You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

In search of the Sigma male

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-06-2014 Shefalee Vasudev

You want to dust your thoughts about the Beta male but find a Sigma male in the dust-off. That sums up an experience I had last Sunday. Keen to follow actor Rajkummar Rao’s Hindi cinema career increasingly acquiring muscle, I went to watch Citylights, his latest film directed by Hansal Mehta. Through his physical build and personality and the characters he has played so far—a human rights activist-lawyer in Shahid, a geek-turned-entrepreneur in Kai Po Che and a poor trader forced to migrate from Rajasthan to Mumbai in Citylights—Rao appears to be the definitive Beta male in the current crop of heroes. He is more Beta than Nawazuddin Siddiqui whose conversion rate to other stereotypes as well as the way he busts them is fast and fascinating.

The timbre of the Beta man has always made me curious—ordinary, good guys without the enamel of overconfidence; men who are unremarkable even boring yet reliable and reassuring. The charisma of Alpha men (and women) has been over-analysed in pop culture and history, but the Beta male has barely inspired hysteria.

Sometimes I wonder if the 007 franchise would rethink and repackage the James Bond story to fit a Beta protagonist and see how the tide (of response) turns. Like Tobey Maguire, who looks compulsively Beta till he turns into Spiderman. Would it hurt the Bond legacy or give it a layered edge?

My reasoning sounds simplistic because I had never looked beyond the obvious Alpha and Beta. Not till last week anyway when I stumbled into another type—the Sigma male—while watching Citylights. It is an unoriginal label, just smart coinage that floats around in the realm of relationship self-help but it helps make the point. Playwright and theatre actor Manav Kaul who plays Vishnu, a suave yet disgruntled security guard, holds up a shade of masculinity that keeps getting overlooked. Kaul was quite noticeable as a right wing politician in Kai Po Che but here he towers as an actor almost knocking over Rao’s intensity.

In a memorable performance, Kaul plays a man rolling together figments of the hero, the villain, the do-gooder, an occasionally funny guy, an Indian working class nobody who clamours for his pound of flesh. It left me quite stunned.

Kaul is a handsome actor without looking like a bar of white chocolate (he is light skinned) or a stud hopelessly in love with himself. The contours of his gym-worked body are visible in the way his shirts fall on him and how his V-shaped torso holds his slowly boiling anger. Some may argue that looks are a matter of personal choice but that smouldering restlessness evident in his Vishnu has largely been the Alpha male’s prerogative in fictional narratives.

Certainly in Hindi cinema where such by the way guys or supporting actors add sinews to a film’s narrative but seldom inspire a director to invest in their sex appeal. In Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara for instance, another film taut with masculinity issues, Deepak Dobriyal playing Rajju Tiwari, who manipulates the eventual downfall of the hero, is a thin, measly looking loser.

But Vishnu of Citylights is macho in an exhibitionist way yet suffers from a mediocrity in his value system. He is a Beta male with an Alpha body language. Or, an Alpha male with a Beta mind. His loyalty is squashed by his self-centredness; he can be angry but stealthily; is adulterous in his marriage yet flirts with his wife asking her to pander to his male ego. He is far from the perfect man if you go by the script. Yet it is a great act.

Kaul the actor gives us a masculine boilerplate that is refreshingly different from the familiar A,B,C and X,Y, Z of men in Hindi cinema. The Sigma male’s description borrowed from relationship psychology explains this type as: a clever, charismatic person who seldom reveals his ideology; dark not happy; chirpy but only when it suits him; neither ruler nor servant; successful in an obscure but important way; a man who understands social dynamics and will never be in a situation unless he can leverage it for his own benefit and one who attracts beta males to him.

While the Beta and Alpha types are everywhere in cinema and mythology, the Sigma seems to reveal itself only now and then.

I would vote for the blind king Dhritrashtra in Mahabharata as the mythological Sigma male. But in current public life in India 2014, it is difficult to come up with a name. The closest would be Rahul Gandhi.

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon