A Definitive Ranking of Men’s Facial Hair in Classic Bollywood Films

Raj Kapoor in a promotional photograph for Dil Hi To Hai sporting an 'm' mustache.

Raj Kapoor in a promotional photograph for Dil Hi To Hai (1963) sporting a suave ‘m’ mustache.

Happy Movember! This lovely time of year is a month when men around the world grow out their mustaches to change the face of men’s healthcare–such as through raising awareness for prostate and testicular cancer. Read more about the Movember Foundation here!

Inspired by this movement, today we present a definitive ranking of men’s facial hair in classic Bollywood films, a photographic indulgence of every important mustache and beard that hit the silver screens of Bombay and then bounced straight into our souls. And God knows we needed something this in our lives after that f*$&ing insane apocalypse difficult election week. But be forewarned, some of these manes can bite–and others might make you suddenly feel itchy. Most of all, that fluttering sensation in your chest like a fluffy mustache tickling your heart–that’s called love.

A Definitive Ranking of Men’s Facial Hair in Classic Bollywood Films

15. Kishore Kumar’s waxed perfection in Padosan (1968)

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His mustache is basically a pair of angel wings.

14. Shashi Kapoor’s deadly combo in Chor Sipahee (1979)

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Shashi shines in a shaggy beard and a full-bodied mustache with just a hint of delicate curl. Looking bad never looked so good.

13. Amitabh Bachhan’s full coverage in Do Anjaane (1976)

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Amitabh goes incognito behind a blanket of his generous wool.

12. Pradeep Kumar’s Mughal-style beard in Taj Mahal (1963)

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The Mughals were champions of many things including the artistry of a man’s face. Note the paintbrush side-burns that complete this regal look.

11. Rishi Kapoor’s bad boy scruff in Laila Manju (1979)

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Rishi may be dying of thirst, but his scruff is on fleek right now.

10. Pran’s proud Pathan mane in Zanjeer (1973)

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Pran is a class act as a Pathan sporting a well-tamed auburn fur coating.

9. Vinod Khanna’s caterpillar mustache in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977)

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Something alive might actually be crawling on his face. Something beautiful and shimmering.

8. Shammi Kapoor’s fluffy goatee in Professor (1962)

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While this look should never be tried at home, Shammi’s iconic goatee made men of boys.

7. Jeetendra’s provocative chevron mustache in Parichay (1972)

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The only thing fuzzier than the tuft of fur nestled in the dimple of Jeetendra’s upper lip is his vision through those thick hipster lenses.

6. Dev Anand’s curly mustache in Hum Dono (1961)

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Thoughtful, courteous, and deadly–the curly mustache of Dev Anand is nothing short of a war hero.

5. Manoj Kumar’s patriotic handlebar in Shaheed (1965)

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Because nothing quite says “Inquilab Zindabad” like a well-trimmed mustache.

4. Raj Kapoor’s pyramidal mustache in Awaara (1951)

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Once a classic, always a classic. The Egyptians building Giza had no idea what they were inspiring.

3. Rajesh Khanna’s hipster beard in Do Raaste (1969)

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Be still my beating heart. I bet there’s a dozen plaid shirts in his closet, and that he listens to actual CDs on his walkman because he just wants to be authentic.

2. Guru Dutt’s emotional mustache in Pyaasa (1957)

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The only thing quivering more than Guru Dutt’s voice is the 4 mm diameter patch of heaven resting on his upper lip

1. WINNER: Rajkumar’s devastating pencil mustache in Pakeezah (1972)

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I DIE THE SWEET DEATH BY LOVE OF A MUSTACHE. There are few things in life greater than this show-stealing masterpiece of men’s grooming.

Men, time to take a hard look in the mirror and evaluate if you’re really bringing your full potential to the world. And remember, just because we all love to see a little facial hair in November, it is NEVER OK to flash your chest hair in public in broad daylight à la Amitabh Bachhan, even if it’s just an unsightly tuft from your too-many-buttons-unbuttoned polo shirt. The 70s are over. These things are not equivalent. I just felt like that had to be said.

You’re welcome.

– Mrs. 55

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Guru Dutt and the Struggle to Break Free of Convention

Guru Dutt’s poetic magnum opus, Pyaasa (1957), is often considered among the greatest cinematic achievements of all time, easily among the top 30 greatest Bollywood films ever made. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find someone more defensive of the genius that is Guru Dutt than yours truly. Pyaasa is an evocative film that explores one man’s search for humanism in the cold cynicism of post-independence Indian society. People often contrast Guru Dutt with his contemporary, famed actor and director Raj Kapoor, who shot hits like Shree 420 (1955)–a song-laden, fun rags-to-riches story with a clean happy ending. In contrast, the melancholic, disillusioned tone of Guru Dutt’s poetic films usually leave me feeling like my heart has been slowly torn out, but so beautifully done, I don’t even want it back anymore.

But I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and ask those who know and love both films, does it not seem that Pyaasa and Shree 420 both actually stemmed from the same reaction to the ideals of Nehru’s India under the “mandate of modernization?” Perhaps the creed of the heroic tramp of Shree 420 that spoke to the working masses is not so far from that of the starving poet of Pyaasa that stirred the minds of the intelligentsia. When Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt, or any contemporary film-maker for that matter, sought to fill a void in their country’s cinema, despite such seemingly different approaches, they represented the emotions and wants of the same people. When you look closely, in fact, Pyaasa falls into many traps of the very conventions Guru Dutt wanted to break.

According to Raj Khosla, Guru Dutt believed the soul of Pyaasa was contained in the lines of hero Vijay’s song of lament: “Jinhe naaz hai Hind par, woh kahaan hain?” (“Where are those who are proud of this India?”), and Prime Minister Nehru himself is rumored to have been quite upset upon hearing this line, a direct invocation to the government for change.

Appalled and disillusioned, Guru Dutt’s hero stands Christ-like in the doorway of a ceremony to honor his own death.

But if that’s the case, what the heck is the chintzy “Hum aapki aankhon mein” dream sequence in which hero Vijay and Meena sing and dance in a heavenly courtyard of swirling mist and starry skies doing in the film? Perhaps it is not entirely surprising to learn that the song was not originally intended to be in the film–it was only added in later to appease the distributors who believed it to be unmarketable without at least one glitzy, expensive Bollywood song. The other songs in his film mesh seamlessly into the narrative, as if they are not songs at all, but mere continuations of dialogue–a novel technique pioneered by Dutt.

A greater travesty is, did you know the film was actually supposed to end with the high-angle crane shot of Meena all alone in the grand room with papers flying everywhere after Vijay leaves? To me, the scattered pages are a symbol of Vijay’s poetry whose role as a commodity in the film is in turn a symbolic attack of the loss of romanticism in the realities of the industrialization process. It’s as if to say, society must also honor the man who breathes life into the poems, not merely the price of the written words.

But as Dutt’s assistant recalls, Guru Dutt, “changed the ending because of how the distributors reacted. They felt the ending was too heavy. The financiers requested, ‘Why don’t you have a happy ending?’” Now Pyaasa finishes with Vijay finding spiritual fulfillment with the companionship of Gulabo and the two making their way into the hopeful sunset. I mean, isn’t this the kind of “all’s well that ends well” of conventional cinema he wanted to fight against?

So ultimately, the very focus on wealth and profitability that Guru Dutt chastises in his film is actually the force that proved overpowering in its production. Though Guru Dutt himself wanted otherwise, the distributors, believing to represent the mass market, were able to convince Dutt to change his plans and take fewer risks. He becomes just another flaw in his own criticism against Nehru’s India, greatly compromising the effectiveness of Pyaasa’s commentary. Essentially, the “solution” presented in a film like Shree 420 to try to work the system as best as possible, is all that Pyaasa shows is possible–try to be “purposeful” (as Guru Dutt wanted) within the limitations of the system. Recalling Vijay’s own lines, “Isko hi jeena kehte hain, to yuhiin jee lenge,” (“If this is life, then this is how we’ll live,”) Pyaasa often invites a sentiment to conform to the status quo rather than fight or question it.

Or am I reading too much into this?

–Mrs. 55