Actors Purab Kohli and Rajat Kapoor have played a variety of roles on screen – from a wannabe rocker (Purab) to a corporate head honcho (Rajat). But one role you may have overlooked is one that is more private. Both are new-age Indian men. Really. Purab is not afraid of talking about his household skills; neither is Rajat, who has also hosted a TV show on relationships. Who better then, we thought, to explain this phenomenon?
So we brought them together, over cups of green tea and coffee, at Liquid Lounge at the Grand Sarovar Premiere hotel, Mumbai, to discuss what, in the 21st century, men are supposed to be.
Brunch: If we were to say ‘new Indian man’, your response would be...?
Purab: I would say he’s non-existent... (laughs).
Rajat: I think it’s a reality – a reality that the Indian man is not happy about. We are already a different generation from our parents – hugely different in a way that they were not different from their parents. I think the structure of society has changed drastically in the last 20 years vis-a-vis women and men.
Purab: I agree.
Rajat: Women have started to work, and actually to find themselves in their work, which was not the case in our parents’ generation. By and large, the woman’s role was very defined – it had to be about the home, and things like that. Now, people find their identity through their work. The changes that have happened in gender politics have all been initiated by women, because men are very happy with the status quo. But since women are changing, they are forcing the change on men. So men have to evolve, otherwise the woman will choose a better man.
Purab: Or the sperm bank!
Rajat: Either you are caring, or you are very wealthy – if you do not have a powerful role that was the key to manhood, then you have to find an alternative way to be attractive.
Purab: In the case of my wife and me, when she’s at work, there’s lots of stuff I do in the house that would earlier have been defined as ‘not a man’s job’. I feel bogged down by this also – you can’t do any work because the bell is always ringing. But the new Indian man has to understand that. You want progress from one side, you have to evolve, as Rajat said, and also be okay with that.
Rajat: There is a lot of pleasure also. Men, because of their traditional roles, were denied things like bringing up children. I feel sad for my dad, who couldn’t do what I’m doing with my kids. It’s the biggest pleasure life has to offer. And men were traditionally kept out of that – even if they wanted to. I’m pretty happy with this... at least we have a chance to see that side.
Brunch: Have you ever been referred to as ‘the quintessential Indian man’?
Rajat: Well, why have you called the two of us for this session? There must have been a reason...!
Purab: Speaking for Rajat and myself, I believe we are new Indian men. I travel and see a lot of men outside this urban space, and even among my friends in Mumbai. At the end of the day, it’s a thought process. What you think about certain issues that are happening around you defines where you are. And I see myself in a different space from close friends of mine. Our thoughts on certain issues, especially where they concern the household, are completely different from each other.
Rajat: This mindset is not typically Indian. I know a lot of Europeans – even women – who were shocked that I was cleaning my baby girl’s potty. They were shocked, but for me that was normal. So the traditional setup exists in Europe as well, in spite of their earlier growth. The roles have not changed so much.
Purab: Even some of the smaller towns in America are so backward, even though we think they are advanced. I was in Tennessee once and they were so rigid in their thinking. I could have been in a tribal area in Maharashtra.
Rajat: But the struggle is on. It’s not that we have evolved.
Purab: Just yesterday a reporter messaged me from Ahmedabad, and the topic was about space in relationships. I started speaking to her, forgetting she was not from Mumbai, saying that there are two approaches to space in relationships – one is that you need space to keep the relationship going, and the other way is that you are fed up of the relationship, and you need space. I was trying to make her understand it, and she could not understand.
Rajat: But although the change is slow in other cities, I’m sure it is everywhere. I think the very fact that women are working will bring about that change everywhere. The whole idea of subservience to the authority of the man was because he had the money. The moment you start earning your own money, the equation changes. Another big change is the breakdown of the joint family. When you are living one-to-one with your partner, the equations have to change.
Brunch: What do you wish that Indian men would change about themselves?
Rajat: Stop talking about themselves.
Purab: (Mischievously): Let me tell you about my parents.
Rajat: (Laughs) That’s not just an Indian man thing – that’s a man thing! They are obsessed with themselves.
Purab: I think there is still largely a slight feeling of superiority. And you see it a little less among men of our standing, but at the level of say, taxi drivers. You will see that it is difficult for them to take authority from a woman. There was a film I shot in Ahmedabad. The executive producer was a woman, and at one of the locations we were shooting in, the guy would just not talk to her.
Rajat: (Joking) Boss kidhar hai?
Purab: And I’m talking about just six months ago. It exists in Mumbai also – you’ll see it in taxi drivers, drivers in general.
Rajat: My wife says that a lot.
Purab: They talk to the man – they cannot take authority from a woman. It’s nice if that changes.
Brunch: How do you think women today see men?
Rajat: It’s become difficult for both sexes. That is the tragedy of the changing scenario. It’s good in the long run, but not so good in the short run, because the old structures have collapsed. In the old days, you would have been married, and then you would have found your happiness. Now that you have taken the cause of your happiness in your hands, it’s become more difficult for you. A lot of friends of ours – men and women – are in their forties or late thirties, and are single, and it is by choice. But you would want to be in a relationship, have kids and so on, but where do you find the right man or woman?
Purab: My wife now works nine to five, and I’m more at home, so things in the house happen according to my system. She hopes that things have been done according to her system. She has her own way of taking care of things, and I try and match that because, at the back of my mind, she is the woman of the house. I can see that she would probably do things in a different way, but she has to let go.
Rajat: Changing roles are not easy for anyone, because there is a certain security in the status quo. Also, marriage is not as ubiquitous as it once was, and I don’t know if that’s really a happy scenario.
Brunch: Any nostalgia for the past?
Rajat: When things were good…
Purab: When men were men and women were in the kitchen! My wife’s a good cook, but now I have to chase her to cook something for me.
Rajat: I think a man wants to be pampered once in a while.
Purab: Being pampered by a woman is something else. I’ve felt this with our dogs; if he stumbles, my wife would pick him up, but I would wait for him to get up. It’s not that I don’t care about him as much, but I would feel ‘he has to learn to stand up by himself’ and she would feel ‘let’s help him stand up’. Both approaches are beautiful in their own way.
Brunch: Any last comments on the subject?
Purab: Why did the woman cross the road?
Rajat: Why did the woman cross the road?
Purab: (Laughs) Who cares – what is she doing out of the kitchen anyway?