SINGLE MALT PLEASE, WIT H A DASH OF EVIL
Bollywood’s new villains are no longer in- your- face baddies with scars. They charm you and then deliver the killer punch.
Legendary villain, gang leader Seth Dharam Dayal Teja was immortalised on screen by veteran actor Ajit in the classic Zanjeer. Dressed in white from head to toe, he smoked his pipe and sipped on a glass of Vat 69. Forty years later, India’s most popular baddie, actor Prakash Raj, is all set to take over in the film’s remake. But while Ajit’s style was good enough for 1973, today that just won’t do. “Today’s idea of sophistication has completely changed— the white suit and Vat 69 looks out of place. Instead, the bad guy drinks single malt and wears Armani,” says Raj.
Gone are the days of Shakti Kapoor and Gulshan Grover with scars on their faces, going about their leery ways. Today’s villain is the seemingly honest IB chief Bhaskaran who launches a terrorist attack on the Kolkata Metro ( Kahaani), the rogue ISI colonel who smuggles a nuclear bomb out of Latvia ( Agent Vinod), the politician Jaikant Shikre who will do all in his power to bring down policeman Singham ( Singham) or the diamond merchant Dharmesh Zaveri who is also an illegal arms dealer, with a special aversion to honesty ( Blood Money). Meet Indian cinema’s new- age villains. Far from the bungling man with an eye patch, these baddies have brains. They charm you, seduce you, make you trust them and then at the most inopportune moment, leave you in the lurch.
Reflecting today’s real- life villains, Bollywood’s reel villains are seemingly ordinary people who are bank fraudsters, dons, money launderers, rogue policemen, corrupt politicians, double agent spies— the super smart, super suave white- collar criminals we hear about in the news. “As in real life, the line between good and bad has blurred. This is now being mirrored in the reel world to create impactful and shocking characters that help develop the plot of the film,” says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. And these baddies mean business— which means their sole purpose in the film is not to kill, plunder and laugh evilly. They challenge the hero ( not just physically), strike fear into anyone and are fiercely real. Directors have realised the importance of a villain’s role, with most of them having screen space as much as the hero. Bengali actor Dhritiman Chatterjee, 66, who played Jagadishwar Metla, the businessman with a clipped British accent working with terrorist organisations in Agent Vinod, sees the transformation of the villain a result of the change in the nomenclature. “Just like the male lead of the film is no more referred to as a ‘ hero’ but a protagonist, the villain is now referred to as a ‘ negative character’ wrapped in shades of grey,” he points out.
The ultimate Bollywood baddies of today include characters like Mangal Singh Tomar in Jannat 2. Portrayed by Manish Chaudhari, 43, Tomar is a religious Haryanvi grain exporter and an illegal arms dealer in secret. After shooting his workers in cold blood, he invokes the lord’s name (“Jai Ma Yudeshwari”) and continues with his usual morning prayers. Filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh, who created the character of the IB chief Bhaskaran ( played again by Chatterjee) in his thriller Kahaani, says there was no rocket science used in creating his character because he tried to keep it as realistic as possible. “When it comes to
villains, what works is an average middle or upper middle class person who will pass off as a harmless person, but has a dark side to his sophisticated persona. These are people who play sinister games at a high level,” he says.
Actor Adil Hussain, 49, who played the evil colonel in Agent Vinod, believes that when it comes to characterisation, Indian scriptwriters and filmmakers are now thinking just like their Western counterparts. “This is mostly the ( Russian filmmaker) Lee Strasberg school of acting approach, which deals with the realistic genre of filmmaking,” he says. Hussain’s character Colonel is a pilot in disguise and is working for a group of rogue ISI colonels who are planning an attack on India.
But by creating such complex characters, casting becomes crucial. Filmmakers are now looking for actors who are not well- known faces in mainstream cinema. “I chose Chaudhari to play Mangal Singh Tomar for his acting skills, not the glamour quotient,” says Kunal Deshmukh, who directed Jannat 2.
The key is to go for lesser- known actors for the character to get more popular than the actor’s identity. “I chose to cast Dhritiman as Bhaskaran as he doesn’t come with the baggage of being evil on- screen. Not many in the audience knew him and that worked for the film’s thrill,” explains Ghosh. Chatterjee finds it heartening to see that Indian films are now slowly, yet steadily, trying to shed the tendency of depending on a ‘ star’ for a film to work. Plot and characters essayed in the film are gaining more importance. Chaudhari is thankful for his role of an evil boss in Rocket Singh— Salesman of the Year, which landed him his dream role in Blood Money. However, there are some actors who have become stars in their own right by playing terrifying villains. Raj, 47, has played the baddie in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and, more recently, Hindi films. News reports also state that he is India’s highest paid villain— he was paid Rs 40 lakh for a role in a Kannada film.
It looks like complex villains appeal more to an audience than antagonists in movies like RA. One that divides everything into black and white. They can relate to such characters easily as they might have encountered a similar personality in their everyday lives. In 1995, Hussain was invited for an acting workshop with the inmates of Tihar Jail. He says of his experience, “Meeting these criminals one would realise how normal and suave they are, but there is a grey side to them which leads to the heinous crime.” So brace yourselves for the new- age bad guy, who has one simple offer for the good guy, “Kya chahiye tumhe, sach ya khushi? ( What is it you want, the truth or happiness?)”
Kahaani and Agent Vinod “World affairs are complex for lowly police officers to understand.”
Blood Money and Jannat 2 “Business imandari se nahi kiya jata, imandari aadmi ko footpath pe laati hai ( Business is not done with honesty, honesty lands a man on the footpath).”
Ishqiya and Agent Vinod
“Sharabi hai, laundibaz hai, ek gandi
aadat aur hai, imandar hai ( He is a drunkard, a womaniser and has one more vice, he is honest).”