The anti-hero rises: Stars like Akshay, Ranveer, Ranbir play dark, flawed characters

Bollywood has conventionally had heroes who are perfect in every respect. But as artists and society evolve, top actors are ditching the safe image, and viewers love the experiment.

bollywood Updated: May 18, 2018 18:14 IST
Juhi Chakraborty
Juhi Chakraborty
Hindustan Times
Ranveer Singh,Rajkummar Rao,Akshay Kumar
Ranveer Singh, Akshay Kumar, and Rajkummar Rao have all broken the mould of the Bollywood ‘hero’.

Who’s a Bollywood hero? Well, conventionally, he’s the one who fights the bad guys, is an ideal man who takes the moral high ground, heroically saves the damsel in distress, and always loves his mum. Down the years, the A-listers of Hindi cinema have seldom, if at all, broken this mould. But now, it’s happening in a flurry. Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor show that they’re not shy about ditching the image. Even Rajkummar Rao, the quintessential good fellow on screen until now, has taken on a very different role.

With his latest release, Omerta, Rajkummar has pushed the envelope even harder, taking on the challenging role of the British terrorist of Pakistani descent, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who plotted the murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. “I’m just doing whatever excites me. I’m an actor and it’s my job to play different characters,” says Rajkummar. “I like challenging myself with every film. That’s the only fun part of acting for me. If I keep doing the same thing in every film, it might become monotonous. I feel our audience expects [new things] from us now.”

Ranveer’s act in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat as the menacing Sultan Alauddin Khilji, obsessed with the Rajput queen Padmavati, is a watershed in his career. Soon after the film’s release, as the rave reviews came in, the actor said in a media interview, “When I was offered Padmaavat, most people were of the opinion that a hero should not play the anti-hero.” How wrong they were.

Ranbir Kapoor plays Sanjay Dutt in an upcoming biopic.

In the upcoming biopic on actor Sanjay Dutt, lead star Ranbir Kapoor plays a person who, despite his fame, was once a drug addict and was even jailed for another offence — not at all your typical shining, flawless hero.

Akshay Kumar’s role in 2.0, the sequel to Robot / Enthiran (2010), is a stunning change from his usual bandbox clean image. Akshay is the main antagonist, Dr Richard, opposite Rajinikanth.

About these choices, actor Adil Hussain, who played villainous characters in Agent Vinod (2012) and Ishqiya (2010), says, “I guess, the era of black-and-white characters is over. The audience is educated enough to accept even characters with grey shades, which is an extremely good sign, because people aren’t exactly black-and-white. We all have dark and light sides. Generally, the artist community in any part of the world is supposed to be the conscience-keeper of society. They’re also evolving and so are the heroes. This is an evolutionary process in the understanding of human beings. It helps us as a society not to judge a person outright. A person must have gone through something to be doing something evil. People are not born evil.”

‘The audience is educated enough to accept even characters with grey shades, which is an extremely good sign, because people aren’t exactly black-and-white’ —Adil Hussain, actor

Filmmaker Ketan Mehta feels that the way such performances are being lapped up by the audience proves that a flawed hero is much more interesting than a conventional hero. Also, he adds, “Popular actors have become a little more adventurous and experimental with their roles. Actors, directors, scriptwriters are going beyond the usual and it’s a great sign.”

The anti-hero was always there — Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘angry young man’ was the perfect example. Then, Shah Rukh Khan began his career playing the anti-hero in Darr (1993), Baazigar (1993) and Anjaam (1994) and did it again with Raees (2017).

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says that such roles are now being taken up by more actors, because “people want to add different shades to their roles”. He adds, “I think all actors today are quality-conscious, and the audiences also love this experiment.”

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First Published: May 18, 2018 18:14 IST