“Sometimes, you have to get angry to get things done,” said director Ang Lee. This year’s heroes would agree. Indian cinema saw a profusion of furious gents who fumed, growled, raged and roared. They broke bones and blew things up (including the box office, in some cases). They seethed and they plotted (often with laughable results). In 2022, being manly and being angry seemed to go hand in hand. Does the profusion and popularity of these characters reflect a lurking and widespread sense of frustration with the status quo? When the heroes act out or pull off spectacular, violent stunts, does the audience feel a vicarious triumph? Can we read into the emotional turbulence to see an attempt to compensate for growing social inequalities by channeling discontent into rage? Or is it just that being cool meant losing your cool?
Here’s our ranking of this year’s heroes in terms of how angry they were, from the merely triggered to the properly furious.
There are two levels at which Kartik Aaryan’s small-screen debut film is about triggering anger. First, with characters doing exaggerated accents, being given names like “Raymond Nariman” and being reduced to caricatures, Freddy could certainly have set off Parsis with its clichéd portrait of the community. Second, in the film, Aaryan’s Freddy is a mild-mannered dentist who is triggered by heartbreak. Until he falls in love, Freddy seems well-behaved and meek (barring a somewhat regrettable tendency to leer at cleavages). He talks to his aunty every night. He drinks raspberry soda at weddings. He comes home after work and makes model planes. However, when he is cruelly rejected by the object of his affections, Freddy transforms. Triggered to unleash violence, Freddy plots his revenge with cold-hearted fury. Calming him down is like pulling teeth. Literally.
Varun Dhawan plays Bhaskar, a money-hungry corporate shark and manchild in thermals, who gets bitten by a werewolf and immediately develops both abs and a sporadic temper. As an icchadhari bhediya, he attacks contractors and officers who threaten a forest. He lifts his friend by the neck when he feels misunderstood. The angry werewolf is a protector and despite the acts of violence, it’s this beast mode that redeems the otherwise mercenary Bhaskar. As a human, Bhaskar does little to endear himself to us, but when he’s in the werewolf’s skin, he unleashes righteous rage upon those that threaten the world around him.
In Akshay Kumar’s opening scene in Bachchaan Paandey, he sets a journalist on fire. With a glass eye and a penchant for murder, Kumar’s Bachchhan is menacing until he becomes the subject of Myra’s (Kriti Sanon) film. He goes from threatening to kill Myra to eating dinner with her. The more approachable he becomes to Myra, the less frightening we find him. It does not help that we see him wishing to do the Titanic pose after meeting Sophie (Jacqueline Fernandez). We see a man who cherishes being feared turn into one who just wants to be loved. Is it any wonder that when Myra edits her movie on Bachchhan, it turns out to be a comedy?
Remember the Bryan Adams hit “Everything I do, I Do It For You”? If there was a heavy metal version of that song, it could have been the musical motto for Arjun Kapoor’s Gautam and Bhairav, played by John Abraham, in Ek Villain Returns. Practically everything that the two men do in this film has dumb rage (emphasis on “dumb”) as its cause. Early on, Gautam drives a motorcycle into a wedding hall, makes a fool of his ex and beats up a bunch of people. Bhairav goes around murdering people in ghoulish ways and takes long showers surrounded by dangerous equipment. All this is because the two men are upset about being rejected by women and feel the need to act out in a way that they think will bring them closer to the women they ‘love’. Does any of this make sense? Not really, but then again, isn’t anger supposed to be illogical? And Ek Villain Returns is, without doubt, supremely illogical.
There’s a whole lot of anger and testosterone swirling around Pushkar-Gayatri’s remake of their Tamil hit, but Vedha, played by a smooth and smouldering Hrithik Roshan, is the alpha. Hellbent on avenging his brother and fuelled by grief, Vedha’s anger simmers under a seemingly tranquil surface. His jokes and quips are a distraction because much like The Hulk, Vedha is always angry. Think back to the scene in which he tells a group of thugs to wait a moment before beating him up because he wants to hear “Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe Ho Nisaar” playing on the radio. They don’t wait so Vedha goes berserk. Despite being outnumbered, no one stands a chance against the power of his cold fury. Trust Roshan to make fight scenes crackle with violent chemistry.
If you’re not roaring “WHOA!” every few seconds, are you even really angry? Rishab Shetty’s fantasy action film about a loutish villager who becomes a hero when he’s possessed by a furious divine spirit is one of the most memorable films of the year. While there are many action sequences that map his building anger, nothing beats the climax of Kantara, when Shiva channels an almost cosmic fury. Possessed and fearsome, Shiva, with his wagging tongue, writhing body and wild eyes is mesmerising and terrifying to watch. Few depictions of rage have felt this powerful.
Liger (Vijay Deverakonda) loses his temper at the same things a 14-year-old might – when he’s told he isn’t his “baap ki aulaad”; when a rich bimbette breaks his heart and when another man has an ego as fragile as his. In short, the man is hormonal and unable to control his surging and muddled emotions, which get expressed as anger. Net result: Countless scenes of men screaming at each other; maniacal laughter in the face of violence; and regular bouts of senseless pummelling. Liger’s rage is hard to take seriously. Especially when Liger has his unrequited love on video call during an MMA match so that she can fervently diss him, which ultimately leads him to win the match. You can’t make this stuff up.
“Did you think of flowers when you heard the name Pushpa?” Allu Arjun says at one point in Pushpa. “Flower nahi, fire hai (Think fire, not flower)”. That, in a nutshell, is Arjun’s character in this blockbuster Telugu film. Playing a daily wage labourer who becomes a kingpin in the red sandalwood smuggling trade, Arjun’s performance redefined the classic ‘angry young man’ stereotype, updating him for the present. Simmering in Pushpa’s narrative is a look at privilege, social mobility and power structures. Arjun played a working-class hero and his story packaged difficult realities in massy masala. A major reason for the grim story feeling entertaining was the transformative power of Pushpa’s seething rage. From gestures like the hand slicing the neck to crackling dialogues, everything that Pushpa did set the screen on fire.
Can you pulverise countless men and still have a moral centre? Yes, if you’re Yash playing Rocky, the gold smuggler who becomes so successful, he can, while in conversation with a fictional Indian prime minister, offer to pay off the national debt. In the first film, we were told Rocky is a monster and in K.G.F.: Chapter 2, he’s established as a good monster. Driven by rage (and an equally furious mother), he roars at workers, ordering them to never stop working. He butchers bad guys left, right and centre. Every moment in the film exists to establish Rocky’s machismo. The muscles are oiled, the guns fire 1,000 bullets per second, the violence is blood-soaked, the butchering is constant. In a world filled with villains, the good men must be incandescent with rage at all times and Rocky is just that. Even when he’s delivering quips, they’re laced with anger. Rocky turned anger into a spectacular celebration of inchoate rage.
Perhaps RRR’s heroes and their fury are easy to root for because their anger takes on a more winning, sophisticated form: determination. What else propels a man to leap into a violent mob to nab a belligerent protester and return alive? What else pushes a hero to gatecrash the enemy’s party with a pack of wild animals? We’ve come to expect director S.S. Rajamouli’s heroes to win. And perhaps that is why, rage finds purpose in Raju (Ram Charan Teja) and Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.). It pushes them to roar in the face of a tiger, tear prison gates off their hinges and look dead in the camera as they shoot a grenade-loaded arrow. Without determination, fury might tire itself out. And where’s the space for that in a Rajamouli spectacle?