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The moustache, that original marker of male vanity, has made a comeback. Even a cursory look at Bollywood’s Mo Bros will confirm this.

The moustache, that original marker of male vanity, has made a comeback. Even a cursory look at Bollywood’s Mo Bros will confirm this.

This is a good time to write this story. November is the month for Movember: a global movement to raise awareness about men’s health issues like prostrate cancer, depression and testicular cancer by growing moustaches. The movement, which began in Australia in 1999, has since grown to include New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, the UK and US. The idea, according to the movement’s website, is that Mo Bros (the men growing their moustaches for the 30 days of the month) get people talking about health issues that are rarely, if ever, discussed.

India may not be a part of the Movember effort, but we couldn’t help noticing that an awful lot seems to be happening on the upper lip front in Bollywood. In fact, the good old moustache, over the hill and so not with-it, seems to have made a solo comeback, unattached to the sleek goatee. And it’s not just Salman’s oily, slender, stick-on in Dabangg that we’re talking about. There’s a lot more to this story.

Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai had Emraan Hashmi sporting a shaggy moustache, and he actually looked quite fetching in it. The same film also had the now often-moustachioed Ajay Devgn. Can you remember the last time a film with two moustachioed heroes did well at the box office? (Parinda and Ram Lakhan, starring Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff, come to mind and those were a good 20 years ago in the late 1980s).

Abhishek Bachchan sports a shapely moustache in what is probably his most memorable release this year: the Idea ‘Sirjee’ ad where he teaches people to communicate across languages. More recently, Vivek Oberoi went in for a bushy number for Ram Gopal Varma’s bloodbath Rakht Charitra and looked vastly improved for it. And it helps matters, of course, that the man with the most established of moustaches, Rajinikanth, had an earth-shattering hit this year in Robot.

Now, there’s news that Shahid Kapoor will be growing a moustache for his father’s directorial debut Mausam, a love story where Shahid is said to be playing an air force pilot. And there are unconfirmed rumours that John Abraham was asked to sport a big fat one for a forthcoming film directed by Vipul Shah but refused. (The box office record of the moustache has been pretty good this year, John, so you might want to reconsider.) Ranbir Kapoor can be reliably expected to grow one for his role as Kishore Kumar in a much-talked-about biopic. Even the baby-faced Jimmy Shergil turns up in a moustache in the latest commercial for Aliva crackers.

Without a doubt, though, what has sealed the upper lip deal is Salman Khan’s almost iconic moustache in Dabangg. The idea for it, apparently, came from the female lead, Sonakshi Sinha, whose dad Shatrughan Sinha was part of the moustachioed trio (the others being Jackie and Anil Kapoor) holding sway over Bollywood in the 80s.

Truth be told, though, the moustache has been making something of a return these past few years. As with most things in Bollywood, credit must go once again to Aamir Khan, who showed off fabulously fierce, well-oiled handlebars for his role as the rebel Mangal Pandey in Ketan Mehta’s multi-crore debacle, The Rising. That the film bombed did little to abate the excitement Aamir’s look created. Shah Rukh Khan grew a sweet, Rajasthani moustache for Amol Palekar’s folktale-like Paheli. In 2008, Hrithik Roshan tended carefully to a sharp, Charles Bronson style specimen for his role as Emperor Akbar in Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar. The same year had Arjun Rampal growing a droopy, longish number for Rock On!! while Saif Ali Khan carried off a stylish, exaggerated moustache for his turn as a call centre English trainer in the Yash Raj turkey Tashan. Rampal, in fact, wore a thin, cruel moustache for some length of Om Shanti Om. And last year, even the smooth-cheeked Akshay Kumar sprouted a slim moustache, topped off with a spring at the edges, for Chandni Chowk to China.

Moustaches have been spotted on the ramp as well. Designer Raghavendra Rathore’s models have been wearing what the designer calls the ‘classic moustache’ season after season on the ramp. His show at 2008 Mumbai Lakme Fashion Week in particular had a very strong, masculine look.

So what does all this upper lip shrubbery mean? Rathore, who is a proud Rajasthani, should know a thing or two about moustaches. “Recently, a particular genre of movies has gained popularity where a strong and manly character is pivotal; hence, to enhance the persona of the character, the mooch has become the ultimate attribute,” he says. “But it doesn’t necessarily represent a larger style trend, it’s more about an individual’s attitude,” he points out.
Rathore’s sentiments are echoed by designer Suneet Varma. “I think there are some kinds of people who sport moustaches and will always do so. Moustaches are a sign of virility, a security blanket. But style wise, I don’t think it’s big. It’s probably just a fad. You have to remember that Dabangg was a spoofy kind of film. Trendwise, it’s still the fuzz on the face that’s big and it’s here to stay.”

That sounds about right. The moustache’s appearance on the Bollywood screen of late has been largely to represent rustic or small town characters. Think Shah Rukh Khan in Paheli where he played a spineless young man under his father’s thumb in a village, or Akshay Kumar’s bumpkin act in Chandni Chowk to China. Salman is the dada of a small town in Dabangg. What is interesting to note is that Salman has played small-town hero earlier in a film called Tere Naam in 2003.

The other reason for the mooch’s comeback is that actors are increasingly essaying biographical roles. Hashmi plays a character based on Dawood Ibrahim and Ajay Devgn, Haji Mastaan, in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai. Ditto for Hrithik Roshan in Jodhaa Akbar; most representations of the emperor show him with a moustache. What this means is that Bollywood is now roamer wider in search of characters and stories and is no longer so fixated on the urban yuppie, typified by Shah Rukh Khan. There are exceptions, though: Saif plays a call-centre English trainer based in Bombay in Tashan, and Arjun Rampal plays a rocker in Rock On!! It’s interesting, without a doubt, but too thin a base to proclaim trends from.

Designer Narendra Kumar puts it best. “Yes, it’s true that you can see moustaches in Bollywood, but it’s not serious enough to influence fashion. It’s probably a fad, but it’s a lot of fun.” That’s right, boys. Go have some fun.