They were the dinosaurs who ruled the silver screen, scaring and bewitching us with their sadistic streak. Their mere presence was enough to make us forget popcorn and soft drinks, which in those pre-PVR days didn’t burn a gaping hole in our pockets. Sadly, their species has become extinct and not even Jurassic World can revive them. I’m zooming in on Bollywood’s Super Villains (SuVs) – the likes of Gabbar Singh, Shakal, Dr Dang and Mogambo, played by AK, KK, another AK, and AP, respectively (no prizes for expanding the initials).
These guys had no qualms about killing people, even their own men, as if they were swatting flies. They were always too good (or rather, too bad) for the hero, who had to conspire with the director to ensure the unfair victory of Good over Evil. Even though they usually died at the end, they lived on in our mindscape, haunting our dreams and making even Ravana look like an angel.
Today’s Hindi cinema has nothing to offer in the name of over-the-top villainy. Take Piku. The aged Amitabh Bachchan, who took on the might of Amrish Puri and Danny Denzongpa in his younger days, faces a weird enemy: the faceless, voiceless Mr Constipation. The entire battle is fought inside ‘Bhashkor’ Banerjee’s bowels,
invisible to all spectators except the ones gifted with X-ray vision. No shots are fired, no blows are exchanged, no bombs explode (not even of the gaseous kind). In Badlapur, I couldn’t figure out who was the greater evil: the anti-hero (Varun Dhawan) or the anti-villain (Nawazuddin Siddiqui); one killed in cold blood, the other in the heat of the moment, and both vied for my sympathy. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns, the dashing antagonist (Jimmy Sheirgill) didn’t run away with his already-married beloved despite having the looks and the clout to pull it off. And in a new low, Akshay Kumar borrowed Gabbar’s name to play an anti-corruption crusader, a violent version of Anna Hazare, letting down the dreaded dacoit who was blissfully unaware of morals.
Why the hell has Bollywood written the death warrant of SuVs? Alas, the insecure heroes have stolen the traits of overconfident villains to lend a menacing hue to their roles. In the multiplex world, an all-black character is like a single-screen theatre, incapable of offering multiple attractions to the audience. It’s the shades of grey that are in demand. What’s worse, every Tom, Dick and Karan Johar (Bombay Velvet) is playing the devil’s disciple. With his career graph going downhill, Vivek Oberoi took the desperate plunge as the destructive Kaal in Krrrish 3, but even that failed to keep him afloat. Full-time baddies are no longer in vogue, unless you are referring to the spoilsport censor board.
In the women’s wing, the picture is no less bleak. Long gone are the 1990s, when Rekha played the man-eater Maya in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, Shabana Azmi was the all-powerful, unscrupulous Godmother and Kajol the love-sick killer (Gupt). The vamp lost her job when the heroine agreed to shake her booty and do the item number herself. Today’s leading ladies might have an affair here and a drink there on screen, but they feel it’s risky to go all the way on the nasty-n-dirty track. The bitchy Bindus, scheming Lalita Pawars and malicious Manoramas belong to the distant past, a past that was way too melodramatic but also far more colourful and paisa vasool. May their coal-black souls never rest in peace.