Indian ‘Bollywood Villians’ have a way with words, making even the most pedestrian comic book movie dialogue sound like Shakespeare
“Yahan teri izzat bachane koi nahi ayega!”
“Yahan teri cheekh sunne walah koi nahin!”
“Bula tere bhagwan ko– dekhta hoon kaun ata hai?”
“Kis maai ke laal mein itni himmat hai jo mujhse takrayega?”
The villain is supreme. His terror is omnipresent. And everyone is his victim. That’s when one of the victims rises and challenges him. We call him The Hero. And the story begins.
The fulcrum of any good story is its villain. He represents the evils of his time. If you were to pick up iconic and game-changer villains of each decade and study them you don’t have to read the modern history of India.
In the early 40’s and almost until the time we got Independence the villain used to be the landlord (Zameendaar or Jaagirdaar). Most of the country lived in villages. The populace depended on land for farming and was mostly unaware and cut-off from rest of the world. The landlord, therefore, was the most powerful person who could
dictate his personal laws. He was the one who would pick up a young virgin girl and rape her because the system and law wasn’t sensitive to women. He would charge tax (lagaan) as per his whims and fancies. His kothi
represented exploitation of the farmer. The victimized, young boys grew up with angst. And it was this angst that made this villain larger than life. The mystery around him, his moustache, his pagdi, his chamchas and his lathi made him an icon of terror. He filled with joy when a farmer put his pagdi, the
symbolic ijjat, on his feet. He loved the sound of a hunter on the bones of a skinny, starving farmer. He could do all this because he was the owner of the land. And that’s the only commodity that God doesn’t make any more. He was God. If you understand this man you will know why we Indians have such fascination for ‘Land & Gold’. We are willing to stop eating fruits, buying new clothes and even look for a
cheaper doctor in order to save for that ‘Do Beegha Zameen’.
Then India got Independence. A free India needed manufacturing more than farming. The same Zameendar now moved to cities. He owned factories and mills. On the other hand, Nehru brought in a socialist vision. He brought in huge dams and public
sectors’ heavy industries. The
intermediate beneficiaries were these new factory owners who became hand in glove with corrupt officers and maneuvered tenders in their favor. The foundations of unprecedented
corruption, that we see today, were laid in Nehru’s economics. It was his
economics, which gave birth to corrupt middlemen. This new, rich Indian was called Seth. Rai Bahadur. Dewan Sahab. Raja Saheb. The only hurdle to this villain was Nehru-inspired, middle class, idealistic, socialist and educated youth who were seeking social justice.
In 60’s as Indira Gandhi’s new vision gave impetus to urbanisation, we also saw a large level migration from villages to cities. As a result the demand for essential consumer goods increased manifold whereas
supplies were scarce. More so due to government’s license-raj. Social-justice took backseat and unemployment, hoarding, black market and corruption became real issues. A typical young man found himself in a situation where his honest father was dying and he had no money for the surgery. That’s when the chemist sold him drugs at a
premium. Behind this blackmarketing were the crime lords of the city. The Traders, Sahukars, Middlemen etc.. They manipulated this young man and made him do illegal stuff until he rose and destroyed the evil.
In the middle of 70’s emergency was declared. This was the time when two phenomenons happened. This big-city-crime-lord gradually moved on to become a smuggler. Gangster. Mafia leader. He had such strong political clout that even ministers and Police commissioners were scared of him. Secondly, freedom-born kids became adults. With their own set of ambitions and rebel. This new generation aspired to be rich. And his direct competition was with the Gangster. The gangster who illegally annexed properties. Who collected haftas. He would kill for a price. He ran satta, matka, gambling and prostitution rackets. In turn he funded political parties. Big politicians, ministers, Bollywood personalities attended his parties. This was also the period when we saw lots of Bade baap ke bete. Which is why this Hero had to face not one but two villians. The Gangster. And Gangster’s son. Politics and crime had collaborated. Bade baap ka beta became middleman. Father’s power and son’s ambition. A lethal combination. Exactly like the ruler of that time.
While this crime-lord was ruling cities his counterpart lived in villages and was called Daaku—The Dacoit. Indian Robinhood. He became a system by himself. Gabbar Singh wasn’t just a work of fiction. He was real. When two thugs pinned him down millions cheered with joy. If you see closely the Thakur (Zameendar) in 70s remained just an honorary status. In fact Thakur even didn’t have hands, which were taken away by this Daaku. This metaphor wasn’t just a coincidence. Soon, this Daaku would reform as a politician of 80s.
In 80’s a very unique thing
happened. Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi made a public announcement that only 10 per cent of government funding reached the poor. Balance 90 per cent was siphoned off by government
officers and politicians. This Politician-Police-Babu nexus beacame the new villain.
We saw advent of a new middle class that had learnt that honesty wouldn’t bear fruits. It joined corruption. Bofors and numerous other scams and law’s inability to deal with them gave exorbitant rise to corruption. It was a conflict between deserving vs undeserving. Talent and Merit had no value. It was a period of liberalisation. Joint families were on the verge of breaking up. Nuclear families were on a rise. Money started speaking. People started traveling. 100s of channels started beaming. There was exposure. Ghayal and Tezaab are the best examples of how the deserving youth had to fight corrupt, for justice. It was meritocracy vs mediaocracy.
The new villain was incompetent himself. He was a parasite feeding on corrupt system.
Judicial processes were in shambles. It was a general belief that one could get away with murder. The new villain was your Lotiya Pathan, Kancha Cheena, Bakhtawar etc. Above law and justice. This gave birth to an unparalleled formula in the history of cinema – Personal Justice. The hero will eventually walk into assembly and shoot all MLAs. Mr. Amitabh Bachchan told me once that the reason he connected with the audience in that period was because almost everyone wanted to kill politicians-police combine and he, as the hero, did exactly that.
Early 90’s witnessed advent of regional and caste based politics. Babri Masjid and Bombay bomb blasts happened. The villain for some short period was the communal guy. The terrorist. Religion was at the centre. He was from a superior caste, and he believed that his caste gave him the reason to be superior to anyone who was not a Thakur. We are talking of a world surrounded with illiteracy and where the rich Thakurs are not only the law, but are above the law. He was called Bahubali. Or the Terrorist.
Then came Y2K and it changed the fortunes of Indians. And killed the traditional villain.
The new emerging villain of late 90’s and early 2000 wasn’t someone from outside. He was either the hero himself or the girl’s father or the old Indian values. He was plain psycopath of Baazigar or a stalker of Darr. An era represented by SRK, Yash Raj and redefined by Karan Johar and Farhan Akhtar. The Hero of this era roamed freely without any social responsibilities. He wasn’t a common man born in Indian reality. He was born in Breach Candy and foreign educated. He had a macroscopic idea about India. Cut-off from real India, he could fly anywhere to sing a song without the opposition of a villain. There was no Mogambo, Gabbar, Dang, Rai Bahadur, Anna, Bakhtawar or Sher Khan to stop him. They were dead. Because the new ‘Shining India’ aspired to be the next superpower, flooded with credit cards, foreign cars, EMI’s, Gurgaons, Malls, flyovers, GAPs & DKNY’s, Louis Vittons, slut marches, candle vigils, facebook & Twitter, nightlife, cruises, Fashion Shows, page 3 gossips and pop-corn entertainment, art and pulp-fiction. Society accepted corrupt and corruption. Money and success became supreme. Indian Middle Class’ ambition became the new villain.
Of late, a unique trend is emerging. The pressure of building infrastructure is forcing government to pay in excess to the farmers/land owners. This nouve-riche landowner has no land but he has BMWs, Mercs and burning desire to have a lifestyle, which he couldn’t afford, despite 1000s of hectares of land. He has cash. He is the one who is buying cinema tickets. I have a feeling he is going to determine who the new villain is. He may go to a multiplex but he would want to see himself as a Hero and not some NRI dancing in Alps. Despite his desire to move up in social hierarchy he wants to relate with his local problems. No wonder the rehash of south films, Bhojpuri formulas have suddenly found success. Dabangg, Singham are not flukes. The re-emergence of Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan is no coincidence. Films are going back to local issues. Local Villian. The corrupt, exploitative, bhrasht, rich man. The ‘Land-Owner’. We are back to square one. The Villian is emerging again. Beware.
(The writer is a film-maker, writer
and travel junkie. He tweets at