My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.
This week, we look at the several occasions where a newcomer (only a few films old, if not the debutant) was given the role of an over-the-top villain in a lavishly mounted saga – often pitting him against established stars of the times. The unpredictability that a talented newcomer brings to a role probably overcame all the resistance in going with an unknown name.
The best example of this trend is obviously, Gabbar Singh in Sholay.
When the Sholay script was complete, it was unanimously agreed that the most pivotal character was going to be Gabbar Singh – the daku who was nothing like the on-screen dakus seen till then. For this role, Danny Denzongpa was signed on but he had to drop out because he had already committed to do Feroz Khan’s Dharmatma. Since none of the villains of the day fitted the bill, Ramesh Sippy decided to back a newcomer called Amjad Khan. Amjad had a strong grounding in theatre but there was much scepticism in pitting him against three of the country’s top actors. Amjad himself was very nervous about the role and the industry found his unusual voice to be unbecoming of a fearsome villain but the audience of Sholay thought otherwise. Gabbar Singh went on to become the most popular villain of all times, fearsome and magnetic. And the role turned Amjad Khan into one of the top villains (and later, character actors) of the industry.
Ramesh Sippy repeated the same trick in his next film, Shaan.
For what was going to be one of the most expensive films made till then, he chose Kulbhushan Kharbanda to be Shaakaal – a villain who seemed to have walked straight out of a Bond film, complete with island hideouts, pet crocodiles and ambitions of world domination. Kharbanda shaved off his hair and delivered sadistic lines with his customary clenched-teeth-relish (“Dheere dheere yeh zehreeli gyais...”). Prior to this, Kharbanda was only seen in arthouse cinema and this role brought him bang in the middle of Bollywood.
Like in Sholay, the villain was pitted against three top stars of the industry. Like in Sholay, he played a version of the Russian Roulette (with rotating chairs instead of rotating gun chambers). And poured untold misery on the entire cast. But somehow, the magic of Gabbar was missing. You could say it was the curse of Sholay that everything about Shaan was compared to its predecessor and found wanting. Shaakaal was no exception.
Kulbhushan Kharbanda did not do too many negative roles after this but became one of the better known character actors in mainstream and parallel cinema, a career that is still going strong.
It is somehow difficult to conceive that a character actor as well-recognised as Rajesh Vivek would have been a debutant at some point of time. He looks older than time itself!
But he was ‘introduced’ in Joshilaay as Jogi Thakur, yet another dacoit who went about killing people as if it was a game. The standard daku territory of Chambal ravines changed to the rugged terrains of Ladakh as Jogi Thakur was chased by the garrulous Sunny Deol and laconic Anil Kapoor – each having a different reason for getting to him.
Joshilaay was written by Javed Akhtar – one of the men who created iconic villains like Gabbar and Shaakaal (who were also played by newcomers) – and the character of Jogi Thakur had the same crazy unpredictability that distinguished those characters. His flowing mane and imposing frame gave out a frisson of menace whenever he appeared on screen and it was a style which Vivek would borrow from several times in the future.
Rajesh Vivek’s innings in Bollywood has been a stellar one with important roles in films like Lagaan and Swades – which started as a mega-villain in Joshilaay.
When Rajkumar Santoshi made China Gate – his version of vigilantes-defending-villagers involving disgraced Army officers and a manic daaku, he borrowed a trick out of Sholay too. His villain – Jageera – was probably madder and more brutal than Gabbar and played by a rank newcomer, Mukesh Tiwari.
The actor with pitted against thespians like Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Amrish Puri but he managed to come out with flying colours. His matted hair, unruly beard, stained teeth, dirty clothes and an eccentric diction were carefully cultivated over a significant period of time and the effort showed on screen. He got a lion’s share of the catchy dialogues (that won the award for Best Dialogue at Filmfare Awards) and was by far the most memorable character in an otherwise underwhelming film.
Mukesh Tiwari – after his bloodthirsty debut (“Mere man ko bhaya, main kutta kaatke khaya...”) – has transformed into a versatile character actor with successful comic (Vasooli in the Golmaal franchise) and dramatic (Bachcha Yadav in Gangaajal) roles under his belt.
Post Satya, Manoj Bajpai’s stock was at an all-time high and his next film – Shool – received a lot of attention despite being a rather grim, low-budget take on the violent world of Bihari politics.
He played the upright police officer up against a corrupt system, which was represented by Bachchoo Yadav - an infuriatingly nasty politician. The role was played by Sayaji Shinde (in his first major role). His staccato dialogue delivery, manic laughter and crazily lurching eyes became a sort of a template for all ‘nasty neta’ roles in the near future. The character borrowed several traits from various real-life netas and created a solid impact, holding his own against Bajpai’s histrionics.
Sayaji Shinde became a regular in the supporting cast of Hindi as well as Marathi cinema, often repeating the Shool template of the nasty politician.
Priyadarshan – before his brainless comedy phase – has done some excellent dramatic films with moments of high entertainment. Gardish was one such film.
The villain of Gardish – the fearsome local don, Billa Jilani – was played by the hulking Mukesh Rishi, who had just appeared in a few bit parts till then. In Gardish, he was given a build-up like no other villain of recent times. His entry scene in the film was orchestrated to a crescendo as we kept seeing his villainous acts and their terrorized aftermath – but never himself. When he did – in a fight scene with hero, Jackie Shroff – ‘Billa’ had already arrived. Rishi’s towering frame was used to maximum effect as he dwarfed everyone in the vicinity and remained ominously soft-spoken throughout the movie.
Mukesh Rishi went on to become a major villain of the 1990s including the iconic Gunda (where he played Bulla, of ‘rakhta hoon main khulla’ fame). He even made a well-noticed detour into character roles by playing Inspector Salim in Sarfarosh.
It is not often that someone playing an out-and-out villain gets the Filmfare Award for Best Debut. In fact, it has happened only once – with Vidyut Jamwal for Force.
He played the younger brother of drug lord (played by Mukesh Rishi, of Gardish fame: see above) and managed to put up a very scary opposition to John Abraham and his cohorts. His sculpted body, deadpan expression and very slick action moves made him a worthy adversary to John’s police officer. As Vidyut took off shirts to John’s provocations (of also taking off shirts), he gave some serious competition to the other doyen of shirt-taking-off – Salman Khan.
While the movie did not do too well, Vidyut’s villainous turn was noticed and rewarded with awards for newcomers. He has kicked off his action-hero career in Bollywood with Force and has started to appear in heroic roles as well. After all, it would be a shame to waste those many abs on a villain!