What is a 'man'? Who is 'he'? About 100 years ago, this question would have firm answers. Today, the idea of a man seems hollow. We're not sure whether the term 'man' has any significant scientific meaning or not.
Sex is pretty clear to us. There is male and female. The anomalies within this binary system are extremely rare. Thus, society does not face a huge challenge while defining sex. Problems arise when gender is based on a person's sexual nature. Science has revealed that sex and gender is not always hand in glove. Both, though related, are separate aspects of human life. Logically, the question that arises next is, what is gender? Thus, who is a man?
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi has Shah Rukh Khan playing two characters: Surinder, run-of-the-mill employee and Raj, run-of-the-mill romantic. These two characters are two personas of the same 'man', Surinder. Throughout the movie, he fluctuates between Surinder and Raj as a ploy to elicit love from his wife Tani. She has no affection for the typical man Surinder but, at first glance, finds Raj attractive. The movie, in essence, is the story of a 'man' in conflict with another 'man'. It even has a meta-cinematic quality because it stars SRK.
After the era of 'Angry Young Man' came the 'Metropolitan Man'. While the likes of Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar banked on a residual fascination for machismo, SRK became the brand ambassador for the new 'Metropolitan Man'. This man was more 'feminine' than his peers but he retained the core values of prevalent masculinity: bravery, athleticism, charm, vigor and sex appeal.
The plot of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi pits a shy, reserved and even more 'feminine' Surinder in conflict with this metropolitan Raj, who embodies SRK's brightest characters; even the name. It does it in the most 'masculine' way possible: who gets the pussy in the end?
Surinder does not know what kind of 'man' he needs to be to garner the approval of his wife. He fulfills the ascribed social role of being an earner, protector and patriarch. Still, his wife is not in love with him. Other plot reasons aside, the main problem is with his own self. He is not sure of who 'he' is supposed to be.
Today, gender is becoming more democratic. Social institutions are accepting the fact that gender is primarily personal. Society can play a role in defining these ideas but it begins and ends with the individual. Gender, to put it simply, is just a definition of who you are. Societies have enforced arbitrary definitions on people throughout history. From physical sciences to philosophical arguments, the mass has succeeded at coercing the individual. Gender was not left alone either. There were obvious benefits of doing this but the drawbacks were hard to ignore, especially today. In a democratic world, the individual gets primacy over the mass. Naturally, the onus is also on the individual.
With definitions of gender, came roles for gender. 'Man' had to fulfill his role in society. So did the 'woman'. Both these definitions and roles were arbitrary. As societies have become more stable and secure, this socio-personal space has become more democratic. Gender roles are evolving. Women are fulfilling their traditional feminine roles and taking on historically masculine roles. As a result, men don't really have a specific social role to fulfill any longer. The 'man' is now socially unemployed. Like Surinder, 'he' is not sure who 'he' is supposed to be.
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi has an answer to that: be who you are. Neither the idea of man is relevant anymore, nor is the idea of woman. They two have coalesced. The traditional definitions are now incompatible. 'Masculine' and 'Feminine' are not as distinct as they were. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi predicted that. Is it a surprise that Surinder's best friend Bobby, is a male 'feminine' hair-stylist? Is it a surprise then that almost all the 21st century Bollywood stars are not traditionally 'masculine'? From Ayushman Khurrana to Rajkumar Rao to Ranbir Kapoor?
Traditional gender lines are being decimated. A new order of things is not clear, yet. Society is in a transitional phase. If gender does become further democratic, the idea of 'man' and 'woman' may not exist. Then, we'll be reduced to our definitions of ourselves. The more I think about it, the more I realize: tomorrow will ask humans to look at themselves more thoroughly than before. We are kind of already doing that with the amount of selfies we click.
Defining our self, thus our gender, can be empowering. It is also challenging. Control comes with responsibility. To be who we are, we must know who we are. Once each human starts defining itself, humanity will be able to create a new social order. Hopefully, it will be more democratic.
In the end, Surinder realizes he must be the 'man' he is and leaves the fate of his relationship in God's court. Tomorrow, we'll be our own Gods.