‘What is life? It all depends on the liver.’ That line from Andhadhun sums up Sriram Raghavan’s meticulously-paced recent noir. To twist it, how good is your hero? The answer is, it all depends on your villain. The villain, goes an old screenwriting blueprint, makes the hero ‘heroic.’ And, nearly every movie-goer loves the bad guy. Simply, because whether he’s a cold-blooded killer, sadistic dacoit, evil mastermind or international terrorist, he’s far more entertaining and often, gets the best lines.
Bollywood audiences have always shown a strange love-hate towards the baddies. We love to abhor Gabbar Singh and Mogambo. Yet, we can’t do without our favourite movie monsters, can we? But as we look back on their careers, Amjad Khan and Amrish Puri who famously played Gabbar Singh and Mogambo, respectively, were stereotyped as villains despite having their share of characters with positive shades.
That’s because, as the audience, you know pretty much what to expect from them. Their villainy doesn’t surprise you. But what happens when heroes turn baddies? Now, we are talkin’.
As Akshay Kumar, the patron saint of screen patriotism, goes totally bad with 2.0, facing the indomitable Rajinikanth (Chitti is back, upgraded to 2.0) we look at five recent films in which Hindi heroes and heroines swapped places with the bad guy.
Tabu in Andhadhun (2018)
“Tabu should do at least one or two badass character like Simi every year,” director Sriram Raghavan told The Indian Express Entertainment recently. Tabu’s Simi is the ultimate femme fatale. Her weapon is her seductive charm, which she uses on her husband — an unsuspecting former Bollywood star who now deals in real estate — and her lover, a muscled-up cop. Twisted, she kills with glee and shows zero compunction as she luxuriates in a series of macabre murders. Wild theories have been spun around the blind pianist Akash played by Ayushmann Khurrana but make no mistake, Simi is this noir’s most unambiguous evil machine.
Nana Patekar in Kaala (2018)
Even in a Rajini vehicle — especially in a Rajini vehicle — you need the baddie on the backseat. Thalaivar needs the bad guy to make him look good, the laws of physics be damned. In Sivaji: The Boss, it was Adiseshan as a corrupt tycoon who literally gets killed in a cash stampede. In Enthiran, it was Danny Denzongpa as the scientist who manipulates robot Rajini’s software. Earlier this year, Nana Patekar, in all-whites, engaged in a face-off with Superstar Rajini. Kaala turns the conventional Rajini narrative on its head. Hari (Patekar) is a politician who dons white. Kaala (Rajini), the overlord of Dharavi, wears black. They are cut from the same cloth but dyed in different hues. Who’s Ram? Who’s Ravan? Director Pa. Ranjinth seems to enjoy the role reversals. It’s a classic good-versus-bad conflict that sits well on Rajinikanth’s larger-than-life image. And, once again, the pulse-quickening climax triggers a grassroots-level stampede (much like Sivaji: The Boss) wiping out the bad guy. You may be wondering why Rajini doesn’t deliver the climax. That’s because his job here is to lit the match and watch the fire.
Here’s a man who cannot resist his louche and lusty lifestyle even on his wedding day. He swings between an unhealthy attraction to the divine, much-married Rajput queen (Deepika Padukone) and a homoerotic passion with Man Friday Malik Kafur (the eunuch general played by Jim Sarbh). Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Alauddin Khalji is a ferociously ambitious warrior who will do anything to get the coveted Rani Padmavati of the (changed) title. Scarred and demented, Ranveer Singh sinks his teeth into Khalji. He’s a psychopath whose chilling hunger for power will wreck havoc. But who cares. Khilji is a deliciously fun bogeyman to watch and a complete antithesis to the morally upright King Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor).
Shah Rukh Khan in Fan (2016)
Fan brought back a version of Shah Rukh Khan that was somewhere lost to the nice-guy Raj-Rahul routine. King Khan made stalking ‘cool’ in Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam. In Fan, the victim of Shah Rukh Khan’s stalking is Shah Rukh Khan himself. So, now he knows what a disturbing thing stalking can be. Gaurav (Khan) is superstar Aryan’s (Khan) greatest fan. What makes matters worse is that the rogue Gaurav resembles his idol — the God and subject cast in the same mold. The double act beautifully aligns Shah Rukh Khan’s career. He’s a bundle of charms as a king of romance. But turn on his anti-hero switch and he is a stammering kkkk-ing of obsessive lover.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Kick (2014)
The shape-shifting Nawazuddin Siddiqui has made a career out of playing small-time rogues, henchmen, drug addicts and of late, serial killers and anti-heroes. It looked like we had stopped making enjoyable evil antagonists until Kick came along. “Even I was born honest, but I couldn’t get along well with honesty,” Siddiqui’s character Shiv Gajra says, with relish. Now, come on, who are we fooling? Kick is Salman Khan’s ode to Salman Khan (remember the Salluism, “Mere baare mein itna mat sochna, dil mein aata hun, samajh mein nahin?”) But it is nemesis Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as Bollywood’s Joker reincarnate, who nails it with his mixture of volatility, wickedness and manic laughter. Few would name Shiv Gajra as Nawaz’s finest portrayal but his first appearance with Salman Khan kicked him indisputably into mainstream success. Nawaz, the classic under-sized and Salman Khan, the brawny super-sized, are made for each other.
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)