Bollywood’s Best Go Bad
Villainy is in—at least where Bollywood is concerned. Oh sure, the hero gets the girl and leads a celebrated life as an upstanding member of the public, but where’s the fun in that? Especially compared to the mischief an epic villain gets to wreak.
2012 is shaping to be a big bad year in Hindi cinema as India’s glitterati assume personas bent on mayhem. Shah Rukh Khan indulges in a spree of murder and theft in Don 2. Priyanka Chopra channels Bluebeard as she hacks her way through seven husbands in Saat Khoon Maaf (Seven Murders Forgiven), and Hrithik Roshan threads dangerously close to the dark side in the remake of Agneepath (Path of Fire) as the protagonist driven by vengeance.
So what’s with the sudden urge to assume these poisonous personas? While there’s no doubt antagonists exude a certain dark charisma, these are often relegated to the supporting roles, making them less desirable to A-listers.
In India the plum role has typically been the young hero. The shining youth who overcomes adversity to dance off into the sunset with their beloved. Edge may be suggested via a leather jacket or short skirt, but Indian protagonists are almost invariably upstanding citizens at heart. It seems Bollywood is finally coming to terms with what movie-lovers have known all along—the hero gets top billing, but the villain makes the movie.
When audiences trudge through the soda-sticky aisles towards the exits under the glare of the theatre lights, it’s Vader, Frankenstein, and Shylock they remember. These characters speak to humanity’s darker impulses. They are tragic and understandable—if not actually sympathetic. Give a skilled actor a well-written villain, and they easily eclipse the headliner.
Of course, India has a long history of goody two-shoes, and the skillful portrayal of a villain is a finely tuned art. Will India’s A-listers be able to peel back the many layers of the complex villain to reveal the humanity behind the horror? Or will mustache twirling and maniacal laughter result in an instant Razzie nomination?
Audiences will have to wait and see.