appears to have evolved. One facial feature that has undergone a twist and a twirl is the cop’s moustache.
If you find Akshay Kumar twirling his handle-bar in Rowdy Rathore funny, consider Aamir Khan in Talaash, whose downcast moustache (the style is called ‘copstash standard,’ we’re not making this up) appears to match the sombre mood of the character.
“A man is known by the mooch he keeps,” proclaimed Utpal Dutt in the 1979 laugh riot Gol Maal. But Bollywood seems to take ‘the mooch and the man’ phenomena seriously.
The macho diaries
From Sanjeev Kumar in Sholay, to Dilip Kumar in Shakti, from Ajay Devgn in Gangaajal and Singham to Salman Khan in Dabaang 1 and 2, and recently, Aamir Khan in Talaash, every tough-talking Bollywood cop has had a mandatory mooch.
Even today’s filmi policewala is the same – a macho guy with a moustache, taking on the goons.
“I guess that is a carry-forward notion of a culture that has always believed the moustache to be a sign of manliness,” says Dr Syed Mubin Zehra, social analyst and author of Sexual and Gender Representations in Mughal India.
“Most men in early India, especially the warriors or the royals kept a mooch,” she adds.
Director Sujoy Ghosh says the moustache symbolises authority. “The police is perceived to be powerful and so the saviours are seen to be mustachioed men,” says Ghosh, who made sure that the main characters in his film Kahaani, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Prambrata Chatterjee who played cops, got their look right down to facial hair.
Method to the moustache
Today’s breed of realistic actors and directors insists there is a ‘method’ to this fad.
Aamir Khan, the stoic mustachioed cop in Talaash, defends his mooch as something that every cop sports. “I’ve strictly gone by the numbers. Almost 90 per cent of real cops sport the mooch,” he says.
Does the logic cut with the real men in khaki? Senior IPS officer S M Sahai, Inspector General, Kashmir Zone, says Bollywood is influenced by real cops in Southern India, most of whom have a moustache. “In real life, most cops do not sport one. In fact being a policeman has to do with being mentally tough rather than physically,” adds Sahai.
Ethnographic stereotypes might influence the stylist when it comes to creating a convincing look. “A cop with a mooch isn’t just a stereotype. It has to do with the place from where the character comes,” says Manoj Bajpai. “My character in Shool is from Bihar. Forget the police, every average guy in Bihar sports a mooch. Back there, it is a symbol of a man’s father being alive. To be a “mooch-munda” isn’t the most appropriate of things.”
Little wonder then that Ajay Devgn in Gangaajal or for that matter Salman in Dabaang, who played cops based in Bihar, were not averse to flaunting the thin black line.
From HT Brunch, December 16
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