By Dushyant Shekhawat Feb. 26, 2018
If his social media handles are any indication, WWE’s biggest star, John Cena, is making a pitch to enter Bollywood – waiting in the wings for his “phata poster, nikla hero” moment.
When I was a wee one, I remember my parents buying tickets to the single-screen theatre to see the latest Bollywood movies when I got home from school. Of course, being the whiny single child, I’d bitch and moan about how the evening show always clashed with my after-school TV time, dedicated exclusively to WWE. Back then, my sense of irony wasn’t developed enough to realise that pro-wrestling’s hysterical melodrama, over-the-top characters, and outlandish storylines were just as Bollywood as an ’80s movie starring Mithun Chakraborty.
Today, when I am no longer required to change out of my house clothes because Shah Rukh Khan released a new film, I am able to see the overlaps between wrestling and mainstream Hindi cinema. Which is why I think the next Bollywood superstar will stem, not from the loins of another star, but from the world of WWE. And it will be John Cena, a WWE superstar waiting for his “phata poster, nikla hero” moment. You read it here first.
I know what you’re thinking. For those used to thinking of John Cena as “The Champ” or “The Doctor of Thuganomics”, it might be hard to take him seriously as a “Rahul” or a “Raj”. But what Cena lacks in legacy, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm.
In the past, he has shown that he is interested in Bollywood several times over. His social media handles are full of portraits of SRK, the quintessential One Rahul to Rule Them All, accompanied by inspirational quotes. “It’s not necessary that the world will accept your creativity, but don’t give up on it,” an image with SRK proclaims, which is advice regarding his Bollywood career Cena should take to heart. His admiration extends to Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan as well. It’s probably a matter of time before he posts a screenshot of Anil Kapoor from Mr India and give the movie credit for his “You can’t see me!” shtick.
Clearly, The Champ knows the players, and he also knows the game. He has a long list of movie and TV appearances. Besides, pro-wrestling definitely involves acting, which makes Cena an accomplished actor. But why would he leave a field in which he is The Man, and try to bring his “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” to fighting Bollywood’s nepotism?
The average Indian kid who watches wrestling would pass up a playdate with Ben 10 and Chota Bheem to spend time with Big Match John.
Well, to understand that, try and think about the time you picked up a hobby – playing the guitar, building airplane models – from a friend who whooped your arse at it. He rocked the solos way harder, and his model planes looked almost like the real thing. You started feeling bad about how your skills compared to his, so you did the logical thing… you found a new friend. This newbie was a novice to the hobby, and suddenly, your lame-ass chord progressions didn’t sound so bad.
Now imagine you are John Cena, your more skilled friend is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the third guy who really sucks, is Bollywood. If The Rock owns Hollywood, The Champ can have Bollywood.
You see, for all its dreaded nepotism, Bollywood loves its white people. Being only half-white, or even just hailing from a country of white people can also work in your favour – just ask Katrina Kaif and Sunny Leone. Plus, there is an easy niche for him to fill.
For as much as Bollywood loves its white people off-screen, on-screen we’ve been fixated with presenting them as villains. The trope of the hulking, menacing foreigner has been perfected in the post-colonial landscape of the Indian film industry. Bob Christo, the man whose name you may not recognise but face you certainly will, was an early pioneer of the stereotype, tangling with heroes like Amitabh Bachchan in classics like Namak Halal and Mard. Then there’s another former wrestler in Nathan Jones who made his Bollywood debut last year as the antagonist in Flying Jatt. And who can forget the false urban legend that “The Undertaker” (actually an impersonator) broke Akshay Kumar’s back while filming a fight scene for Khiladiyon ka Khiladi? What stops John Cena from filling in these shoes, and becoming the Scary White Villain that Bollywood loves to hate?
John Cena himself, dammit!
There is no character more wholesome, affable, or kid-friendly than John Cena on TV today. The average Indian kid who watches wrestling would pass up a playdate with Ben 10 and Chota Bheem to spend time with Big Match John. His Boy Scout demeanour on-screen also translates into real life, where he holds the record for most wishes (500+) granted to the Make-a-Wish Foundation that works with terminally ill kids. This is the kind of behaviour that would give Superman an inferiority complex. Cena was born to play the hero’s role, and he’s been doing it for over 15 years now.
This weekend, I treated myself to another WWE event, the Elimination Chamber. John Cena lost out to younger wrestlers. As his career in the ring winds down, Cena is going to have to start exploring other options. I’m hoping he makes good on his Instagram teases and joins us here in Bollywood.
That’s an evening show I’m looking forward to dragging my parents to. Guess the shoe is on the other foot now, huh Ma?