Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bollywood Heroes: Ram vs. Krishna Part 2

A continuation of Bollywood heroes: Ram vs. Krishna Part 1.

I had thought that it would be be easy to find examples of boyish, ardent Krishna-heroes. But it's surprisingly hard to come up with pure Krishnas; as I mentioned in Part 1, mischievous Krishna-heroes often transform into steadfast Ram-heroes by the end of the movie. When they don't undergo this transformation (and sometimes when they do), the happy ending generally eludes them. Krishna and Radha may be invoked at Indian weddings as a model of passionate love, but in Bollywood it is Ram who usually gets the girl.

Krishnas and Krishna-Rams include:  

Akash (Salman Khan) in Saajan (Beloved, 1990): Akash is a love-'em-and-leave-'em type who falls for Pooja (Madhuri Dixit), a poetry-loving woman who thinks he is the pseudonymous bard Sagar (Ram-hero Sanjay Dutt). Really, he's Sagar's playboy stepbrother—but from complicated motives of his own, Sagar decides to continue the deception. The parallels to Cyrano de Bergerac are entirely intentional.  

Prem (Salman Khan) in Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! (Who am I to you?, 1994): Both Prem and Nisha (the Radha-heroine played by Madhuri Dixit) abundantly demonstrate their mischievous, fun-loving natures in the gender-bending "Didi Tera Devar Deewana" (Sister, your brother-in-law is crazy), sung by Nisha to her sister Pooja (Renuka Shahane) during Pooja's engagement festivities. No subtitles—if you're curious, begin watching the full movie at the 1:40:15 mark and click the CC button—but the action shouldn't require too much explanation, even without them:

(By the way, I believe the woman who mockingly dresses as Salman in the clip is Sahila Chadda.) 

Sameer (Salman Khan) in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (My heart belongs to you, 1999): Was Salman getting typecast? Here he plays a prankish musician (Krishna is, of course, associated with the flute) who falls in love with Radha-heroine Nandini (Aishwarya Rai), the daughter of his music teacher. Her father has other plans for her, though. In "Aankhon ki Masti" (The impertinence of my eyes), Sameer and Nandini flirt, tease, and fantasize to the prominent accompaniment of a flute:

Raja (Aamir Khan) in Dil (Heart, 1990) is a callow college boy who spends his time partying and playing pranks on Madhu (Madhuri Dixit). Can a true love and a Ram-transformation be far behind?  

Akash (Aamir Khan) in Dil Chahta Hai (What the heart wants, 2001): Another Akash, another love-'em-and-leave-'em type. Akash thinks it's funny to make Shalini (Preity Zinta) think that he's proposing to her in earnest. Later, though, after a chance encounter with the now really engaged Shalini, Akash's inner Ram begins to awaken...  

Rahul (Saif Ali Khan) in Kya Kehna (What is there to say?, 1998/2000): Ah, college. Where students pass their time in dance competitions, motorcycle jumping, and pre-marital sex. Priya (Preity Zinta) unwisely yields to her powerful attraction to daredevil Rahul, whose hair distressingly changes length from scene to scene. When she discovers that she's pregnant, Rahul cruelly rejects her. After Priya gives birth to their child, though, Rahul realizes that he truly loves her after all. Priya must then choose between her best friend Ajay (Chandrachur Singh), a steadfast Ram, and the repentant Krishna Rahul. If only Rahul had watched Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam first...  

Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something is happening, 1998): Krishna is usually associated with music, and indeed Rahul, his best friend Anjali (Kajol) and his main squeeze Tina (Rani Mukherjee) whip up on the spot the tightly choreographed dance competition number "Koi Mil Gaya" (I found someone). Only, Anjali makes the painful discovery that she's the odd girl out in this triangle. Eight years later Rahul, now a widower, discovers his Ram-itude when his daughter reunites him with Anjali. Only, his inner Krishna keeps bubbling to the surface...  

Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The brave heart wins the bride, 1995): Raj starts out as a fun-loving prankster, and in an early version of the script (according to Anupama Chopra's book on the film) a lover as well: in his first encounter with the baleful Baldev (Amrish Puri), Raj was looking for condoms, not beer. But after a series of teasing encounters with Baldev's daughter Simran (Kajol) on a Eurail vacation, he realizes that he's found true love. He follows her to India, but after the interval becomes more and more of a Ram. He's got to win the bride, doesn't he?

Aman (Shah Rukh Khan) in Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow may never come, 2003): Aman is a ringer, because while on the surface he's a classic Krishna (musical, teasing, mischievous), underneath he's really solid Ram—so devoted to Naina (Preity Zinta) that he tries to engineer her marriage to her friend Rohit (Saif Ali Khan, in one of his best performances). Why would he do such a thing? Because a Ram is nothing if not self-sacrificing, even if he's convincingly disguised as a Krishna.  

Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) in Devdas (2002): This film is super-saturated with Krishna-Radha imagery: childhood sweethearts Devdas and Paro (Aishwarya Rai) reunite as young adults, but it doesn't end well. The Krishna-Radha parallels are perhaps most glaringly apparent in "More piya": as Paro's mother Sumitra performs a song about "Krishna and Radha in the Dance of Love" on the banks of the River Yamuna, Devdas accosts Paro on the banks of their local stream.

As I wrote in In Defense of Devdas, "The invocations of Krishna and Radha in Sumitra's song and the prominence of the flute (Krishna's instrument) in the Devdas-Paro sequences, plus the the explicit symbolism (the river bank, the water jugs, and the way Devdas removes Paro's jewelry and veil as a husband removes his bride's on their wedding night) leave no doubt about what takes place between Devdas and Paro." Alas, Devdas' mischievous nature and inconstancy bring tragedy to both of them.

SRK deserves a special award for portraying Suri and Raj in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (A match made in Heaven, 2009): While many actors have portrayed characters with diametrically opposed personalities, usually the conceit is that they are twins separated at birth (see Ram aur Shyam (1967) or Seeta aur Geeta (1972)). But in RNBDJ, both roles are really the same person. Suri is the quiet, devoted and dutiful Ram-hero who lives like brother and sister with his wife Taani (Anushka Sharma). Raj is the brash, loud, flirtatious and flashy Krishna-hero that Taani encounters when she enters a Bollywood dance class. What Taani doesn't realize is that Raj is Suri in disguise, determined to win her love: in an inversion of the usual pattern, Ram has become Krishna. Only he succeeds all too well, and Taani must make a Radha- vs. Sita-like choice to follow her heart or fulfill her duty to a husband she doesn't think she loves...  

The new generation

Of newer heroes, it seems like Imran Khan is (like his uncle Aamir) often primarily Ram (as in Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na (Whether you know...or not, 2008), Break Ke Baad (After the break, 2010) and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (My brother's bride, 2011), while Ranbir Kapoor is generally Krishna (as in Bachna Ae Haseeno (Beware beauties, 2008), Wake Up Sid (2009), and Anjaana Anjaani (Strangers, 2010)), and Ranveer Singh seems Krishna-like in both his roles so far (Band Baaja Baaraat (Bands, horns, revelry, 2010), Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl (2011)).

Classic heroes

The subject of a book-length study, probably, for which I am spectacularly unqualified.


  1. I love this - I hadn't thought of filmi heroes and heroines in terms of Ram vs. Krishna and Sita vs. Radha, but it's very perceptive. I particularly like the Krishna-into-Ram idea, which nicely ties back to both being avatars of Vishnu in the first place.

    Do you watch any Southie movies? I highly recommend Brindavanam - in addition to being charming, fun, over-the-top, and gorgeous, it may be the ultimate Krishna-hero movie. All very deliberate, of course - I mean, it's in the name, and the hero is named Krishna, and constant references are made to it, and the ending is hilarious if you know a bit about Krishna and makes no sense otherwise - and I think awesomely done.

  2. Hi

    An interesting read on Ram and Krishna aspects of hindi film heroes.

  3. Heqit, I've only seen a handful of Southie films—they can be tough to track down—but I'd like to see more. Brindavanam sounds excellent; many thanks for the recommendation.

    Filmbuff, thanks for your comment!