Why author Balaji Vittal dedicated his latest book to on-screen villains who have entertained audiences over decades
Yeh haath mujhe de de, Thakur
Mogambo khush hua
These lines by the bad men of Bollywood are etched in our memories along with Pushpa, I hate tears; Mere paas maa hain; Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahi, namumkin hai — all dialogues uttered by iconic characters. They may have suffered a raw deal on screen but Kolkata-born author Balaji Vittal gives Bollywood villains their due in the book Pure Evil – The Bad Men of Bollywood, published by Harper Collins, set to be released on December 3, 2021.
When the publishers mooted the idea, an excited Balaji signed the contract almost immediately, though it took a while for him to bring it out, owing to the pandemic.
Tracing the journey of villains in Hindi cinema
“The book is a rogues gallery of those despicable characters whom we couldn’t wait to see beaten to a pulp by the hero. But we cannot deny that a big part of the entertainment was because of these very villains. They sacrificed themselves for the cause of the film’s success,” says Balaji who had co-authored (with Anirudha Bhattacharjee) S.D. Burman – The Prince Musician and R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music, which won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema (2011) and also wrote Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs, which won the MAMI Award for Best Book on Cinema (2015).
In the process of collecting material for Pure Evil…, Balaji made a list of films to watch and signed up for OTT channels and purchased dozens of DVDs. “I read up close to 20 books on related topics in addition to archival features, news clippings and write-ups. My haunches ached from hours of hunting for old magazines at those roadside shops in Delhi’s Daryagunj.”
Balaji adds that he sought out the actors, scriptwriters and filmmakers “who filled those villain characters with palpability – and travelled to Mumbai to interview them in person”.
Determined his book would not be a mere reproduction of published journals, periodicals, or transcripts of interviews with the personalities he had met, Balaji decided to keep the core of Pure Evil… a logical categorisation of various genres of villainy and a cogent argument on the socio-political trigger behind their emergence.
“The narrative is an output — and not a reproduction — of the research, topped up with my sensibility of the villains, based on decades of watching Hindi films. I then identified a few iconic villain characters that exemplified each genre.”
Belying the myth that villains have been typecast in Hindi films, Balaji says they travelled with contemporary situations.
“With India emerging as a market for smuggled gold in the 1960s, we saw villains like the black-marketers and food grain hoarders of the 1950s being replaced with smugglers in the films of the mid-1960s. Directors were quick to track changing scenarios and cast them on screen.”
He adds, “No doubt there were a few stereotypes – like the horse-riding Chambal dacoits or the British villains with their heavily accented Hindi. In balance, a few bad men acted as watersheds in the industry — Shakaal the smuggler in Yaadon ki Baaraat, Rahul the obsessed young man in Darr and of course, Gabbar the dacoit in Sholay.”
The femme fatales have commanded their share of premium space in the book. They range from the tormenting saas and the wily bahu, right up to sexy young wives scheming to get their wealthy husbands killed, points out Balaji.
In his foreword, director Sriram Raghavan lays bare why villains fascinate us: “They needn’t follow any rules. And wouldn’t we all like that? Whereas the hero always needs to play by the book.” Going by recent trends, baddies on the big screen might just get new makeovers. “A lot of thought is being invested into innovative villain characters like the techno-savvy trickster thieves in the Dhoom series where the villain is indistinguishable from the hero,” states Balaji.