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Unpacking the big black box of villainy

Vijay Lokapally | Updated on: Dec 30, 2021
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In Pure Evil, the Bad Men of Bollywood, Balaji Vittal traces the various shades of villainy down the ages

Kitne Aadmi Thhe ( Amjad Khan )

Prem Naam Hai Mera. ( Prem Chopra)

Kar bhala, so ho bhala ( Kanhaiyalal )

These are iconic dialogues of some of the stalwarts of Indian cinema. They have been an integral part of the film industry but rarely have these actors, portraying evil men and women got the recognition they deserve. What good is the hero if there is no villain to be bashed up? Often, it would appear so comical watching the chocolate-faced hero thrash the masculine bad man until a Dharmendra arrived and rightly earned the title of He Man.

But Balaji Vittal, a well-informed film buff, with best-selling books on SD Burman and RD Burman to his credit, has done justice to the contributions of the bad men. His new offering - Pure Evil, The Bad Men Of Bollywood - documents the evolution of this genre where he traces the journey of some of the finest actors.

Why a book on bad men? Vittal responds, “Though there have been many biographies of leading actors who have played villainous characters, there hasn't been a book that traced the various genres of villainy down the decades. The big black box called 'Villains' needed to be unpacked. And I discovered many darkly delightful shades and nuances within. I had fun categorising them under various genres.”

The book has chapters that focus on some of the most vicious characters brought alive on screen. From the scheming Munim to the sauve pipe/cigar puffing boss, the screen villains have had a tremendous following. Often they have had to come up with innovations in their character, especially Pran, who made it a point to introduce captivating mannerisms.

For Balaji, the obvious modern picks are, “Gabbar Singh (Sholay), Shakaal (Kulbushan Kharbanda in Shaan ), Mogambo (Amrish Puri in Mr India), Bheeku Mhatre (Manoj Bajpai in Satya), Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee in ' Kahaani' ), Kamini ( Karz ), Dilnawaz (Aamir Khan in '1947 - Earth'), Dr. Asthana (Kay Kay Menon in 'Ankur Arora Murder Case'), Raghavan (Manoj Bajpayee in ' Aks' ), Pramod Mathur (Annu Kapoor in ' Jolly LLB 2' ), Dr. Aarti Mahajan (Tisca Chopra in 'Rahasya' ).”

In his foreword, film-maker Sriram Raghavan observes, “Why do villains fascinate us? Because they needn’t follow any rules. And wouldn’t we all like that. Whereas the hero always needs to play by the book. Like Balaji’s other books, this one is meticulously researched and peppered with anecdotes and insights. For example, in his conversations with actor Boman Irani, Balaji discovered how Irani, in preparation for his role of Lucky Singh in Lage Raho Munna Bhai, visited a motor dealer’s shop owned by a sardarji in Mumbai’s Lamington Road, and simply sat in his shop and observed him closely. And sometimes, he would also mind the shop when the sardarji would be on a loo break.”

The chapters have been thoughtfully categorised to highlight the range of the negative aspect of a film story. For instance, in the chapter Mera Bharat Mahaan, Balaji writes on colonizers as enemy and foreign villains in free India. The chapter titled Mere Humdum Mere Dost gives an interesting insight into the back-stabbers, scheming relatives, the intruder ( pati, patni aur woh ), wife exploiters and the professionally corrupt.

Balaji is at his best when writing about the outlaws in the chapter titled Baaghi. From Do Bigha Zamin , dealing with the zamindars and moneylenders, to biopics on the bad men, Balaji speaks to people associated with making the films. In fact, he weaves this book with personal interactions with no less than 65 persons. The chapter titled The Psychotics have some rare information on the film Pagal (1940). Writes Balaji, “Pagal is arguably India’s first film around the subject of psychosis. Prithviraj Kapoor’s performance as the psychotic doctor was hailed even by a critic of the stature of Baburao Patel in the August 1940 edition of FilmIndia.”

Imagine Amol Palekar as a villain, which he performed superbly in Khamosh ( 1985) where he commits four murders. “I was not interested in becoming one of those larger than life angry young men, macho or romantic heroes. And thus, in my roles, I tried to bring out the vulnerability of a person and that made the characters identifiable and even likeable,” Palekar told Balaji.

Balaji’s magnificent research gives the reader a platform to look at the evil men of Hindi cinema differently. Pran, Ajit, Prem Chopra, KN Singh, Amrish Puri, Amjad Khan, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Ashutosh Rana are names the fans are familiar with and Balaji brings out their best performance for you to have a relook. Actors like Anwar Hussain, Rehman, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Kanhaiyalal, Om Prakesh, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha have, at times in their career, played comic roles as effortlessly as the negative roles.

“They could pull it off essentially because they were brilliant actors. Their part in the film needed them to be different and it meant they had to work that much harder to make a mark in a frame which was going to focus on the hero of the film,” says Balaji. His book portrays the evil men as important factors in the success of a movie and nothing proves it better than Amjad Khan in Sholay and Ashutosh Rana in Sungharsh, two all-time stellar performances.

Balaji’s book celebrates some stars and many unsung actors, often dismissed as henchmen of the villain. But Gabbar would not be a Gabbar without Sambha, played by Mac Mohan. “Poore pachaas hazaar,” three words was all that Sambha uttered in the film and yet it earned him a place in the hearts of his fans and critics. One can reflect on the bad men of film history and acknowledge them as wonderful actors, most of them so easily slipped into playing character roles. Balaji deserves credit for taking up a subject not many would love to. And hats off to his research. It is the most significant segment that enriches his art of storytelling.

(Vijay Lokapally is an independent journalist and author)

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About the Book

Pure Evil: The Bad Men Of Bollywood

Balaji Vittal

Harper Collins

Rs 399/ 305 pages (Paperback)

Published on December 30, 2021

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