Exploring the concept of the ‘Nice Guy’ in Bollywood
Hazel Gandhi, Managing Editor
Illustration by Rachel Mathew
We all love watching him in movies; right from grand romantic gestures to sweet proclamations of love that form the very foundations of how we perceive romantic relationships- anything less is not worth settling for. His unabashed feelings for the female lead coupled with his sweet personality make you feel nothing but empathetic towards him. It boggles the mind how one can even put down a guy who is so dedicated and in love. So, we decided to look into this situation in detail and find out how exactly nice the nice guy is. Spoiler alert, the results disappoint.
Before exploring this character in detail, it is important to establish a few common points of what it actually means to be a ‘nice guy’ in this context. The first clue into a character fitting the nice guy trope is the fact that he is head over heels for the female lead, to the point of obsession. A bunch of characters come to mind, but here’s where it gets a bit complicated- this character is so vocal about his love that he doesn’t care about what anyone thinks, not even the woman he so extravagantly loves. It makes no difference if she is uncomfortable or unwilling to take it forward, his behaviour (however problematic), won’t change. Unsurprisingly, the audience still loves him because he’s not crossing any boundaries, he’s just a hopeless romantic, right?
This concept is known as the ‘Nice Guy Syndrome’, a term coined recently specifically for this trope. Hollywood movies are peppered with examples of the nice guy, right from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Tom in 500 Days Of Summer (2009), to Jon Cryer’s Duckie in Pretty in Pink (1986). Even shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother show examples of how Ross and Ted fixate on a woman, create unimaginable fantasies involving them, while not even making an effort to ensure that the women are on the same page. However, in Bollywood, the characters shown do not fit this rhetoric exactly, but rather exhibit it in smaller parts, making the characters toxic nevertheless.
In most cases, this love is not even practical, since the guy doesn’t even know the girl well. The perfect example of this is the character played by Dhanush in Aanad L Rai’s Raanjhanaa (2013), where he (Kundan), falls in love with Sonam Kapoor’s character (Zoya) since the first time he sees her in their childhood. The love then goes on unchanged till she is in the 9th grade, where he finally decides to proclaim his feelings for her, and upon rejection, ends up slitting his wrists. Remember, even until this point, Kundan doesn’t know anything about Zoya, his feelings are only based on his own projection of the fantasy of love. Parts of the movie show how Kundan has already planned his whole life with Zoya, while she doesn’t even remember who he is.
Another defining point of the nice guy is that he thinks that the girl should be with him solely because he is so nice. It doesn’t matter what her feelings are, and if she dare like someone else, she’s just making a bad choice and doesn’t know what’s best for her. This trait is exhibited by Ranbir Kapoor’s character (Ayan) in Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), where he patronizes Anushka Sharma (Alizeh) for being with Fawad Khan (Ali). He sings Channa Mereya on her wedding day, basically making her feel guilty about picking someone other than him, and if this wasn’t enough, he finishes the act by showing her the finger before storming out of her wedding. You pretty much made the girl cry on her wedding day Ayan, what were you thinking?
Right from lines like ‘Zid Meri Hai Kyun Ki Dil Mera Hai’ to ‘Pyaar Kyun Nahi Kar Sakti Tum Mujhse?’, Ayan made us all swoon over the concept of ek-tarfa pyaar.
Right from lines like ‘Zid Meri Hai Kyun Ki Dil Mera Hai’ to ‘Pyaar Kyun Nahi Kar Sakti Tum Mujhse?’, Ayan made us all swoon over the concept of ek-tarfa pyaar. We empathised with his character and completely disregarded how this played out from Alizeh’s perspective, the actual subject of his affections. While Ayan’s character does come around to accepting Alizeh as a friend, and helping her through her cancer, he does all of this with an ulterior motive- the hope that his feelings will be reciprocated.
In Dostana (2008), John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan’s characters pretend to be ‘nice guys’ to get Priyanka Chopra’s character (Neha) interested in them, while actually sabotaging her relationship with a guy she really liked. Meanwhile, Neha believed they were decent, not to forget, gay men, and hence let them stay in her house while also trusting them as friends not knowing they were everything that was wrong with her relationship.
This is not to say that the filmmakers perpetuate toxic characters without realizing it. Sometimes, these characters are what make a story, and creative freedom is something that everyone should be able to exercise. So, if you write a toxic character intentionally and recognize the fact, it’s part of your story. But the issue arises when you pick these characters and glorify their behaviour like stalking and mistreatment as something the guy does out of love.
So while we assume that the nice guy is just a poor, vulnerable chap who knows nothing but love, he’s really not as nice as we think. His love is conditional and depends only on the reciprocity of the female character. But there’s a silver lining here, too. Actual nice guy characters have also been written, wherein the guy loves the girl unconditionally, without any inhibitions. Ranbir Kapoor’s Prem in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009) loves Katrina Kaif (Jenny), so much that he helps her run away with the guy she loves, without having any expectations whatsoever. Tanu Weds Manu (2011) also shows how R Madhavan (Manu) loves Kanagana Ranaut’s character (Tanu) without any expectations even when she doesn’t feel the same way, and waits for her patiently. Now that’s a real nice guy.
The Take. (2020). YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JkZ55np3z8