These were the bad guys whose dialogues drew whistles and claps. We miss their quirky persona, which is etched in the memories of those who’ve seen their films. In fact, there is a famine of not just the evil boss but also his subordinates, err, henchmen! Apart from whether or not this is a favourable trend for cinematic content, one also needs to understand why this is happening. Or rather, why did this happen?
Wanting to leave nothing to speculation,
ETimes spoke to a host of people and this is what unfolded in our #BigStory this week.
Bollywood has always had a history of unforgettable, iconic villains. However there came a time of role reversal. The weakening of the villain’s depiction in Hindi cinema started sometime after Amitabh Bachchan got injured on the sets of ‘Coolie’ (1982). The message was clear- the angry young man wouldn’t be able to press the button on too much daredevilry. Dharmendra, the man who could fight and kill as many people as he wanted in a film in one go, was doing fewer films by then. But then in came Amrish Puri to save the baddie scene, filling up the screen with his baritone voice and big eyes. Of course Shakti Kapoor and Gulshan Grover held their own as well. These three bad men held up the villainous banner despite the wave of soft, romantic films such as ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ and ‘Aashiqui’. However it was already evident that the day of the fiery, scary and iconic villain was all but over.
Big stars started playing negative roles
The ‘Bad Man’ of Bollywood, Gulshan Grover, lists the sequence chronologically, “The last iconic villain to make a living out of villainy was me, but post my time, opportunities ceased to exist because whatever I and the senior villains did, started looking out of place. Slowly, an era emerged wherein the villain was the character who was torn between two ladies, or in a flux from poor to rich. Big stars started taking up negative characters. The quintessential villain was smothered.”
“But after some time,” continues Grover, “such films started getting rejected. Budgets had multiplied enormously. If you are casting a hero in a villain’s role, he is not going to grant a concession on his acting fee. And also, stars started having insecurities within the set-up if a certain villain was shown larger in size on the film’s poster. Then, we suddenly saw some directors opting to play villains. That phase didn’t sustain either. But by this time, the outlandish villain had gone away from the landscape; he had become like a disco number from Mithun Chakraborty’s films, something to be remembered with nostalgia. The new landscape was real films, relatable films.”
Add this to Grover’s analysis: The runaway success of Aamir and Salman’s debut movies — where the enemy was within (parents Dalip Tahil, Goga Kapoor in ‘QSQT’ and Rajeev Verma in ‘MPK’)- also contributed to the villain being thrown into the dungeon.
Trying to rationalise, Mogambo Amrish Puri’s grandson Vardhaan says, “The stories today are far more real, characters are not starkly black or white. You could call it the evolution of cinema,” but then he opens his heart to say, “But I must tell you that I loved those movies of the past which had campy villains with their gangs almost always standing around them. My dad and everyone around him loved to see my
dadaji standing tall and dictating terms on screen.”
Villains have lost their flair
Pran’s nephew Siddharth Sikand tells ETimes that Pran wouldn’t have been happy seeing the state of affairs in the villainy department in today’s Bollywood. “He played several characters on-screen, but what he enjoyed the most was villainy. And he wanted the villain to have a certain amount of flair, which is absent today. Those days the maker didn’t want to project only the hero in a big way. Today, I see so many big star films but the villain is either a newcomer or a struggler. Maybe that increases the commercial viability of the project. But I am not saying that those guys should not be cast, it’s just that an antagonist ought to be more in-the-face. Un dinno, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar played the simpleton, but Pran saab and many other notable names were all around to throw spanners in their way with so much style and sophistication. Even if the hero was the oh-so-stylish Dev Anand and he himself was producing and directing the film, he never undermined the villains.”
Raza Murad, whose voice still resonates long after he has spoken, spills the beans when he says that the undermining did begin somewhere in the 70s. “In 70s, 80s and 90s, certain heroes started feeling very insecure about any villain who had a towering personality. I found my role cut in quite a few films and when I asked the maker about it, they all offered the standard excuse that their film had become too long.
Lekin humko pata tha actual reason kya hai. And pray, if the film had become long, why were the scissors applied to only my scenes?”
Villains are told to underplay
The evolution of Indian cinema which Vardhaan spoke about would have made Amjad Khan happy, says his son Shadaab, but just the evolution per se. And Shadaab touches upon Gulshan Grover’s mirror of reality , agreeing that today’s films deal with relatable subjects and not fantasy, but adds that the realistic cinema which is being so tom-tommed about does not essentially bring out performance. “With the advent of web shows and new filmmakers, we are no doubt seeing some extraordinary stories,” he says, but goes on to add that the trend of the boy-next-door as the negative character does not make the audiences’ adrenaline flow, “My father would have definitely wanted the villain of today to be ‘THE villain’ if you know what I mean. I think we are too influenced by the West today. The filmmakers want our actors to be subtle. Let me be brutally honest with you. I am told in my auditions that I should just look into the camera and say my lines. Such being the case, with no requirement of emotions on the face, how do you expect the output to be stronger? Why are we asked to not go full throttle, and then isn’t it the job of the director to tell us where to stop and how much to pour out? We need more filmmakers like Hansal Mehta who ask you to perform and not hold it back. Look at this recent show ‘Scam’ and I am proud to have been a part of it. That’s what we need in villainy.”
An industry source says, “I am stumped and cannot figure out why today’s filmmakers do not realise that if the villain is big enough, the hero becomes bigger. If the
takkar is head-to-head, their moves become foxier and the interest levels of the viewer keep him on the edge of the seat. And those
taalis that follow are all real. Nobody forces you to lustily cheer inside a theatre. Take the case of Ajit
saab’s films, they were all crowns. Bachchan
saab, Prakash Mehra, Salim-Javed and all associated with him were the gems in those crowns. And the industry will not find a combination like that for the next 100 years. And don’t forget, villains like Ajit and many more in those days gave chills to the viewer. How can those chills become a non-essential ingredient when cinema is, by and large, meant to entertain? And mind you, the hero turning negative is not good at all. A hero is idolised. Children start copying him, which is dangerous to society.”
Today’s writers lack the knack of creating villains!
saab sharply points out the dearth of ‘Raavans’ in stories. Talking to ETimes, he says, “The hero is the Ram, the Raavan needs to be cast.” By this he means that the bad guy should be cast correctly and he goes on to blame the script writers. “Look, the giant strides in technology may have made the making of songs and the execution of action scenes easier, but the basic thing that is needed to make the villain strong is the writing. That writing is absent today. Let me therefore also tell you why it is absent. In our times, writers used to read a lot. A writer has something good and substantial to offer only if he reads. We used to exchange books with people. We used to read the newspapers regularly,” he elucidates.
How many writers of today are made to sit through auditions of any role? A classic case in point is the making of the unforgettable Mogambo in ‘Mr India’. ETimes has it exclusively that Mogambo was Javed Akhtar’s creation. It was a Salim-Javed script. The casting was in progress and Salim-Javed had parted ways around that time. Javed Akhtar sat through the auditions and put across his suggestion that Amrish Puri would fit the role best. The final call on Amrish Puri was taken by Team ‘Mr India’ on the basis of mutual consent.
Yesteryears’ villains carried their persona into real life
And let’s not take away the fact that the villains of yesteryears’ bit so much into their roles that their on-screen mannerisms became a part of their life. Ajit wore white coats and white shoes almost everywhere. And, his caustic sense of humour from his movies often spilled into real life. Once, his driver had come up to his house for a cup of tea and he happened to pick up the phone. It was Ajit calling from the sets to speak to his wife. Not identifying the driver’s voice, Ajit asked him who he was talking to. When the driver told him, he replied in his inimitable style,
“Achcha, toh aajkal driver log bhi phone uthane lag gaye?”
Maybe the same was the case with the boisterous Amrish Puri. Vardhaan reveals that Amrish Puri was a stickler for punctuality and organised behaviour. “If one took even his scissors for a brief period from his drawer, he/she had to ask him and keep them back at the very same place in the stipulated amount of time that he allotted.”
Where is the wonder & bewilderment?
Dr Dang of ‘Karma’, Anupam Kher, also spoke to ETimes on the disappearance of the villain from films. Emphasises Kher, “The villain today is anybody on the screen, not the over-the-top guy who spoke in a particular manner and was identified from far away by his car. The villain those days laughed while raping, which of course was an exaggeration. Today, cinema has changed, so the portrayal of the villain is illustrated in a different way. But when I meet people who have seen the cinema of the 90s, they tell me that they used to get entertained a lot with those films. You see, the times were innocent. So we believed what we were shown,
aaj innocence kahan hai? If a 3-year-old child has a mobile in his hand and knows how to Google when he is 7, where’s the wonder and the bewilderment?”
Circumstances become the villain!
Dialogue and lyrics writer of ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ and director of ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’, Abbas Tyrewala laid out a very interesting reason. “Earlier, the values which people stood up against, have now become a part of them. Let me give you one example. The poor guy was the hero and the rich guy was the antagonist. In liberal economy, nobody wants to lash out at the rich but instead takes steps to become one. So, does the institutional villain exist in today’s day and age? No, he doesn’t.” On the other hand, Kanika Dhillon who wrote ‘Ek Villain’, ‘Kedarnath’, ‘Manmarziyaan’ and ‘Judgmental Hai Kya’ says that films have split into very specific genres. “Those genres decide whether an external villain is required or not. Many times, the circumstances around the actors are the villain. Also, if you see, there are masked villains which are now being woven into the script. Like I had Rajkummar Rao in ‘Judgmental Hai Kya’ and Yash Raj had Tiger Shroff in ‘War’.” It is not easy to adapt to change, but maybe the horses in the world of on-screen tyrants, who realised that horses are for courses, are somewhat still happy.
Some erstwhile villains are now character artistes
Prem Chopra, whose
kalam dialogues were ‘
vagairah” and ”
Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra‘ tells ETimes, “I have shifted to character roles. Now if the heroes are playing the baddie and the stories are written to hit upon the point of why they are playing baddies, then well…” But does he miss the adulation of his hey days? “It’s a part of the game. You have to accept things and switch over,” he says bravely.
Another villain of yesteryears, Shakti Kapoor, who has also made peace with himself or at least claims to have done so, says, “I am in a happy space. I am getting lots of work. I never focused on projecting myself only as a villain. I have even won an award for the Best Comedian.” Shakti gives us an example of how he’s 2-in-1. “Recently, I was called in for two shows on TV – one was a Villainy Special and one was a Comedy special. The rest of the special guests in both shows were different, I was the only common factor.” Shakti reminds us that he has taken up web shows too. “Having 700 films to my credit, I have never lamented or resisted the change in Indian cinema. I even danced my heart out, right from my first film if you recall the song ‘Aa dekhen zara…’ from ‘Rocky’.”
Yet, all said and done, ‘Shaan‘s’ Shaakaal Kulbhushan Kharbanda who has played many other tough, villainous roles in Bollywood, quips, “I am not in touch with today’s cinema. I am not updated.” Does that statement say something? It says a lot, it says too much!
All villainy is not lost yet!
Gulshan Grover however chips back in, to say that all is not lost yet. “The recall of the villain of yesteryears’ is happening. Like, for one, my role in Rohit Shetty’s upcoming ‘Sooryavanshi’, followed by my role in ‘Indian 2’ opposite Kamal Haasan. Shankar directs ‘Indian 2′ and he is particular about having large villains, his “robot’ having had Akshay Kumar pitted against Rajinikanth. And then, I am coming back as a bad man in Sanjay Gupta’s ‘Mumbai Saga’ too. But the return of the villain will be in a scattered presence. You can’t keep the focus constantly on him like you did in 70s, 80s and 90s as it won’t be relevant today with the kind of cinema that is being churned out now.” Raza Murad however pushes the envelope almost all the way to suggest that who knows, the tide might turn fully. ”
Samay hamesha badalta hai,” is his optimistic statement.
Kaash, samay badle!