The action hero in Bollywood died when Shah Rukh Khan spread his arms wide standing in a mustard field in Gurgaon. Not only Kajol but all the women in India sitting in the theatre watching that very scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at that very moment had made Shah Rukh Khan the man of their dreams. And that announced the death knell for an era that began with Amitabh Bachchan and continued with Mithun Chakroborty, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Suniel Shetty.
Amitabh had an abysmal stretch throughout the '90s till he finally re-invented himself as the grand, old patriarch in Mohabbatein. Mithun vanished. Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty switched to comedy. Ajay Devgn began experimenting, with an Ishq here and a Zakhm there. Somehow, Sanjay Dutt and Sunny Deol persisted with their action films even though their stardom was dying a slow death with the star-graph of the three chocolate heroes, the Khans, rising.
Action in Bollywood films saw a kind of a comeback with Hrithik Roshan's muscles wreaking havoc on Mohnish Behl and Ashish Vidyarthi in Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai. This was followed by John Abraham's Vin Diesel-routine in Dhoom. But these actors never really embraced the baton of a true-blue action star. An action star a la Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis is all about muscles, grime, hand-to-hand combat, and most importantly, cheesy but funny one-liners. The so-called '80s-action film became an artifact and in the 2000s, a new kind of action cinema and action heroes were making their presence felt throughout the world.
Watch college kids trying to figure out the correct '80s action movie:
With the international success of The Matrix, X-Men and John Woo's action films from Hong Kong, martial arts-based action cinema with fast cars, rapid-fire action and yeah, slow motion, was becoming highly popular. This produced an entirely new range of international action superstars - more in the mould of Bruce Lee than Chuck Norris - such as Jason Staham, Tony Jaa, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, etc.
Where was our Indian counterpart? Romance had found a foothold with the Khans. Sex found its icon in Emraan Hashmi. 'Intelligent cinema' found their faces in Manoj, Nawazuddin and Irrfan. Ranbir, Varun and Ranveer became the next-gen all-round superstars. But where was the action hero!?
Enter Tiger Shroff.
Watch Whistle Baja from Heropanti here:
When Tiger Shroff made his debut in Heropanti, people noticed that he dances well and does action scenes even better. His role did not demand much acting and Tiger certainly was no thespian. In fact, green behind the ears, Tiger could only manage a school boy's smile and a clenched jaw-angry look that he maintained consistently while kicking ass. But who cares? The film whistle-bajaoed its way to box-office gold and that was that.
Tiger's next two film choices Baaghi and A Flying Jatt were crafted on the same template: stunts, action scenes and dance. Three things Tiger is exceptionally good at. And Tiger's slowly developing fandom could not have enough of him. They had found their hero. They had found a mascot. Here was a guy who could fly kick at heights of above ten-twelve feet and he could do it with ease, in full public view, without any ropes or other contraptions. Tiger looked authentic and felt authentic. This was the real deal. Our very own Jet Li.
Watch Tiger Shroff's masterclass in fly-kicks here:
Interestingly, among the current crop of actors, only Tiger Shroff seems to be concerned about building a star-image of any kind. While Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Sidharth Malhotra, Sushant Singh Rajput, etc. are trying out various kinds of films belonging to different genres with marquee directors, Tiger is content and unshakable in his action-hero space. Tiger is doing his next film Munna Michael (again, a dance-based film and expect action in it too) with Sabbir Khan who has directed two out of three Tiger Shroff films till date. The other films attached to him, at this point, are no critics' choice-material anyway.
But Tiger does not care about all that. He is good at the few things he does and is trying to shape a career specifically focusing on that. Of course, it is a fact that Sanju baba, Sunny Deol or Arnie and Stallone were credible actors as well and over time, they gradually made a mark in films that demanded more than just flexing muscles.
Tiger, however, has just turned twenty seven this year. He is still young. Lots of heights to scale. And still, there is time left to switch genres and experiment. At the end of the day, he has Jackie Shroff's blood running in him. Jackie could own the screen with his left pinkie and even though genetics never really guarantee talent, there is much in this young lad to feel hopeful about his future and the future of Bollywood action cinema.
And if he fails us, there's always Vidyut Jamwal.
(The writer tweets as @devarsighosh.)