Angry Young Man and His Troubled Relationship with his Father

Indian cinema’s Angry Young Man surfaced in the 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer. It also hailed the end of a generation of cinema that celebrated the stability and status quo India was facing in the late ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Angry Young Man, in the avatar of Amitabh Bachchan in Bollywood and Rajnikant in Tamil Cinema, was a superhero of the common man’s dream. He was just an aam aadmi (common man), with powers and weaknesses of a regular human being, who has decided to act. As normal Indians are afraid of challenging their fate in reality, the Angry Young Man fulfilled the dream they could vicariously live.

However, the Angry Young Man, especially the roles played by Amitabh Bachchan, has a special distinction. He is almost always with an absent or a dead father. And when the father is present, he is in a deeply troubled relationship with him.

Let us probe this issue a little more. In more than fifty films, from Zanjeer (1973) to the recent Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap (2011), the Angry Young Man’s character tries to restore justice, honour and dignity for himself, his family and the people around him. Except for Inquilab (1984), his fight concerns the personal space of family. And in India, who is the archetypal head of the family?

Modeled on a feudal outlook, the post-independence Indian Government framed all types of taxation, laws and governance policies, primarily on the basis of an undivided family; be it Hindu or Muslim. The unquestionable authority of the Prime Minister, other Ministers, the Supreme Court, its Judges and the Police entail from such an outlook.

The tapering figure of the father figure is central to a society and its citizens. In America, there may be a faltering loyalty to Uncle Sam. But in India, it is the father who wields the law.

In Lacanian Psychology, a male child constructs his identity throughout his growing years, by internalizing the name of the father. In short, the name of the father can be equated to the child’s position in the lawful order of the society, in its norms and customs. In contrast, an imaginary father is the figure that sets the child out to the world, alone and cut off from the peace of his mother’s lap… the blissful security lost after the child becomes adult.

In all the films from the Angry Young Man genre, Amitabh or Rajnikant, crave to return to their mother’s lap. In Deewar, the character Vijay, in his last words to his mother, says “Tujhse dur rehkar mujhe kabhi neend nahi aayi maa! Main kabhi nahi so saka maa! Aaj phir mera sar tumhari god mein hai maa. Ek bar phir mujhe sula do maa!” (I could never sleep staying away from you mom! I could never really sleep. Today, again, my head is in your lap. Put me to sleep once again!). By killing or compromising the imaginary father, and making peace with symbolic father, the Angry Young Man finishes his journey in his mother’s lap, thus finishing a cycle of action with his real father.

When the real, imaginary and symbolic fathers can not be separated, the Angry Young Man emerges. In a very simplistic, almost fairy tale overview of life, this almost always happens in Bollywood.

Among all the Angry Young Man films, Amitabh’s character actually has a real but a flawed father only in Laawaris (1981), Sharaabi (1984) Aakhree Raasta (1986) and most significantly Shakti (1982). Only four out of around fifty films where he played the role of an Angry Young Man. In almost all other films, the father is dead, mostly killed by an enemy, thus setting Vijay (meaning Victory, Amitabh’s name in most of the movies belonging to this genre) on a road to vengeance.

But that does not make the Angry Young Man’s disturbed relationship with the father a myth. In the absence of a real father, the child clutches the imaginary father in a very ambivalent way and makes it a friend and an enemy both. In officially first film of the Angry Young Man genre, Zanjeer, the hero (Vijay, again) grows up to be a police officer who’s obsessed with upholding the law (the imaginary father’s one side) and wiping out evil(the imaginary father’s other side). To complete the journey, the hero must know the name of the father. Hence, in Zanjeer, as in Shahenshah (1987), he decides to punish the bad on his own. However, it is significant that he never negates the law. He merely supplements its execution.

In this way, the Angry Young Man’s journey never collides with the ideology of the powerful class or that of the State. In fact, it is not surprising that this character was nurtured more carefully in the post-emergency India, as he talks in favour of tradition, a classless society and power structure. The hero rarely talks about bigger issues. Even when he does, as in Coolie (1982) or Inquilab (1984), he is more concerned about solving his personal problems. That actually made the character a sociological stereotype and called for a change in Bollywood’s prime genre at the end of the ‘80s, which gave birth to the dark hero, as in Baazigar (1993) or Khalnayak (1993).

The hero wants to salvage his pride (because of birth), bad karma (for good means) and lack of security as he grows up. Hence, even in a romantic film like Mili (1975), the Angry Young Man’s psyche surfaces, and the reason is the same – a shame of father’s (or parents’) deed. The ultimate goal is always to be at peace with the father, real or symbolic, by the end of the film.

Hence, it’s not surprising that nowadays the Angry Young Man comes back as the father figure himself. From a Fruedian point of view, that is how it should happen. At the end of the journey the child succeeds in becoming the father himself.

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