The 'item boys' of Kollywood

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 03, 2013 13:11 hrs

Anyone who has watched Vaaranam Aaiyiram might have noticed that Suriya has a far more glamorous role in it than do either of the two heroines. Yes, we did say ‘glamorous’, an adjective usually reserved for heroines who don’t have ‘homely’ faces. They also happen to possess a wardrobe that has some really weird-looking clothes that you don’t ever see on the roads. Strategically cut tops that show off the entire midriff, strangely netted sleeves, bizarre necklines that are designed purely to titillate…haven’t we’ve seen them all!

The men of Kollywood are slowly but surely glamming up. And unlike the women who have to stuff themselves into some seriously uncomfortable-looking clothes, all that these guys have to do is to take their shirts off! Remember that shot of Suriya rising from the water in the song Analmeley pani thuli? Yep, that’s what we’re talking about. Heroines have been emerging from water bodies, dressed in skimpy white clothes for eons now. But move over, ladies, you have some stiff competition coming your way!

The first requirement these days to break into K-town seems to be a six-pack body. The skinny, callow-looking heroes who entered the industry some years ago have all morphed into muscled men (‘gym baadies’ as we call them) who rip off their shirts at the slightest excuse. Be it a Mahesh (Angaadi Theru) or a Bharat, a few years in the industry and they realize that they need to bulk up and get that dream body if they are to have any hope of surviving.

The women around them, too, are increasingly being depicted as characters who feel the strength of physical attraction and are not afraid to display it. In earlier films, it was the hero’s ‘good heart’ that won the heroine over, but now, the male body in itself, plays a role. Female desire was rarely depicted onscreen in a positive way – it was usually the evil women who unabashedly displayed their sexuality…and paid a heavy price for it! Neelambari-like. That said, heroines still appear in unrealistically virtuous roles when it comes to dealing with the other male characters in the film. But with the pumped-up hero, they have progressed into dancing and singing about their lust (typically in Bombay Jayshree’s voice)!

Among the current heroes that are magnets for female desire, Dhanush and Ajith Kumar stand out. Though Dhanush is pretty fit, his slight frame ensures that he can still pass off for a Class XII student convincingly. And anything he dances in can be called an item number considering he steals the show. Ajith in his new salt-and-pepper avatar, sports a comfortable beer belly and belongs to a small tribe of male actors today who haven’t gone the Hulk route. His dance skills don't pass muster but the ladies do cut him some slack.

Exceptions aside, the current trend of ribbed item boys brings us to the debate on the influence of media on body-image. While women’s self-perception has been linked to what the media portrays, there hasn’t been much conversation along the same lines when it comes to men. So, do young boys indulge in unhealthy practices to become the six-pack hero in the same way young girls do to become size zero? Well, it certainly looks like it with instances of young boys consuming banned products to build their bodies and suffering the consequences appearing in the news. But the harder it is to get, the more we seem to want that ‘perfect’ body – be it male or female!

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Sowmya Rajendran is a children's writer who occasionally offers her words of wisdom to adults. She lives in Pune.