A rambling, almost incoherent post. Dedicated to the actor whose fans think he is edgy.
I have seen Sholay in a theatre but only in the 1990s, when the wide-eyed surprise at the film was long gone and it was more of a karaoke experience. I haven’t seen Mr India in a theatre. I named these two films because – before the 1990s – they had the two most iconic villains of Hindi cinema but I never experienced firsthand how an audience reacts to a 'popular' villain.
That changed one week in 1993 when I stared open-mouthed as a bushy-haired, bloody-faced, brown-jacketed youngster dug a knife into Bollywood’s resident he-man’s stomach.
And the theatre erupted in applause and cheers.
Yash Chopra made the bold and beautiful Lamhe, a film too ahead of its times and too behind in the box office rankings. To recoup his losses, he made the ‘more conventional’ Darr. Bollywood does the Obsessive Lover character fairly often and fairly conventionally. A hero who was ready to slash his wrists or stab himself if he didn’t get his girl. And look what we got in the ‘conventional’ film… not your usual obsession, not your usual chocolate-faced boy next door. Or maybe he was chocolate-faced… but then as a wise woman said, you never know what you’re gonna get in a box of chocolates!
The role was offered to Rishi Kapoor first, given to Aamir Khan then and finally landed up on Shah Rukh Khan’s doorstep. Shah Rukh Khan was not yet a star when he was picked but by the time he had gone on stage to collect his Best Actor Filmfare award trophy, he had become one. He giggled and claimed that he had kept some cash handy in case he was asked to pay for the award. In the age where everyone touched everyone’s feet in Bollywood and the pretense of fairness in film awards was bulletproof, this was scandalous at best and sacrilegious at worst. It was this persona SRK carried to Darr and wowed a director like Yash Chopra. After Darr, Yash sahab never worked with another hero till the last film of his life.
Yash Chopra had a thing for flawed heroes. Deewaar had a smuggler. Trishul had an unethical businessman. Kaala Patthar had a deserter. Silsila had an adulterer. Lamhe had a non-committal wimp. And Darr had the most charming villain since – well – nobody.
Darr started a pair of legs teetering on the ledge of a skyscraper, playing a deadly game of she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not. It progressed to the now legenedary K-k-kiran. It took stalking to the level of narcotics… addictive for some, illegal for the rest. It gave a violent, manic edge to Holi, a festival of romance and harmless teasing as popularized by Hindi cinema. It gave Hindi film actors a height… “Paanch foot dus inch”… and a dimpled smile.
And finally, it ended with that stunning stab… when the ‘hero’ (Sunny Deol) was beating up the errant ‘anti-hero’, the latter asked for forgiveness and the audience breathed a sigh of relief. This is when one forgives and the other reforms, right? Even Sunny looked quite relieved till of course, the anti-hero changed his Filmfare nomination from Best Supporting Actor to Best Villain.
Was there a justification to his evil? His mother’s untimely death, his father’s neglect? Not really.
He was so cute, so lovable, so articulate in the year before Darr that we relented. He threw his heroine off a multistoried building but we said that he did it as revenge. His entire family was wiped out by the girl’s father, after all. We had to give him the Best Newcomer and of course, the Best Actor.
But we were not ready to forgive him in Darr. No amount of justification was enough. We couldn’t give him a Best Actor prize after he stabbed the hero, could we? No, we gave him our hearts instead. The boy next door had gone rogue but he was still our boy, wasn’t he?
When SRK works with new age directors like Imtiaz Ali or Aanand L Rai, I am told it would be a love story but it is going to be very edgy.
A dwarf romancing a paraplegic is edgy? The SRK I knew once upon a time would have turned the girl into a paraplegic and then romanced her. Now that would be edgy!