Game of Thrones' Night King, Avengers: Endgame's Thanos are the kind of super-villains Bollywood needs
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In the last week, we have been served two ‘villains-for-the-ages’ — Thanos and the Night King. As expected, everyone has geeked out over these two larger-than-life baddies. The internet has gone into overdrive with conversations, arguments, spoilers and memes about the two. There is even a bunch of people rooting for a showdown between them, and, of course, there are theories on who would win that battle. Do not believe me? Google #WeWannaSeeThisFight.
So, what catapults a negative character into this extraordinary league of evil men? It is impact above all else. And building that kind of impact takes love and nurturing.
Thanos, the mad Titan, first appeared in a mid-credits scene in The Avengers back in 2012. Marvel kept the mystique going with a small cameo two years later in Guardians of the Galaxy followed by an appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Bits of the character were doled out to fans, driving internet searches and building an aura around him. Those who have read the comics rediscovered the character and those who did not… well… just discovered him. The anticipation had been built over time before Marvel, finally, unleashed Thanos on the world in Avengers: Infinity War last year. Fans learnt his motivations, and despite what can only be called an ill-guided ideology, always understood where he was coming from. In a world where nothing is only good or evil, one might even admire Thanos’ ‘unselfish’ focus on his goal. And, that is what every villain wants once he/she has been vanquished: to adulterate the viewer’s sense of relief with a slight sense of loss.
Then there is the Night King, an out-and-out menacing kind of villain, the one whose history or motivations do not really matter. The five-year build up since he first made an appearance on Oathkeeper (S4Ep4), has had the showrunners teasing us with new revelations on what he can do. Necromancy and cryokinesis were always at the core of it — we have seen him raise armies of the dead and freezing everything in sight. But then you go on to discover that he can take human babies and turn them into White Walkers, that he can shatter weapons of steel, cause fissures in the ground, and walk through dragon fire. He can mark you and then pursue you wherever you are, ride a dragon and manipulate the weather. It just goes on and on and on. And all of this is done with a deadpan face. The closest you get to emotions with the Night King are millimeter level fluctuations of his mouth, indicating pleasure after he has done something really bad. Those icy blue eyes are meant to terrify and they do.
Closer home, however, there has been a marked lack of interesting villainous characters on our screens in recent years. When was the last time Bollywood created a villain that really, really got under your skin? Playing the one-off ‘anti-hero’ type was in vogue for a while with some of our leading actors. But does it really count when the script shines a spotlight on your trials and tribulations, and makes excuses for why you are so bad? Having an audience root for you is not quite the same thing as an audience wanting you to be pounded into dust. Building that kind of revulsion is also an art.
Old-school Bollywood was really good at creating great villains. Our formula films were almost always driven by a strong hero fighting some sort of injustice, and at the centre of that would be this one character — the villain. The archetypal Bollywood villain of the 20th century was someone who knew how to get an audience worked up, and took pride in his/her craft. But it was always a collective effort.
Writers employed tools that were designed to work for our audiences, the most common one being a ‘takiya kalam’ or catchphrase. Who can forget Amjad Khan famously drawling, “Arre oh Samba, kitne aadmi the?” The line inspired entire generations of annoying kids across Indian playgrounds for decades to come. Some of the most memorable lines in Indian cinema can be attributed to our villains, and for every “Mere paas maa hai,” there is a “Jo dar gaya samjho mar gaya.” Some of these lines have even attained accidental cult status, like Amrish Puri’s “Aao kabhi haveli pe,” but it does take good writing talent to come up with this stuff in the first place. Super-villains like Gabbar Singh, Mogambo, Shakaal and Dr Dang were all products of great writing before they were taken to the next level by some of the industry’s best actors.
Then there is the delivery — an innocuous self-introduction like “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra” would take on menacing proportions purely due to the amount of slime shining through. These actors honed their craft, and sometimes built personas across multiple films. KN Singh used his deep voice, arched eyebrow and menacing eyes to make the role of suited-booted, ‘classy’ gangster completely his. Ranjit, Prem Chopra, Gulshan Grover and Shakti Kapoor put years of effort into being slime-balls of the sexual predator variety. Ajit’s signature Loin, Mona and Robert dialogues travelled well between films, and have been an inspiration for local stand-up comedians for half a century. There was always a role for one of these guys in every film, and they just turned up bringing their bag of tricks with them.
Times might have changed, and the formula film has almost disappeared from Bollywood. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the industry has seen better storytelling and a wider range of films. The one casualty though, has been the super-villain. Give us someone to hate enough onscreen and maybe we would create an outlet for some of that hate we see online. Give us a villain who will embody the words of Megamind: “I make bad look so good!”
Updated Date: May 08, 2019 11:37:05 IST
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