x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Bollywood's moustache madness

We have noticed that all the cool kids on the Bollywood big screen are sporting hairy upper lips again.

Akshay Kumar, left, sports a moustache in Rowdy Rathore.
Akshay Kumar, left, sports a moustache in Rowdy Rathore.

Rowdy Rathore is the latest Bollywood hero to make a mark in the movies this year. Played by the actor Akshay Kumar, he sports a swashbuckling moustache, a feature that fell out of favour in Hindi cinema after the 1970s and 1980s, during which it was considered a necessity for leading men.

This year, the moustache is making a comeback in Hindi movies: besides Kumar in Rowdy Rathore, Salman Khan (Dabangg) and Aamir Khan (Talaash) have cultivated their upper lips to lend some machismo to their respective characters.

In Indian cinema, occupations known for their "gravity", such as a lawyer, an army officer, a policeman or a bureaucrat, have mostly been played by actors sporting a moustache - the sheer presence of upper lip hair believed to legitimise the tough personality that comes with such professions.

The significance of the moustache in the Indian psyche - its association with prestige, masculinity and virility - was perfectly captured in a nutshell by the actor Utpal Dutt in his 1979 film Gol Maal. "Without a moustache, everything else is meaningless," he said.

In Gol Maal, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's comedy of errors, the lead star, Amol Palekar, pretends to have an identical twin brother (save for the moustache) when his boss, who is against recreation of all kinds (played by the magnificent Dutt), catches him at a football match.

So it wasn't a surprise when the cult film's recent remake, Bol Bachchan, featured the actor Abhishek Bachchan with a moustache as well.

In real life, the moustache's magic has worn off among India's chic, suave urbanites, although it remains popular in smaller towns and villages where facial hair heralds the beginning of adulthood.

In addition, Bollywood may no longer be fond of the moustache, but whiskers, preferably handlebars, are still seen in Southern films.

Abhay Deol, who grew his first-ever moustache for last month's political thriller Shanghai, said that maintaining one is hard work. "It felt a bit odd to step outside that time, especially in casual clothes," he said. "But I felt more comfortable with it when I wore formal attire."

Sonu Sood, who sported a moustache in his latest release Maximum, said in a recent interview: "In Southern films, all lead actors still sport it. A moustache adds to the credibility of a reel character."


Five of the most memorable moustaches in Bollywood

Utpal Dutt in Gol Maal (1979)

The character of Bhavani Shankar, a stern and rigid boss, instilled fear like no other. Played by Dutt, Shankar famously said that a moustache is the mirror to one's mind and soul - that without it, a man is not a man.

Vinod Khanna in Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971)

In this bandit film, Khanna's sneers and threats would not have hit the mark without his moustache. He played the villain role effortlessly, stylishly twirling his moustache as he gleefully contemplated ways to torture the hero, played by Dharmendra.

Salman Khan in Dabangg (2010)

A pencil-thin moustache gave Khan the bang in Dabangg. With his contortionist dancing, ridiculously macho dialogue and dodgy morals, Khan and his moustache were a super-hit to audiences.

Keshto Mukherjee's moustache (1950s to 1990s)

This one deserves its own special place in Bollywood. In more than four decades of small but memorable comic roles, Mukherjee sported his version of Hitler's sinister moustache.

Ajay Devgn in Omkara (2006)

In this adaptation of the play Othello, Devgn shines as a principled but misguided protagonist. Set in what was portrayed as the Wild West of rural India, the film would have been downright unbelievable without the moustaches on both Devgn and Saif Ali Khan. Both played mobsters.