In the beginning was Salman Khan and the word was Dabangg. Ever since Sallu bhaiyya outdid every other star's box-office record with his brother's film, by playing the buffoon and dumbing down to hitherto unimagined levels , every other actor worth his namak has had his Dabangg moment: Shah Rukh Khan with Chennai Express, Ranbir Kapoor with Besharam and Shahid Kapur with Phata Poster Nikla Hero.
In Bollywood, the Dabangg moment is obviously the zeitgeist mantra for success. It's a deadly mix of kitsch, canny box-office salability and a dollop of self-deprecating humour.
What's more, it's not even a new phenomenon: film makers have been in on the ploy for a long time and half the fun's been in having people play against type: Bandra boy Aamir Khan sang Aati kya Khandala, mimicking the tapori idiom to perfection, city slicker Anil Kapoor assumed street cred in Ram Lakhan, Sanjay Dutt -- whose pedigree works as a nice counterpoint to every thing else he does -- swaggered gloriously in Munna bhai style, and even the Winchester-educated Saif Ali Khan hobbled around convincingly as Langda Tyagi in Omkara.
Here, one of the in-jokes had been watching how the high and mighty could get down and dirty and become one of the people.
Until the 1990s, it was more or less the tapori route that had them excited. You know the one I'm referring to, where the hero struts his Bambaiya Hindi on mean streets with panache and a sly wink about the ridiculousness of it all?
Later, with the success of films like Bunty or Babli, and the oeuvre of film makers like Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap, a new way to meet and greet the lowest common denominator in audiences was institutionalised, this time through the character of the badass from the Uttar Pradesh badlands.
Either way, it's proven that Indian audiences - be they in multiplexes or flea-infested one-screen cinema halls -- like to watch their stars play dumb. And the Dabangg moment is not exclusive to Bollywood alone. On TV shows like Bigg Boss and The Bachelorette India -- Mere Khayalon Ki Mallika; in music, Honey Singh and Hard Kaur; in popular fiction, writers like Chetan Bhagat and most of the chick-flickers; and in the media, entertainment supplements and advertorials have played out this idiom to great success.
So what is this syndrome that is driving people to dumb down so ferociously?
One explanation could be that even as India climbed up the economic ladder and became increasingly globalised and internationally recognised, one part of the Indian soul longed to connect with a more homegrown earthy avatar.
Is it a collective guilt that drives people to embrace the unsophisticated rustic in their midst? Or is it just canny box-office logic that realises that happiness lies in numbers, and it is mass not class that brings in the moolah?
And (scary thought) could this impulse be dictating the political narrative too?
Think about it, one of the key reservations to Rahul Gandhi and the Congress has been its culture of entitlement. People like Shashi Tharoor Kapil Sibal, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia have all been criticised at one time or another for their effete and over-refined approach and for coming across as precious, mannered and out of touch with the Indian reality and its people.
Is that the reason for Rahul's press conference at the Press Club of India in which he set aside his upper-class chops and said it like it was? Will it go down in history as Rahul's Dabangg moment?
Designer: Uday Kuckian