THE AGE OF VILLAINS MAY WELL BE OVER. With the demise of Pran, one of India’s most iconic anti-heroes, Bharati Dubey goes back in time to tell us why The Age of Villains may well be over.
That was an age when good mostly won versus evil: when greed, lust, hunger for power were traits that belonged solely to the anti-hero. With the demise of Pran, who had acted in over 400 films, we have lost one of the last men standing from the Age of Villains. Pran, Ajit, Amjad Khan, Kanhaiya Lal, Madan Puri, Jeevan, K. N. Singh ………. were iconic villains of a bygone era. They will be permanently etched in the Indian audience’s collective memory for their larger-than-life personas, unique mannerisms and inimitable styles. Pran’s ingenuity lay in playing various negative characters in different get-ups; Jeevan had a unique style of rendering his dialogues. Kanhaiya Lal was the most mischievous of villains.
Director Subhash Ghai, whose film KARMA had Kher playing Dr. Dang, says one of the reasons why villains of that era are iconic, is that kids watched them with wonder and adults were fascinated by their style. The most dangerous presence on screen, in our times, was of K. N. Singh. He would talk with his deep voice that reverberated and frightened us in an instant. His big eyes, thick eyebrows and a menacingly cold demeanour, made him a towering villain of the 1950s. No one can forget Ajit’s dialogue from KALICHARAN, “Sara shehar mujhe Loin ke naam se jaanta hai”; or Amjad Khan’s immortal lines in SHOLAY, “Kitne aadmi the ?’ ; Amrish Puri’s evil smirk as he says, “Mogambo khush hua”; or Anupam Kher’s menacing look as he says to Dilip Kumar in KARMA, “Yeh thappad ki goonj …….”
Known for his immortal dialogue from BOBBY, “Mera naam hai Prem. Prem Chopra”, veteran actor Prem Chopra reminisces, “During our days, roles were defined. The brief given to us by the director was ……’Rajesh Khanna is the hero and you are the villain’. Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan explains the pull of the iconic villains. “Mannerisms apart, villains in those days had sole claim to the more human traits in us like greed, manipulation, lust and defeat. These emotions are universal. in most films, when these negatives came into conflict with the good qualities of the hero, they would be defeated. And good winning over evil, is always a story people want to believe in. Whatever human archetypal villainy these characters would portray, frightened us but didn’t disgust us. So the appeal lasted much longer.”
Bollywood trade analyst Komal Nahta says, “Great villains from those decades have more appeal because they heighten the impact of the heroes. You realise the value of Ram because of the evil acts of Ravan.” Now those days are gone. Our time demands gritty, edgy, real drama where white merges with the black, to give us dark conflicted heroes, who struggle with negative qualities that were once the sole domain of villains. Says director Mahesh Bhatt, “We have lost our comic book innocence and that has led to the demise of the big, bad villain on the silver screen.” Chopra says, “Iconic villains have been replaced by softies. Art, after all, imitates life. Cinema is getting more and more real. people want to identify with characters today.” The result is that there’s nothing FILMY about the villains of our age. Shakti Kapoor, aka, Crime Master Gogo, says, “Nowadays, if there is a good negative role, any hero will take it up, just like a glamorous dancer’s role will be taken up by any A-list heroine, so where’s the scope for iconic villains ?” The days of such innocence are long gone. celebrating the ANTI-HEROES from our days of yore is perhaps a way to hold on to the last hope of simplicity that’s so hard to come by in today’s age.