The Beta Male


The Beta Male

If Saif Ali Khan, the two male Bachchans, eleven cricketers, one Mr India, a clutch of fashion designers and top ten billionaires on a business magazine’s annual list are our idea of urban manhood, it’s time to challenge the story. Publicity, the tyrannous image manager of our everyday fascinations, is the villain of this piece. To cross its neon-lit path and manufacture consent (as Noam Chomsky would say) for the Beta Male may not be easy. Whether we learn this in school or in the newsroom, one of the criteria of what constitutes a writeable idea is significance. Significance which denotes bigness, muchness or success. So in news, ten deaths are more important than one; Shahrukh Khan is more important than P. Chidambaram; the booze sponsor of a party is more important than the celebration itself. And who cares about ngo workers in any case.

So caught up is ambitious urban India with publicity-powered personalities and their bubble reputations that it forgets to clap for small but lasting stories. In the media, few of us say these things fearing no one will hear them. We are obsessed with variations of the Alpha male and his numerous conquests. They are hothouse plants that flower only in the limelight by hanging out in the open their gigantic engagement rings, marriages, divorces, holidays, charities and live-in relationships.

Who says a man must be on some A-list to be part of the new Indian manhood debate?

But who says a man must be on the cover of a magazine or on some A-list for being the most sexy, most divorced, most rich, most kissed or kissable to be a part of the new Indian manhood debate? What about the rest—Tom, Daniyal and Hari, the regular guys? The miserly neighbour with a silly grin. The cute piano tutor with an old-style moustache. The friend of friend whose curtains have oil stains on them. Someone who has never shopped for sex at Las Vegas, for suits at Browns, owned an Armani watch or handled a cigar. Whose girlfriend is not an Oxford-returned, modern, conscious Bharatiya patriot. Who doesn’t care that sushi must be eaten with wasabi and soya sauce with a pair of chopsticks. Who is intelligent, suave, sexy, tall, committed and well placed but doesn’t send out press releases on every bracelet he gifts his wife.

Let’s make way for the Beta Male. Not as a runner-up to the Alpha Male but as the real man, the young urban Indian with ambition and passion but without a publicity manager. Work in progress. A Maoist, a jholawalla, a feminist, a failed actor, a badly dressed guy, an unshaven nobody who just earns enough to keep the homefires burning. A man who is meaningful but not mighty. Who can bake a cake and eat it too. Actor Om Puri recently said that when he first came to Bombay, he had no takers as he looked like nothing: neither a hero, a villain nor even a comedian. That’s our Beta guy.

The most powerful insights come from small stories. Here are some in these pages. A Refusenik—not a draft dodger—but someone who says no to Blackberry and Twitter and no to dyeing his hair or shaving his chest; men who cry in public; villains who have lost their plot in cinema because the hero has become the very bad guy; middle-class men who buy cheap handycams to star in their own porn films; a male Bharatanatyam dancer who has eroticised maleness but put off the macho switch in his brain forever; the ponderings of a queer writer seeking a world beyond gay parties; the best bikini babes of one of India’s top fashion photographers; and the unedited pet hates of an adman.

Is the Beta Male then our new leading man? Well, the idea is to shift the gaze away from the hero and see if supporting actors can open up possibilities of thought, humour, wonder and debate that leading men cannot. A hero is limited by the pressure of always getting it right and so becomes predictable, anti-risk, even unimaginative with his know-it-all sense of external control. But the Beta Male as work in progress isn’t stressed out about goofing up. If he falls, he picks himself up and runs again. What do we want? Men who are at it to survive and thrive or men at illusionary destinations of success who give TV bites on the philosophy of a Rs 3 crore diamond ring?

The young Indian Beta Male, self-centred, teary-eyed, a little too blase, a little bit of a braggart is nevertheless the son, the moon and the star in his own life.

Let’s at least give him the best debut of the year award.