Monday, June 4, 2012

Bollywood Heroes: Ram vs. Krishna Part 1

I'm sure this observation isn't original, but I've noticed that Bollywood heroes can often be categorized as either Krishna or Ram. Krishna, of course, is the playful, flirtatious, mischievous, teasing god of love, and Ram is the righteous, virtuous, steadfast, upright god of duty and devotion.

Of course, like every dichotomy, this one is a bit false, since Ram and Krishna are both avatars of Vishnu (Ram the seventh, and Krishna the eighth or ninth). And not every hero belongs unambiguously to one category or the other: some heroes move from one category to the other over the course of a film (usually from Krishna to Ram), and some exhibit elements of both at the same time. But this rough division seems to hold true pretty often. Latter-day Rams include:

Major Ram (Shah Rukh Khan) in Main Hoon Na (I'm Here Now, 2004): Yes, just in case we missed the point, this Ram-hero is actually named Ram. And if that isn't enough to clue us in, he has a brother named Lakshman (Zayed Khan). SRK has also frequently played Krishna-heroes, as we'll see in Part 2.

Veer (Shah Rukh Khan) in Veer-Zaara (2004): So noble that he agrees to spend his life in prison rather than elope with Zaara (Preity Zinta) against her parents' will. Or as Ajnabi has it, "I Lived Twenty Years on a Week of Love".

Veer (Salman Khan) in Veer (2010): Like Ram, Veer goes into exile and leads a battle against a demon king—in this case, British collaborator Gyanendra Singh (Jackie Shroff).

Veer (Saif Ali Khan) in Love Aaj Kal (2009): So Ram-like that he decides to marry Harleen (Giselli Monteiro) before he even speaks to her, and remains steadfast in his desire despite being beaten up by her relatives.

Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) in Lagaan (Land Tax, 2001): Bhuvan organizes a group of villagers to play a cricket match against a crack team of British oppressors. Even though the villagers have never played the game, have no equipment and don't know the rules, the British are no match for Bhuvan's Ram-ity. Along the way the sister of one of the British occupiers (Rachel Shelley) falls in love with him, but she should have realized that Bhuvan-Ram could only remain true to his simple village girl Gauri (Gracy Singh).

Sriram (Sumanth) in Godavari (2006): Another hero named after Ram; to add to the symbolism, his heroine (Kamalinee Mukherjee) is named Seeta and they are travelling together down the Godavari River to the Sri Rama temple at Bhadrachalam. This Ram winds up committing a blunder that threatens his union with Seeta, but I seem to recall that Lord Ram makes a few questionable decisions too.

Vanraj (Ajay Devgan) in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (My Heart Belongs to You, 1999): Vanraj discovers the unwelcome news that his new wife Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) married him against her will; she loves Sameer (Salman Khan as the Krishna-hero) instead. Vanraj then takes Nandini to Italy to try to reunite her with Sameer—now that's devotion! Along the way, Nandini discovers new feelings beginning to stir. In many films the Krishna-hero undergoes a transformation over the course of the movie into a Ram-hero; in this case, a Radha-heroine begins to transform into Sita...

Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) in Jab We Met (When We Met, 2007): Like Vanraj, Aditya also falls in love with a woman (Geet, played by Kareena Kapoor) who loves another man. And also like Vanraj, he does everything in his power to bring them together. Fortunately for Aditya, the man Geet loves is more Raavan than Krishna.

Prem (Shahid Kapoor) in Vivah (Marriage, 2006): On the eve of her marriage to Prem, the lovely Poonam (the lovely Amrita Rao) is terribly burned while rescuing her sister from a raging house fire. Prem, hearing of the disaster, rushes to the hospital. In an inversion of the Sita-Ram story, the trial by fire becomes a test of Prem's worthiness of Poonam:

That it is Prem, and not Poonam, who is tested is another reason I love this movie; see my commentary on it at Bollywood Rewatch 2: Vivah and India's Missing Daughters.

Thanks to Rajshri Films, you can watch Vivah on YouTube, with English subtitles (but at low resolution) for free.

Next time: Krishna-heroes.


  1. Popping in to say hi--I found your blog today while looking for Framley Parsonage images. It *is* just like DDLJ that way! I'm another Bollywood-addicted librarian.

    Anyway, interesting thoughts about Ram/Krishna heroes. Main Hoon Na was one of the first Bollywood movies I saw, so I was quite proud of myself for catching the utterly obvious Ram/Lakshman brothers.

    Swades actually has a long Ram drama in the middle of it, and Gita requires a lot more Ram-like behavior from Mohan before she'll accept him.

  2. Jean, welcome! Clearly there's a Bollywood/Victorian novel/librarian association that I have to explore in a future post.

    I've come to realize that Main Hoon Na is a gateway drug for many Bollywood addicts. When we first saw it I had no idea who Ram and Lakshman were/are—and yes, that's a confession of appalling ignorance. One of the things that I appreciate about Indian films is that many operate on multiple levels at once, and it's not necessary to catch all the allusions to enjoy them. That's what makes them such a rich experience, and worth returning to again and again. I'm still trying to untangle all the references in Kal Ho Naa Ho, a movie I've seen something like two dozen times.

    Thanks so much for your mention of Swades—I completely missed the Ram-allusions the first time around. It was a film we saw early in our exploration of Bollywood, and clearly we have to rewatch it in the near future. I considered it for my list of the Top Ten Shah Rukh Khan movies; perhaps a rewatch will require me to revise the list.

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Thanks! I should watch Main Hoon Na again, it's been a really long time. I was very confused by how it was supposed to be college students, but they were all acting like they were in a high school movie that ended in a wedding instead of the prom. A friend explained the reasons to me. I think my first real gateway drug was Kuch Naa Kaho, which isn't necessarily a great movie, but I love it anyway. Then Lagaan hooked me for good. I think my favorite is still Veer-Zaara though...between the saris, the music and dance, and the melodrama, what's not to love about these movies?

    I have not seen Vivah. Clearly I'm going to have to!

  4. Yes, college as portrayed in most Bollywood films seems mainly to consist of practical jokes, unrequited crushes and dance competitions; see Dil, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushie Kabhie Gham, Kya Kehna (which adds daredevil motorcycle jumping to the list of collegiate activities), Main Ki Prem Diwani Hoon...

    Or, rather, don't see MKPDH, if you want to retain your sanity. And yet the awful MKPDH was the film that Sooraj Bharjatya wrote and directed just before Vivah. I do recommend Vivah highly—if you watch it please let me know what you think of it.

    Kuch Naa Kaho is charming; if you like it, I think you'll love Vivah, which is similarly sweet (but not cloyingly so). I'm apparently one of the few who resist the appeal of Lagaan; if you're interested in why, I try to explain it in Why Lagaan and Rang De Basanti didn't make my list of favorites. And I'm wholly in agreement with you about Veer-Zaara. It's a wonderful film that I've returned to many times; "Tere Liye" never fails to bring a lump to my throat.