If Cinema can be called a mirror of the society, then Bollywood is one of those fun-house mirrors that ‘entertainingly’ show distorted images in reflection. Or at least it has been serving as one for a hundred years now. From more or less similar storylines (of epic proportions) with their stock characters of baddies, damsels and heroes, to a more variety and realistic presentation of characters, setting and socially relevant issues- Bollywood has come a long way. Though the addition of a sudden song-and-dance routine now and then, is a mystery we would rather enjoy not solving.
The early Bollywood baddies were the typical goons and gangsters- the gore of society we fear. And yet we remain in the awe of these characters with their larger than life portrayal. Be it the venom-spitting mother-in-law’s character immortalized by Lalita Pawar, the legendary Amrish Puri’s character ‘Mogambo’, or the trail of mother/sister/heroine kidnapping villains that faithfully succumbed to the rescuing Heroes much to the catharsis of the audience, all our Bollywood baddies are remembered with due respect (and hatred).
But Cinema today, due to various factors, has certainly changed. The high ticket prices charged by the Multiplexes (source of main Box Office earning) caters to a certain class of people- the stable middle class. The audience can no longer accept the same old melodrama in the name of entertainment. Neither are they willing to pay for a mere cathartic experience. Thus the celluloid phenomenon of serving an equally evil character for a grand heroic one has gradually withered away. The whole definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is beginning to be explored. A few recent examples of this endeavor can be seen in the successful movies like- Rajneeti and Gangs of Wasseypur. It is really difficult to pin-point the “baddie” per se. Manoj Vajpayee’s portrayal of a ‘grey’ character in both the movies mentioned above, further proves the point.
It may look like the scope of the ‘iconic Bollywood baddies’ is narrowing by the day, but it is really in the benefit of the actors as well. They get to play more meaty, ‘character roles’ and do not just have to end up dead to make everyone else happy. Rajkumar Hiarani’s ‘MunnaBhai’ series has significantly toppled the ‘characteristics’ with which we once recognized a villain, or even a hero. The ‘baddie’ (Boman Irani) in the series is no smuggler/kidnapper/gangster but always belongs to a reputable profession like- Doctor/Professor or Businessman. Whereas, the ‘Hero’ (Sanjay Dutt) is a plain local goon and a much celebrated one at that.
The Yash Raj banner movies famously known for being the factory of Bollywood Blockbusters is certainly keeping up with the times. The ‘Dhoom’ series have given us Bollywood baddies like never before. They are smart, good looking ‘baddies’ (John Abraham, Hrithik Roshan and Amir Khan) who grab the curiosity of the ‘heroine’ and all the attention of the audience. Gone are the days when the baddies had to be shown repulsive- the psycho ‘Dr. Dang’ (Anupam Kher), the ‘controversial’ glamourous vamp (Bindu, Nadira), the terrorizing bald ‘Shaakal’ (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), the sinister look of ‘Lyon/Lion’ (Ajit), and the plethora of lustful characters played by Prem Chopra, Gulshan Grover and Ranjeet, to name a few.
There is of course, no fixed formula of making a successful film. Worth mentioning, however, are some wonderful performances by National Award winning actor, Prakash Raj. His characters though much more cunning and opportunist as villains (or ‘frenemy’), do still follow the line of an ‘evil personified’ iconic Bollywood baddie. The accolades he has got from playing a negative role in films like ‘Wanted’, ‘Singham’, ‘Dabbang 2’, to name a few, are evidence enough of our difficulty of letting go off the grandeur of a typical Bollywood baddie. Interestingly, today’s celebrated villain (in the films) is mainly either a politician or a gangster.
With the re-release of the movie ‘Sholay’(3D), often dubbed as the greatest film in the history of Bollywood, it is safe to say that the audience is kind enough to acknowledge the iconic characters Bollywood has given us. Amjad Khan’s ‘Gabbar Singh’(the ultimate Bollywood baddie) is roaring “Kitne aadmi the?” to a housefull Cinema hall even today. But that is nostalgia for the past. Same cannot be said about the re-make of the film- Ram Gopal Verma ki Aag. Celebrating recently re-visited iconic Bollywood baddie ‘Kaancha Cheena’ from the film ‘Agneepath’ (Danny Denzongpa and Sunjay Dutt having, respectively, done a commendable job) brings forth the taste of the audience today- ‘acting’ is a must for an actor’s success- be it the heroine, the hero or even the villain.
By Harman Heer @ The The Jaipur Literature Festival
Image Source: Bindu Bollywood Vamp