09/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bollywood Heroes Become A Little More Human

By Mansi Poddar From determined farmer to disco dancer, angry young man to romantic lover, the Bollywood hero has had many avatars, but in each, he has been epitomised. Our male protagonists have been able to outrace a car with a bullock cart, single-handedly vanquish fifteen villains, and always get the girl. They have been unbeatable, untouchable - perfect.

But not anymore. A new spate of movies is set to break this mould, centering on heroes that are not necessarily perfect example of their species. And this is not arty, alternative cinema, but mainstream Bollywood flicks starring some of the biggest actors in the industry, including Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Shahid Kapoor.

In Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey, due to release this Friday, Shahid Kapoor has a double role, where he plays estranged twin brothers. The movie is marketed as a "dark comic ride", and boasts all the ingredients of a box office success - guns, drugs, hit songs, and leading actress Priyanka Chopra in a wet white tank top. Shahid too, is the ultimate hero - muscles bulging, he runs with wild horses, seduces women, and parties hard. But, there's a difference. Both twins have extremely noticeable speech defects - one stutters, and the other lisps. The fact that the heroes of such a big production suffer from syndromes much ridiculed in Indian society is unusual indeed, and has been the cause of much speculation in the media.

Karan Johar, famous for his candy floss blockbusters, is now working on My Name is Khan, a film whose protagonist suffers from Asperger's Syndrome (a mild form of Autism, made famous by Forrest Gump and Rain Man), and who is picked up by American authorities in the wake of 9/11, who mistaken his disability for suspicious behavior. The film is apparently based on a true story. Shah Rukh Khan, who is playing the lead character as well as co-producing the movie, told a daily here that the movie is "not about a disabled man's fight against disability. It's a disabled man's fight against the disability that exists in the world -- terrorism, hatred, fighting." My Name is Khan is slated for a February 2010 release, and coincides with three Hollywood upcoming films that also feature Asperger's Syndrome, including Adam.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, one of India's few leading directors who has tackled disabilities in his past movies, has begun shooting for his next, Guzarish, in which India's version of Sly Stallone - Hrithik Roshan, will play a paraplegic, paralysed from his waist up and confined to a wheelchair for most of the film. The film is rumored to also deal with euthanasia and stars former Miss World Aishwarya Rai. Fans of Hrithik Roshan's famous dance moves and action sequences, both of which will be amply showcased in his upcoming home production Kites, are bound to be disappointed.

It is true that some Indian movies in the past have featured main roles with disabilities - Kajol, a leading actress who will star in My Name is Khan recently played a visually impaired woman, and Rani Mukherjee essayed the role of a visual, hearing and speech impaired girl in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black. But heroes, especially those portrayed by big-named leading men, have until now, been largely untouchable. These upcoming movies, along with spreading awareness of conditions like Asperger's Syndrome and paraplegia, will also hopefully pave the way for an era of protagonists who along with being perfect lovers, dancers, fighters, and sons, will also be just a little more real, and human.