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Films are a great binding factor, or so the late film critic Roger Ebert would have us believe.
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Bring back the paapi
A couple of weeks ago, a young Bollywood star rejected the romcom story I narrated to him. He said he was looking for a hardcore action role.
"Something like Die Hard?" I asked.
"Exactly! I want to kick some ass, bro. Do what Bruce Willis or Sly Stallone did. "
I was impressed. I loved the early Die Hard series too, I told him. It's incredible how Willis keeps getting bashed up and yet survives to turn hero.
The young Bollywood star paused and confessed. "I am not sure about that bashed-up part. You see our audiences may not like a hero taking the beating. They want something like Ghajini, Dabangg, Singham or Rowdy Rathore. Dishum! One hit and guys go flying. "
If you are wondering where Bollywood villains have disappeared or why have they turned into wimps, you've got the answer now. Forget the iconic Sukhi Lal, Gabbar, Dang or Mogambo. Why were Zanjeer, Ardh Satya, Deewar, Ghayal, Parinda or Satya wonderful films? Because they all had villains who, even if they were not brawny, had more brains and wile than their heroes.
It's an old but tested formula for success. For a chase to be fun and engrossing, the criminal has to be one step ahead of the cop. That's why Dr Hannibal Lecter is one of the most memorable villains. Agent Smith was more wily and powerful than Neo - that's what made The Matrix delicious. We loved The Dark Knight not because Batman was a superhero but because The Joker was smarter and wittier. If Bob Biswas was not so cunning and menacing would you have been so sympathetic towards Vidya Bagchi in Kahaani?
A villain always makes the hero look better. Of course, we love those movies too where villainy is not personified. In such films the protagonist battle social mores (Dirty Picture, Vicky Donor), angst (Rockstar, DevD) or circumstances (Paa, Paan Singh Tomar). Let's keep aside these genres of films as well as comedies and romantic dramas.
The current craze in Bollywood is to belong to the Rs 100-crore club. Most films that claim to have grossed these figures -Ghajini, Dabangg, Ready, Golmaal 2 and 3, Bodyguard, Ra-One, Singham, Agneepath - belong to the action genre. 3 Idiots, Housefull 2 are in the club too - but they are not part of our lab tests.
Now asks yourself which of the above 100-crore club members has a good villain ? I find them all wimpy. The Ghajini and Dabangg villain had brains the size of a peanut. Ra-One was the name of the villain, and that was the only thing clear in the films story. Prakash Raj's character in Singham was more hilarious than dangerous. Sanjay Dutt's character in Agneepath looked menacing but was amazingly stupid.
But so what? It doesn't matter what you or I think. Bollywood and its stars are happy because these films have been "accepted" by the audiences - that's how they grossed Rs 100 crore, isn't it? After all, audiences come to watch heroes not villains.
The only way our insecure leading actors will take a beating from the villain is when the latter has a "parallel" role. But when that happens, the villain is not called a villain. The film is said to have multiple heroes as in Once Upon a Time in Mumbai or the Dhoom series. There are some recent exceptions, like Vidyut Jamal in Force and Prashant Narayan in Murder2. John Abraham and Emraan Hashmi are more accommodating when it comes to sharing the limelight.
My favourite recent villain is not from an action drama, though I did like Naseerudin Shah in Sarfarosh, Zakir Hussain in Sarkar and Manoj Bajpayee in Rajneeti. I think Boman Irani's Prof Sahasrabudhe or Virus in 3 Idiots was close to a perfect villain. He was conniving, smart, emotional and extremely intelligent. He raised the odds for the heroes, something similar to Col Landa (Christopher Waltz in Inglorious Basterds ). The other villain I loved was Vidya Balan in Ishqiya. Sex and guile is an adorable combination in a woman.
For villains to be effective they don't have to occupy too much screen time. They just need to be powerful characters. Jack Nicholson had only three scenes in A Few Good Men. Yet Col Nathan Jessep is a character you love to hate.
Actors are fond of saying 'I love to do negative roles'. By negative they mean playing the role of a thief, serial killer, corrupt cop or a womaniser. These movies turn out to be damp squibs because the actor who becomes the villain refuses to have a formidable opponent who technically would be the hero. In Bollywood, insecure actors simply don't want the spotlight to move away from them.
Imagine a Hindi film where Hritik Roshan plays Batman and Ranbir Kapoor, Joker. Or a contemporary Mahabharata revenge drama that stars Salman Khan as Arjun and Aamir Khan as Karna? Or, since wishes are horses, Kareena Kapoor playing Sherlock Holmes and Vidya Balan as James Moriarity facing off as in BBC's Sherlock?
That's when I will not have to search for good villains in Bollywood.
The author is a writer-director
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