Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Angry Young Man


His Troubled Relationship with his Father

Indian Cinemas’ Angry Young Man surfaced in the 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer. That also hailed the end of a generation of a cinema that celebrated the stability and status quo India was passing through, in the late ‘50s and ‘60s.

Angry Young Man, in the Avatar of Amitabh Bachchan in Bollywood, and through Rajinikanth in Tamil Cinema in the ‘80s, was a superhero of common man’s dream. He was just an aam aadmi (common man) with normal power and weaknesses of a common human being, who has taken a great decision to act. 

As normal Indian people are afraid of challenging their fate in reality, the Angry Young Man fulfilled the dream they could vicariously live.

However, the AYM, especially the roles played by Amitabh in Bollywood cinema, has a special distinction. He is almost always with an absent or dead father. And when the father is present, he is in a deeply troubled relationship with him.

Let us probe this issue in a little details. In a list of more than fifty films spanning from Zanjeer (1973) to the recent Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap (2011), the AYM’s character tries to restore justice, honour and dignity to himself, his relatives and the people around himself. Except for Inquilab (1984), his fight concerns the personal space of family. And, in India, who is the archetypal head of the family?

Modeled on a feudal outlook, the post-independence Indian Government framed all types of taxation, laws and governance policies primarily on the basis of Undivided family – be it Hindu or Muslim. The unquestionable authority of the Prime Minister and other Ministers under him, of the Supreme Court and its Judges and the Police entail from such a world outlook.

The tapering figure of father is central to such a society and its citizens. In America, this may be a faltering loyalty to Uncle Sam, but in India, it is the father (biological or trainer) who wields the law.

In Lacanian Psychology, a male child constructs his identity through growing years, by internalizing the name of the father. In short, the name of the father can be equated to the child’s position in the lawful order of the society, in its norms and customs. In contrast, an imaginary father is the figure that sets the child out to the world, alone, cut off from the peace in his mother’s lap, the blissful security lost after the child becomes adult.

In all the films of AYM genre, Amitabh (or, Rajnikant in Tamil cinema) craves to go back to the mother’s lap, by rejoining the umbilical chord. 

In Deewar, the AYM character Vijay says in his dying words to his mother, “… Tujhse dur reh kar mujhe kabhi neend nai aayi maa! Main kabhi nai so saka maa! Aaj phir mera sar tumhari  god mein hai ma. Ek bar phir mujhe sula do ma!”  (I could never sleep staying away from you, mom! I could never really sleep. Today, again, my head is in your lap. Put me to sleep once again!”)  

By killing or compromising the imaginary father, and making peace with symbolic father (the name of the father) the AYM finishes his journey in his mother’s lap, thus actually finishing a cycle of action with his real father.

When the real, imaginary and symbolic fathers can not be separated very well, the Angry Young Man emerges. In a very simplistic, almost fairy tale overview of life, in Bollywood cinema, this is almost always happening.

Among all the AYM films of his times, Amitabh’s character actually has a real flawed father in Laawaris (1981), Sharaabi (1984) Aakhree Raasta (1986) and most significantly Shakti (1982). 

Only four out of a fifty something films in which he played the role of an Angry Young Man. In almost all other films, the father is dead, mostly killed by an enemy, thus setting Vijay (meaning Victory, interestingly that is the AYM’s name in the most of Amitabh movies belonging to this genre) on a road to vengeance.

But that does not make the AYM’s disturbed relation with the father a myth. In absence of a real father, the child clutches the imaginary father in a very ambivalent way, and makes it friend and enemy both. 

In the officially first film of the AYM genre, Zanjeer, the hero (Vijay again) grows up to be a police officer almost obsessed with Law (the imaginary father’s one side) and killing bad people (the imaginary father’s other side.) 

To complete the journey, the hero must know the name of the father, by coming out of the imaginary father. Hence, in Zanjeer, as in Shahenshah  (1987) a decade and a half later, he takes up some punishment of the bad in his own hand. 

However, it is significant to note that he never negates the Law this way. He merely supplements its execution with a better effect.

In this way, the Angry Young Man’s journey never collides with the ideology of the powerful class, or that of the State. 

In fact, it is not surprising that this character was nurtured more carefully in a post-Emergency India, as he in fact talks in favour of tradition, a classless society and power structure. 

The hero rarely talks about bigger issues. Even when he does, as in Coolie (1982) or in Inquilab (1984), he is more concerned about solving his own personal problems in the end. 

That actually made the character sociologically too stereotype, and called for a change in Bollywood’s prime genre at the end of the ‘80s; slowly giving birth to the dark hero, of Baazigar (1993) or Khalnayak (1993).

The hero wants to salvage his shame (because of birth), bad karma (for good means) and lack of security as he grows up. 

Hence, even in a romantic film like Mili (1975), the Angry Young Man’s psyche surfaces, and the reason is the same – a shame because of his father’s (or parents’ deed.) The ultimate goal is always, however, to be in peace with father, real or symbolic, in the end of the film.

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