Hindi film villain, from pure evil to super-cool dude as a destroyer

Balaji Vittal’s book goes into wide-angle, long shots & close-ups of the space evil occupies and the role of villains & vamps who have symbolised it across decades

Hindi film villain, from pure evil to super-cool dude as a destroyer

Monojit Lahiri

First, a preamble.

In the late 70’s & early 80’s, I made frequent trips to Mumbai on both Ad-work and journalistic assignments. Irrespective of my schedule, I made it a point to meet two of my favourite directors, Gulzar and Hrishida. I distinctly remember on one of my addas with the latter, the topic of negative roles, evil and villains as dangerously seductive entities & violence-without-apology [as the signature tune of the Angry Young Man] coming up. The maker of memorable classics like Guddi, Anand, Bawarchi, Chup ke Chupke, Golmaal, Anand had an interesting take. He was of the opinion that although none of his films even remotely blimped on that radar, evil as an alluring and irresistible magnet was a part of life & the human psyche. “Every human being - irrespective of his family, educational, social, cultural background and family values inherited from his parents – has a hidden corner that is unexplored, vulnerable & consciously or unconsciously drawn towards embracing some unsophisticated, uncomplicated basic instinct.

Rebel against the NO ENTRY sign outside this enticing zone where sanskar, parampara, traditional and societal pressures have decreed that anyone crossing the line will be damned & doomed! Human nature tells us that what we are summarily forced to do, often backfires and at some point, we challenge it. Revolt and curiosity come into play. Goodness may be good, but evil is so much – what’s the word you people use – cooler!” The great director with amazing human insight was spot-on. At a subliminal level, doesn’t the most morally upright person have a locked secret place where sometimes he is tempted to ... peep?

If evil is the flip-side of good and comes in many shades, layers & dimensions, why will our greatest entertainment platform – Bollywood – shy away from it? Balaji Vittal’s book goes into wide-angle, long shots & close-ups of the space evil occupies and the role of villains & vamps who have symbolised it across decades. Along the way, it portrays the changing face of the Hindi film villain – from pure evil to super-cool dude as destroyer.

Once upon a time, the typical Bollywood movie had simplistic tracks to cater to an audience-base seeking simplistic storylines that were non-complicated and where the victory of good over evil, with action, comedy, naach-gaana, romance, tension & drama thrown in, constituted the basic cinematic narrative. The main players in the mix were invariably the hero-heroine, villain-vamp, comedian. The blissed-out couple’s journey to la-la-land was forever road blocked by the evil, conniving villain, who was punished in the last reels of the film. In between, whenever there was too much tension or rona-dhona, the Comedian entered to do his number and ease the frisson. This entire template was a reflection of those innocent times and consumed with total joy by the masses.

For me, the grey area (Villain as Star-draw) the first arrived with the entry of Shatrughan Sinha in the films of the 70’s. Sure, Pran, K.N. Singh and gang brought their own presence & contribution to their projects earlier on, but I had never heard or seen a villain getting the kind of wild applause on entry as Shotgun did! Audiences of the early seventies – when Rajesh Khanna ruled – will remember the bated breath that preceded his entry and the frenzy that followed. No one gave a damn about anyone else and SS starring in a film was enough of a pull to catch the movie. Actually, he dramatically re-defined the look and persona of the villain. With nasheli eyes, deadly (a la Raj Kumar) dialogue-delivery, accompanied by a flamboyant swagger never ever seen in this space, Sinha just had to enter the frame to set it on fire! Two decades later, it was another unknown young actor by the name of Sharukh Khan who zonked one and all with his chillingly seductive brand of villainy. His hyper-obsessive role as an audacious frenzied lover in Darr took everyone’s breath away, putting hero Sunny Deol in the dumps and making villainy super sexy! I have seldom heard the kind of applause in theatres, when SRK plunged the knife into Deol’s body ... it was crazy with people rooting for this complex, neurotic, vulnerable and desperate lover unable to face unrequited love. Baazigar and Anjaam too nailed this evil streak, but where SRK raced past Sinha was that he was hugely versatile, which the Bihari Babu was not. Once Sinha stepped out of the villain space, it was over and out time.

Changing with the times where complexities and aspirations [powered by the new disease called consumerism] blurred & re-defined the boundaries of good & bad, evil suddenly was perceived as an unapologetic driving force to achieving one’s end – never mind the means! Top A-lister female stars, with their ears to the ground in this changing landscape, had no hesitation moving into the forbidden zone. Some outstanding examples include Tabu in Maqbool, Priyanka in Aitraz, Vidya Balan in Ishqiya, Preity Zinta in Armaan, Urmila in Pyar Tu Ne Kya Kiya, Bipasha in Jism, Katrina in Race, Esha Koppikar in Qayamat ... the list grows bigger each day. Overnight black & grey were the new colours that rocked, drawing attention, allowing scope & value-addition for histrionics and giving the earlier cutie-pie sugar n’ spice heroine a seductive dose of fire n’ ice!

Vittal couldn’t have zeroed-in on a more appropriate person to script his foreward. Film-maker Sriram Raghavan – the man behind the edgy chiller, thrillers like Ek Haseena Thi, Johnny Gaddar, Badlapur and Andhadhun, superbly lays the crux of this important ode to villainy, on the line. He describes the book aptly as “a colourful canvas against which we get to see the working of the accused minds. It talks about the changing social milieu down the decades and how it gave birth to different villains in Hindi cinema. It explores how the image of the villains and nature of villainy has changed with time. Vittal superbly blends research with appropriate examples to bring to the serious cine buffs across all segments, his deep understanding of what makes our villains so alluring, in a language that is simple and relatable.”

I shan’t be a spoiler by adding anything! Go buy the book to get a clear and fascinating look of how, when & why the dark, evil characters who once headlined the Hall of Shame are no longer actors who came in from the cold but characters for whom “crime after all is a left-handed form of human endeavour.”

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