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Ludo Steps Away From On-Screen Toxic Masculinity With Its Vulnerable Strong Men

Posted: November 14, 2020

Ludo has been garnering great reviews as an entertainer, but it is also refreshing to have a cast of male characters who are vulnerable, ‘soft’ and real.

Following its release on Netflix, Ludo has been garnering great reviews from viewers and from critics.

A dark comedy that follows five separate subplots that intersect and influence each other, it is entertaining and hilarious, while also delivering deeper messages about love, in all its forms, and about how good and evil are not absolutes. It is whimsical and light, even in its darkest moments.

On the whole, Ludo is a decent watch (if one enjoys dark comedy – it is not a genre for everybody!).

What I enjoyed the most about the film though, is its treatment of its characters, especially of the male leads — Pankaj Tripathi, Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Rohit Saraf.

A vulnerable gangster

Pankaj Tripathi, as always is brilliant, in his role as Rahul Satyendra ‘Sattu Bhaiya’ Tripathi, a gangster, whose presence is central to the movie. One may, if one wants to, call him the chief antagonist of the movie. Indeed, till the very end, he doesn’t show much remorse for his actions.

However, even this ‘negative’ character, who murders and threatens with impunity, has been endowed with moments of vulnerability. We can see that he is hurt by the fact that no one – not even his henchmen – really cares whether he lives or dies. So when the nurse taking care of him in the hospital (Shalini Vatsa, playing Lata chechi) shows him a bit of genuine care, he attaches himself to her.

Manic pixie dream boy

Aditya Roy Kapoor, playing Akash, is the male version of the ‘manic pixie dream girl.’

Here, Sanya Malhotra plays Shruti, the practical woman, who is determined to marry a rich man who can keep her comfortable for life. When a video surfaces on a porn site, a few days before her wedding, of her having sex with Akash, they must band together to get it taken down before her fiancé sees it and breaks off the wedding.

It is refreshing to see how Akash is not possessive of her, even though he has feelings for her. He teases her, for being a ‘gold digger’ but is also understanding of her – there is no bitterness here.

I especially appreciate how Aman Bhagat, who plays Sanya’s fiancé, isn’t lazily cast as the ‘rich but mean’ guy. He is genuinely nice and supportive of her – which is why her conflict is not as simple as rich guy vs poor guy.

A friend in need, even if ‘friend-zoned’

In a similar way, Rajkummar Rao’s Alok, must also deal with the fact that the woman he loves (Fatima Sana Shaikh, playing Pinky), is married to someone else, who doesn’t value her.

He is a quirky character, who cries freely, and who breaks into dance moves when he is overwhelmed by emotion. He doesn’t like it that she is married to someone else, but he doesn’t sulk or complain about being ‘friend zoned.’ Instead when she approaches him for help, he gives it freely, expecting nothing in return. He realizes, that he is probably being taken advantage of, but his love is greater than his ego.

Rohit Saraf’s role as Rahul, is not the best written of the lot, but he too portrays a soft and vulnerable man. He is not a ‘hero’ and it shows.

The violent man in need of a child’s love

It is Abhishek Bachchan as Bittu, who is getting the most praise. And truly, his scenes with Mini (Inayat Verma) are beautiful and moving. His pain at being separated from his daughter, and his bittersweet joy at being able to receive something like that lost love from Mini, are poignant.

Even though he is a violent man, the movie chooses to focus on his tender side. I could honestly have seen a lot more of this subplot.

Flawed, real men, flawed, real women

We don’t usually see men like these in Hindi cinema. Men who are not larger than life; men who are ‘losers’; men who are not stoically bearing the burden of pain, but who honestly express it. Usually, the only emotion allowed to men is anger – but here, there is a genuine range.

It would have been easy to show the women as merely manipulative and as ‘cheaters’ or ‘gold diggers,’ but the movie is smarter. Even though the female characters are not always as well written as their male counterparts, it doesn’t rely on lazy stereotypes for them. It does not pull the women down to push the men up.

Ludo is not entirely without problems. A line of dialogue that is a derogatory reference to Dalit Bahujan Adivasi communities is receiving some criticism. One of the characters is a Malayali, and while it mostly manages to avoid the “all south Indians are Madrasis” syndrome that Bollywood usually suffers from, there are stray scenes where it doesn’t hold up. There is quite a bit of violence (which, even though it is presented comically, is still something that may be troubling to some viewers.)

Ludo pulls off a subtle magic, by eschewing the toxic masculinity that usually rules our screens, in favour of these other masculinities – each different and unique, that shows us the men as they are – flawed, broken, helpless, rather than as supermen with extra-large egos. I’m all for more men like these on screen!

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