As circuses gave way to video-game parlours in the mid-nineties, our gawking at dwarfs came to an abrupt end. There they’d be darting among elephants and clowns, falling on their little legs, poking each other with umbrellas and making silly faces, and here we were laughing because they were... so short.
The vertically challenged had to exaggerate their gestures to make a buck out of us; thank god, they thought, for the stupid sense of humour that people of average height possessed. And we laughed uneasily, having narrowly missed being dwarfs ourselves by just a few inches. Medium height put us in the middle—we could laugh at the too-tall and the too-short.
Snow White did not fall for any of the seven dwarfs in the fairy tale. Gulliver did not lock eyes with a Lilliputian lass. In movies too the diminutive ones had to make us laugh, like the fat friend did or the stammering character did. Movies with a cast full of dwarfs going about their business like in Atbudha Dweepu in Malayalam are rare.
When Kamal Hassan played a dwarf in Tamil film Apoorva Sagodharargal (or Appu Raja in Hindi), he dangled his short legs, crossed them at the knee and even kicked them in dance, winning our hearts as Appu. Though we laughed at him, we also fell in love with him.
He did not have Peter Dinklage’s sex appeal in Game of Thrones, but he became quasi-family, a pet. His miniaturised version only endeared him more to us. Neither elf nor gnome, he was just a bro.
Cut to the new Zero and we have a bonsai SRK playing bauna Bauua. But being a dwarf was only relevant to the movie’s climax where they needed someone size small to go into space, which itself is too iffy a twist in the tale to merit his lack of inches. The rest of the time, as Tina Turner almost asked: ‘What’s height got to do, got to do with it?’
We do know that Mark Ruffalo is much shorter in real life than he looks as the Hulk in Avengers, and that Andrew Garfield cannot crawl up walls without his Spider-Man outfit, but SRK remaining a romantic hero plus or minus his height seems a case of shrunken visualisation.
To redress the Bollywood imbalance when it comes to baunas, what we needed was a dwarf we could cry with (since the laughing is done with). Who would bring out our own complexes when it comes to physicalities. We do fear deep inside that we are too much this, too little that. A superstar like SRK could’ve made us introspect.
The film gave us a lot in terms of computer graphics, acting chops good or bad (Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma, respectively), and some rustic humour and realistic looking family and friends on screen, but what it did not give us is a peep into the psyche of little people. What was the point then of having a shorty as hero?
Hope the next leading man to contract himself on a 70 mm screen won’t sell himself short.