Arts & Culture

Imran Khan And the Long Gone Bollywood Love-Era

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With Laut Aao Imran and Bollywood’s Green Flag making rounds on social media, let’s take a dive on this Valentine’s Day into Imran Khan’s genre of Bollywood romance and an era, millions crave to have back today!

The official poster-boy of Bollywood rom-coms, Imran Khan has been buzzing on social media recently. From fans cheering the star to make a comeback to the screens to Imran Khan himself making public appearances with his recent off-beat interview with Vogue India, have the stars finally aligned for Bollywood’s comeback era of soft-boy romance?

While Hindi cinema has witnessed its wave of actors impersonating the “chocolate-boy charm”- from Dino Morea, Fardeen Khan, Aftab Shivdasani, Vivek Oberoi, Zayed Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, who like Imran, soon disappeared from the screens, the fan-frenzy for Laut Aao Imran is incomparable!

In the 2000s, while Bollywood had made its paradigm shift from the Angry Young Man of the 1960s to the Ultimate Macho Saviour of the late 90s and early 2000s, Imran Khan’s debut of Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na brought in fresh perspectives of defining masculinity through cinema- male characters who were not subsumed by aggression but open to emotions and supportive of their female counterparts. Imran defined an era of Bollywood rom-coms where female protagonists received equal screen-time and centre-stage with their male counterparts during an era previously associated with women on cinema, being shunned to supportive roles- an entity without ambition, an entity to be ‘rescued’ by the male hero and an entity just there to fulfil the male-centred plotline of the film, examples being Salman Khan’s Biwi No. 1 or Big B’s Sholay. On the contrary, female protagonists in Imran Khan’s lives were not mere vehicles to propel the film but active drivers of the plotline, with Imran accompanying them with their roles on an equal footing. From Aditi in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na to Aaliya in Break Ke Baad, female leads in Imran’s films have defined layered attributes of women characters- women introspecting their feelings through youth to women choosing career over love, multi-diverse traits that were only given to the male actor previously, while the woman flimsily floated in and out of the film, without much want of the audience’s attention or her role in the movie’s essential narrative.

While women characters made a headway through Imran’s romcoms, Imran himself portrayed masculine characters that were not intimidated by the aura of headstrong women but supported their endeavours. Unlike the preceding Bollywood era, women in Imran Khan’s movies got a happy-ending to their own personal stories rather than merely being muses through out the film, due to which Imran’s accompanying male counterpart is often labelled as the ‘guy that every girl wants.’ From Jai doing everything in his power and even orchestrating an entire song with the lines ‘Ye Aditi Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na Phool Phir Khil Jate Hain’ to cheer up his female best friend recuperating from the loss of her pet cat to Kush from ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’ being a fun-sidekick to Dimple’s wedding shopping, Imran Khan’s characters remind us of the simplicity and tenderness of romance and the hope that someday a guy like Abhay from Break Ke Baad will pack their bags to Australia to support your career dreams, without a moment’s hesitation.

Imran’s portrayal of men changed the narrative of a Macho-Bollywood Hero to a common, ordinary male navigating through the grooves of life, finding love and accentuating it with cute dance-themes. From being a supportive son to his single mother in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, aiding in her everyday chores – “Baari apki hai but mood mera hai” – to the uptight Rahul Kapoor taking care to always provide sweet-company to his newfound friend Riana, distraught in her job and lonely in the States- exactly like him- Imran Khan could be credited for redefining gender roles in the Bollywood cinema paradigm. 

Gender roles, in essence, function under the notion of being observed, culturally-learned and adapted into the mainstream, and popular culture like Bollywood cinema especially play a big role in defining the evolving landscape of gender-stereotypes and liberation in the society that we live in. While mainstream Bollywood portrayed docile, submissive women figures (who must be saved, rescued or avenged by men) to young girls as role models, young boys were taught to be ‘rough and tough’. Films ended up normalizing maltreatment of women, inculcating into them that misbehaviour from a male partner is what can be considered ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’. In an era when dialogues like ‘akeli ladki ek khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai’ and ‘paise ke peeche bhagega toh ladki tere peeche bhaagegi’ rampaged the cinemas, Imran Khan’s ‘Aditi Has De Tu Zara’ trying to make his college best-friend smile while she was upset over her pet-cat provided a breath of fresh air amidst the claustrophobic hegemonic-masculinity within Hindi cinema.

“I believe Imran Khan was pretty eminent in shifting the Bollywood landscape from mainstream movies to a ‘young-adult world’ where everything was very new and fresh with people having fun jobs and simple, gullible dynamics with their partners. It makes one fantasise and long for such gentle times. More so, from a theatrical perspective Imran’s characters were very natural, comfortable and transparent, making the viewer outside the screen connect with the character inside which was quite refreshing!” – points out Rudrani Singh, who engaged with these movies in her late-teens.

While ‘mard ko dard nahi hota’ defined the hyper-macho era of Bollywood heroes, the current wave of toxic man-childs in Kabir Singh and Animal ring another alarm bell in the world of distorted representation of characters. While such alpha ideologies kick back into the industry sizzled with a side of pseudo-feminism and its consequent, glorification, one obviously longs for the cool, witty Abhay who will sit under a table and hug you while you try to make sense of the chaos or a Jay Dhingra to do ‘idhar udhar ki baatein vagera vagera’ with and comprehend the softness of life.

When Imran was not being the charming chocolate-boy, his acting range would take him to playing an amusing grey character like Tashi in one of Bollywood’s wittiest productions, Delhi Belly. Some may even point that Imran’s characters and movies provided a fresh, tender yet real grasp of the life around us, that really seeped the viewer into his films. While Imran set the tone for new types of heroes within Bollywood, the twenty-first century often labelled his characters as “simps” and his movies as “chick-flicks”for their wide popularity among women audience. However, the truth is quite far from that. Imran Khan set the stage for male-protagonists who were open to expressing emotions and being comfortable with their masculinity without being loud and violent (and what social media calls today, an ‘almost green flag’). This genre of character representation not only appeased women who were previously nourished by macho-saviours but also stood as an example of counter-hegemonic masculinity within the Indian diaspora. With films to woo the young audience, Imran’s movies stood out for showing young boys that in a world full of hunky, aggressive Sushants, you can always comfortably be a song-singing, airport-confessing Jai Singh Rathore, aka Rats.


Amidst a culture that lauds toxic masculinity through portrayals like Rahul from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Bunny from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, the innocence of Imran Khan’s characters provided a personification of ‘Sukoon’ (peace) – comfort movies that you could watch on your blue days along with an accompaniment of vanilla ice-cream!

While we journeyed through Imran’s portrayal of soft-masculinity and the warmth of his films, it still makes one wonder why fans crave his return despite the ‘Badshah of Bollywood’ and the ‘King of Romance’, Shahrukh Khan still reigning through the industry today. Much of this could be the shift in the Bollywood genre of films currently. Audiences previously conditioned by saccharine romance from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge to Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, now has to make do with crime thriller, spy thrillers or action-adventures with romance taking a sideline. The once romance-churning mill of the subcontinent, Bollywood today has shifted its thematic landscape with even King Khan, once the ‘lover-boy of Bollywood’ now starring in mostly action movies like Jawan and Pathaan. One may say this does make the young audience crave even more for the era of toothy grins, witty banter and innocent love plot-lines of Imran Khan’s movies. 

While Jay Dhingra may ‘Hate Luv Storys’ and go on to say, “Stupid hote hai ye love stories aur stupid hote hai woh log jo inhe banate hai,” before falling head over heels in love with Sonam Kapoor’s character, Simran, fans today will vouch for anything to have Imran Khan’s light-hearted romance stories back in Bollywood, reminiscing in the nostalgia and hoping that their Jai will one day come running through the box-office singing ‘Tera mujhse hai pehle ka nata koi, yuhi nahi dil lubhata koi…’ and all will be sweet and sunny in Bollywood’s love-town  again!

Read Also: Jab DU Met Bollywood

Featured Image Credits: Where Was It Shot

Priyanka Mukherjee
[email protected]

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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