Today screen villainy is being celebrated. Indian cinema is encouraging us, even pushing us, to love the baddie.
The recent death of one of the most illustrious villains of the Hindi screen, Pran, should provoke a debate on a disturbing trend in Indian movies. Indian cinema has begun to glamourise evil, and the line between the hero and the rogue is blurring.
Pran was a Bollywood baddie, who wanted to have everything that the hero had or aspired to have. Pran had an eye on the hero’s girl, his riches… But Pran never got any of them.
Because, Bollywood did not want him to. Because Bollywood did not want a bad man to be seen on the same footing as the hero.
So, although Pran at the height of his career in the 1970s commanded a fee that was even higher than that of the hero, no viewer had any doubt that the characters the actor played were anything but good.
In Madhumati, in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and Ram Aur Shyam among many others, Pran portrayed negativity with panache — and was punished. He was the guy whom people hated, and so intensely that nobody ever named his or her son Pran.
But, today screen villainy is being celebrated. Indian cinema is encouraging us, even pushing us, to love the baddie.
In Neeraj Pandey’s recent film, Special 26, there are four conmen who pose as officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducting raids on business houses and jewellery shops across India and decamping with money and ornaments. Admittedly, the movie has been inspired by the actual heists which took place in the early 1980s India without mobile telephones and sophisticated surveillance gadgets.
But Pandey and his team infuse a liberal dose of charm and thrill into thievery, turning the unlawful characters (played by bigtime actors like Akshay Kumar and Anupam Kher) into adorable men.
Even Kumar’s screen lover is okay with the idea of her man being a crook! She elopes with him, running away from a marriage arranged by her elderly father.
The fraudsters in Special 26 do not get caught, escaping the elaborate trap laid by the real CBI.
What is more, the picture’s last shot shows the gang, in their Sunday best, enjoying a cricket match at Sharjah.
The question is, would we, the audience, have been happy if the fake CBI officers were caught and punished? Would we have wanted Kumar and Kher, masquerading in the film as epitome of sophistication, honesty and suaveness, to be outwitted by the CBI’s key player, Manoj Bajpayee’s Waseem Khan? I do not think so.
For, Pandey and his crew have so deftly created a halo around the offenders that they seem harmless and lovable even when they slap a minister’s private assistant or bully an elderly woman unwilling to let go her precious idol. Forget the fact that they steal millions, perhaps beating Peter O’ Toole at his 1966 classic heist story.
I am told the fake CBI men will be back in a sequel, and with all this hullabaloo now in India around the organisation (in connection with the encounter killing of 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan), the part two may get the boxoffice jingling all right.
However, I wonder whether the felons will be caught this time.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at [email protected]