Hollywood Vs Bollywood: Two Movies In Unabashed Glorification Of The Antihero!

It just happened that I watched two movies from Hollywood and Bollywood respectively, back-to-back, and was amazed to find both movies singing paeans in praise of the antiheros, depicting their deeds in an unabashedly graphic way and even justifying it by highlighting a few ‘humanitarian’ qualities in their characters. Both movies are nearly 3-hour long, and yet not having a dull moment; both are marked by their relative reliance on machismo, black comedy and violence. The first movie, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013) directed by renowned new-era Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese, I happened to watch by chance as it was available on Amazon Prime Video and also due to the fact that I greatly enjoyed the director’s two films, ‘The Departed’ (2006) and ‘Shutter Island’ (2010) recently, those two movies being part of Scorsese’s successful collaboration with the ‘Titanic’ (1997) sensation Leonardo DiCaprio which yielded four critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies so far. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is also critically acclaimed with some reservations though and is the director’s highest grossing movie ever. The movie also has earned a unique distinction of creating a Guinness Book World Record for the maximum use of swear words.


Immediately after that ‘watch’ the details of which I’ll come to later I watched the new Hollywood (well, not exactly Hollywood as the original Telegu movie from Andhra Pradesh was also released in the Hindi dubbed version along with in other Southern languages) movie ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ that released in theaters on 17th December 2021 and its digital rights are bought by Amazon Prime Video. Made with a huge budget of between Rs. 2 to 2.5 billion the antihero movie, replete with all the masala ingredients of a Hindi formula film, has already grossed nearly Rs. 3.5 billion across the globe. The movie is directed by Sukumar B who is a director-producer-writer of the Telegu film industry and his first film ‘Arya’ (2004) was a huge commercial success that made him a star filmmaker in Andhra Pradesh.


‘Pushpa:  The Rise’ is focused on the smuggling of a rare variety of wood, red sanders, that is found only in the Seshachalam Hills in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, by a syndicate headed by a politician commanding an assortment of mafia lords spread over Southern India. The protagonist Pushpa Raj, the antihero, is played by the Telegu superstar Allu Arjun who carries the movie forward effortlessly and successfully in more or less as a one-man show. An ambitious daily laborer Pushpa, with his birth shrouded in illegitimacy, in his immaculate showmanship masculinity and a creative genius opts for the high-paying and high-risk smuggling of red sanders job, and starts to rise in stature and power. He finds an equally ambitious Bihari laborer Kesava (played by Jagadeesh Prathap Bandari) who is Pushpa’s devout admirer and the duo sticks on till the end of the movie with really enjoyable comic interludes.


In the process of his ‘rise’ Pushpa wins over a prominent mafia lord displaying his ‘genius’ in evolving unique cost-effective ‘smuggling of the wood’ methods which involve passing the police network sans bribing them too much and then on to the international destinations like Japan and China. His eternal quest for a higher price for the precious wood as the ultimate objective Pushpa comes into conflict with other mafia lords leading to inter-gang rivalries. This opens up a saga of bloody violence, murders, rampant corruption in the cops and moral decadence which finally culminates with the syndicate head declaring Pushpa Raj as the chief of all smuggling operations. With a sequel of the movie already slated for release by end of 2022 the story ends with Pushpa’s marriage and an unusual climax with the new police chief Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat (played by Fahadh Faasil, appearing only toward the end) which had better stay unrevealed.


And what are Pushpa’s ‘humane’ qualities? Well, his compassion for his the downtrodden; his devoted love for the dignity and position of his mother; and his chivalrous love and admiration for the part-time heroine Srivalli (played by Rashmika Mandanna) whom he rescues from the clutch of a sick womanizing son of a mafia lord. The entire storytelling is predictable and a run-of-the-mill approach all the way; but as we said earlier the film is a thorough entertainer with hardly a dull moment.


‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ tells the biographical story of a real-life personality, Jordan Belfort (played over the top by Leonardo DiCaprio), in a crime black comedy genre that Scorsese comes back to after the pure crime-gangster genre that yielded several significant films in collaboration with actor Robert De Niro since the early eighties. Jordan Belfort too is a very ambitious antihero who believes in making the quick bucks irrespective of any scruples involved in the process. His starts his career as a stockbroker in a New York in firm where he finds his Guru who preaches using the drug-sex syndrome combined with the ‘pump and dump’ policy for success in stockbroking, and fully imbibes the glorious principles of success. After several stints he finds a devout admirer-friend-neighbor of his, Donnie Azoff (played by famed comedian Jonah Hill, representing a real-life person named Danny Porush), and the duo creates their own brokerage firm ‘Stratton Oakmont’ bringing in several like-minded trainee brokers.


Inspired by the ‘pump and dump’ policy the firm initiates a saga of cheating thousands of potential investors of their millions, creating their own millions distributed in various international bank accounts, inducing or forcing relatives/acquaintances into helping them keep the money safe in the Swish accounts, orchestrating the drug-sex fueled maniacal motivational speeches by Jordan to keep his Heads and employees ever focused on the phone, and unleashing an endless graphic depiction of rampant drug abuse, foulest of words, machismo, objectifying women, unsparing nudity and explicit sexual orgies.


Without being an official part of the New York stock exchange, the saga of frauds goes on unabated with the narrative never preferring to take a look back at those cheated mercilessly and the sins of the protagonist who from the beginning boasts of his immense wealth and properties including prominently, his luxurious yachts. Although the movie tries to show the antihero’s supposed downfall with the investigating FBI and a court case indicting his frauds, the antihero manages a ‘deal’ that results in his imprisonment for effectively only 22 months, and the film ends with the glorious return of Jordan Belfort as a motivational speaker; what exactly he is ‘motivating’ the young people for is, however, not made clear.


Of course, the real-life Belfort went on making money by his role of a celebrated motivator after the imprisonment, earning millions by writing a book of memoir and then more millions by selling the book’s film rights. What then are the ‘humane’ values of Belfort apart from being a sex and drug addict? Well, he is compassionate to fellow human beings coming to him for help; he loves his wives at various points of their togetherness; he really expresses his gratitude to his friends; he has a strong sense of humor; and he is an exceptional orator.


Antihero movies are not at all in short supply either in Hollywood or Bollywood and most of these are commercial hits. Why the triumph of the evil and the ‘humanity’ of the villains never fail to appeal to the viewers or readers? Perhaps, because they find the antiheros capable of doing things that they dare not or never want to do even if they enjoy fantasizing about that. While in Hollywood the morally decadent antihero movies are unabashedly non-conformist to conservative values the Bollywood antihero movies do try very hard to give a Robin Hood image to them or to justify their emergence due to tragic unjust circumstantial backgrounds. The ever-potent appeal of the antiheros could very well be the reason for the craze of the young people for negative publicity, particularly in India. 


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