Nathan Rabin first coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to mock Kirsten Dunst’s “psychotically bubbly stewardess” from Elizabethtown (2005). In an industry dominated by male voices, such characters often exist solely to serve the male imagination; their free-spiritedness, in contrast to the brooding intensity of their male counterparts, help the men, and in turn the audience, discover a newfound love for life.
This is what makes the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Boy so interesting- first used by Matt Patches to describe Ansel Elgort’s all-encompassing ‘bad boy’ in The Fault in Our Stars (2014). These men also serve to change the lives of others. They are also free-spirited, and like in Rabin’s words, “belong in some magical, otherworldly realm.” We often see manic pixie dream boys breaking rules and interfering, with good intentions, in the lives of other men and women; as Patches described, they can be “everything everyone wants in their lives.”
Here I list my five favorite Hindi film characters who fit this trope:
This, to me, is the archetypal manic pixie dream boy of Hindi Cinema. Despite his terminal illness, Anand (Rajesh Khanna) is relentlessly optimistic and makes it his life’s purpose to improve the outlook of his foil, Bhaskar Banerjee. To understand the philosophical difference between the central characters is to understand the contrast between Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli and Maut Tu Ek Kavita Hai- the former celebrates the enigmas of life while the latter celebrates the poetry of death. I also find it fascinating that he, like the two characters below him on this list, is inspired by Raj Kapoor. Anand also inspired Kal Ho Naa Ho and the filmography of Rajkumar Hirani- which goes to show just how influential this movie has been.
Unlike the other characters on the list, we see the origin story of Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) clearly from the beginning, rather than as a reveal in the end. But even there, he serves to fulfil the fantasies of Simran, shown exquisitely through the sport sequences in Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye. He is gifted with the most well-rounded and infectious charisma amongst Indian men- he hunts with Kuljeet, plays chess with Ajit, feeds pigeons with Baldev, serves Lassi for Lajjo, chooses saris for Kammo, opens jars for Preeti- all whilst loving Simran and befriending one-and-all. Raj is the post-liberalization Indian dream, and as Rajeshwari says, everyone’s looking for Raj.
Another Raj, another Shah Rukh Khan character written by Aditya Chopra- this one’s the most meta take on the manic pixie dream boy trope because Suri manufactures it to impress his wife, Taani. The emotional manipulation aside, Raj is at once parodying the trope and personifying the insecurities of shy Indian men who fail to emulate these tropes from Hindi movies. Like all manic pixie dream boys, Raj exists entirely to fulfill the wishes and fantasies of Taani. The difference between Suri and his alter-ego Raj can be understood through the complete tonal contrast between Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte and Haule Haule- the first is the most unabashed proclamation of romance while the latter is a subtle and delicate confession of love.
Not only is this the most remarkable example of the ‘inner life’ of manic pixie dream characters being far less discernible, but this is also the sole prodigal genius on this list. Like the others, and like every Rajkumar Hirani protagonist, he (Aamir Khan) is a ray of sunshine convincing the world to embrace better things- whether it is Farhan embracing wildlife photography, Raju embracing fearless rational thinking, Pia embracing love and romance, and Virus embracing that there’s far more to life than just engineering and academia. If anything, he is the most ‘magical, otherworldly’ of these characters: he effortlessly cheats for his friend, generates electricity, and revives a stillborn baby- all during the same night of heavy rainstorms and emotional catharses.
Like Raj Malhotra, Sunny (Farhan Akhtar) is admired by men, women, and children alike. We see desi aunties vivaciously extoling his virtues and hoping to marry their daughters off with him. He is the feminist ally standing up for Ayesha’s right to agency and independence against her husband’s casual sexism; he also shares deep kinship with Kabir, as seen from the men dancing vibrantly to 'Gallan Goodiyan'. He is the Yale-educated suave photographer with a successful career; he is also the dutiful son paying back his father’s employers who funded his Yale education. Most importantly, he only appears later in the film, hence he primarily exists in the film to serve Ayesha. Sunny is everything everyone is looking for, like every manic pixie dream boy.