Bollywood Baddies: Villains, Vamps and Henchmen in Hindi Cinema
Tapan K Ghosh
Mogambo. Gabbar. Dr Dang. Kancha Cheena: through the decades, Bollywoods bad men have captured popular imagination. In fact, after Sholays release and Amjad Khans phenomenal outing as Gabbar Singhthe villain at the heart of a story about good vs evila recording of his famous dialogues sold like hot cakes on vinyl. Amrish Puri had a distinguished career in acting, but he would always be associated with his turn as Mogambo in Mr India and the audacious refrain, Mogambo khush hua.
Bollywood Baddies: Villains, Vamps and Henchmen in Hindi Cinema is dedicated to all those who have played baddies over the decades and comes with a foreword by the inimitable Prem Chopra, standing tall among Bollywood villains, including the likes of Pran, Ajit Khan, Amjad Khan and Amrish Puri. In the foreword, Chopra writes, Gradually, the villains turned out to be so fascinating that the heroes started playing negative roles, possibly trying to understand how someone becomes a bad guy. Quoting Shakespeare: The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together, Chopra says if human life justifies the experience, then Bollywood, a mirror of society, has always shown this. The writer, Tapan K Ghosh, who taught literature for years before turning to creative writing, had always been interested in cinema and wrote to Shyam Benegal in the 1990s, seeking advice on his idea to write a story on the villains of Bollywood. Benegal encouraged him, and though this took time to take off due to various reasons, Ghoshs labour of love recognises the unique contribution of villains, vamps and henchmen to cinema and how their roles reflect the social mores of the day.
The villains presented in Bollywood, writes Ghosh, both prior to independence and after, offer a valuable case study for identifying the social, economic and political faces of India as the country progressed over the decades. If the country stuttered in the Thirties and Forties, the villains did much the same. Running in tandem with the nation that tried to articulate her voice since independence, the villains gradually broke their shackles, and looked far more aggressive and authentic as the decades rolled on.
Ghosh argues that in the 1950s and 1960s, under the new reality of optimism aired by the Nehruvian socioeconomic policies designed to carry the rich, the middle class, and the rural farmers to the promised shore, the villains had no choice except hiding and creeping in the dark, disguised in their outward gentility but ready to pounce on the opportune moments. He cites the example of Lala Sukhiram in Mother India and other films like Do Bigha Zameen, Awaara and Ganga Jamuna. In the 1950s, villains were moneylenders or greedy zamindars, the 1960s showed the villain jeopardising the love interest of the hero. By the 1970s, villains had moved into the city (Zanjeer, 1973) and by 1975, the villain began to be placed at the centre of the narrative, Amjad Khan in Sholay. In the 1980s and after, villains began operating as terrorists, politicians and policemen.
There are also delightful chapters dedicated to vamps and henchmen, who contributed in no mean part to the empire of villains, and the characters and actors who played the baddies: Mogambo/Amrish Puri, Gabbar Singh/Amjad Khan, Kancha Cheena/Sanjay Dutt in the Agneepath remake. But are memorable villains like Dr Dang (Anupam Kher in Karma) and Gabbar a thing of the past Well, Ghosh argues that Dutts Kancha Cheena announces a loud comeback of villains in Bollywood cinema after a temporary lull and fadeout of baddies.
Datta is a freelancer