Return of the devil

24 FPS23 January 2012

'Agneepath' marks the return of the Bollywood baddie who is meaner and stronger than ever

The bald, colossal and tattooed look of Sanjay Dutt as Kancha Cheena is perhaps the most fear-inducing look for a villain of recent times and marks the return of the Bollywood baddie, a character which had become extinct post the 90s. The turn of the century was marked by more sophisticated and sauvé villains who didn't resort to cheap thrills (a la Mogambo in Mr India), a far cry from the quintessential lecherous rogue who would take delight in mouthing quick one-liners and elaborate torture techniques. But then, without the triumph of good over evil, Bollywood was never the same.

Like the plot of most masala films, one thing which has remained constant throughout the years is the virtuous hero, who can never do any wrong. So, despite the changing character-graph of the antagonist, the show always belonged to the hero. Perhaps, this is why not many leading men of the 70s and 80s were willing to step into the evil shoes. When Amjad Khan, Pran or Ajeet made their first appearance in a film, the audience would know instantly that they are going to be mean and vicious and will be bashed up by the hero at the end of the film. The element of surprise, never a strong point of Bollywood films, was completely relegated to the background with the routine villain bashing. With time, the villain started becoming more dimensional. He would lend his shoulder to the hero, sympathise with him before weaving the final trap (Nana Patekar in 'Parinda' and Naseeruddin Shah in 'Mohra'). By then, the stage was already set for the lines to be further blurred.

The demarcation between the hero and the villain vanished when Shahrukh Khan burst into the scene as an anti-hero in 'Baazigar', 'Darr' and 'Anzaam'. Seeing the formula's massive success (Shah Rukh swept away all the awards that year), more producers started piggy-backing on it, giving us characters like Bhiku Mathre (Manoj Bajpai in 'Satya') and Om Shrivastav (Govinda in 'Shikari'). When something works in Bollywood, it soon becomes a template and every hero wants to play the baddie. So from Abhishek Bachchan (Yuva), Saif Ali Khan ('Ek Haseena Thi', 'Being Cyrus'), John Abraham and Hrthik Roshan ('Dhoom' and 'Dhoom2'), almost every actor worth their six-pack have tried to cash in. Some worked while others went back to playing the hero.

But the terminator-style evil robot in 'Ra One' dislodged the equation yet again, marking the return of the villain and now with the pierced ear, puffed-up eyes and the wicked, lop-sided smile of Kancha Cheena, Bollywood villain is here to stay for a while.

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