Ranveer Singh, as Alauddin Khilji in Padmavati, could add a new facet to Bollywood's anti-hero

Gautam Chintamani

October 03, 2017 18:00:51 IST

In the 1933 film, I’m No Angel screen diva Mae West summed up the sheer joy of playing the bad character with her iconic line, ‘When I’m good, I’m very good but when I’m bad, I’m better!’

There is little doubt that that playing ‘bad’ characters offers far more complex shades for most actors to explore than the traditional hero. Perhaps this is the reason that the anti-hero has lured every actor ever since films existed — right from right a Paul Muni in Scarface (1932) or Edward G Robinson in Little Caesar (1931), Ashok Kumar in Kismet (1943), Dev Anand in Baazi (1951), Sunil Dutt in Mother India (1957), Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jumna (1961), Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Haraam (1973) and Deewar (1979) to Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar (1993) and Darr (1993) to Kangana Ranaut in Revolver Rani (2014) — and now with Padmavati where he portrays Alauddin Khilji, Ranveer Singh finally gets his chance at doing away with the shackles of morality.

Following both his co-stars, Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor, Singh’s Khilji ‘look’ was finally revealed to the public. There had been a lot of speculation about the manner in which Singh would interpret the character. Looking at the image on the poster where the actor’s “kohled eyes” and long hair suggest a rugged, and dare I say, even a metrosexual Khilji, Singh’s eyes seem to reveal a sadistic streak within the anti-hero that he is said to be portraying. The actor had previously played a somewhat depraved character in Gunday (2014) but that was more of a tribute to the Hindi films of the 1970s, a decade that saw the emergence of the anti-hero in its full glory in popular Hindi cinema. Despite largely playing characters where not much would have been offered to Singh at a basic level to experiment with physically, his tenacity and near-chameleon kind of ability to physically become the character promises his Khilji to be this generation’s definition of the anti-hero.

Ranveer Singh's looks as Alauddin Khilji in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati. Images courtesy Twitter/@RanveerOfficial

Ranveer Singh's looks as Alauddin Khilji in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati. Images courtesy Twitter/@RanveerOfficial

The anti-hero in contemporary Bollywood in films like Aurangzeb (2013), Gunday (2014) or Badlapur (2015), for instance, all seem to be cut from the same fabric that was used to portray ‘heroes’ back in the era of the Angry Young Man. Before Amitabh Bachchan transformed the Angry Young Man into a hero, the ‘anti-hero’ was one of the most successful characters in the repertoire of many leading men. Ashok Kumar in Kismet would be among the first instances of a leading man exploring the anti-hero but it was only with Dev Anand that the character became a regular feature in some varying degree for them. Dev Anand enjoyed one of his biggest hits in Baazi and later portrayed the anti-hero with great panache in Jaal. Although it was Sunil Dutt who portrayed an early unapologetic anti-hero that came closest to being a villain in Mother India it was Dilip Kumar who took the anti-hero to great heights with Ganga Jumna.

While many credit screenwriters Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar with the perfect anti-hero in the form of the Angry Young Man character they created with Zanjeer (1973), the seeds for this anti-hero were sown a few years earlier. It wouldn’t be totally off the mark to imagine that it was perhaps Yash Chopra’s Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969) that gave us the anti-hero in the form of the Jai Kishan or JK, the character portrayed by Feroz Khan, who wasn’t apologetic for whatever he did. He was rich but unlike most leading men from the 1960s, far from repentant about it and never felt a moral conundrum when bending the rules. In fact, Bachchan’s character in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Namak Haraam is also in some way an upgraded version of JK and a character more worthy of the angry young man tag than Zanjeer, which released in the same year. Aadmi Aur Insaan and Namk Haraam were written by Akhtar-Ul-Iman and Hrishikesh Mukherjee respectively (Namak Haraam’s screenplay was penned by Gulzar and DN Mukherjee) and played a great role in shaping the Angry Young Man.

Although it was Sunil Dutt who portrayed an early unapologetic anti-hero that came closest to being a villain in Mother India it was Dilip Kumar who took the anti-hero to great heights with Ganga Jumna.

Javed Akhtar has often said that it was the environment of the 1970s that inspired him to come with his own version of the hero. This Angry Young Man took from the anti-heroes that preceded him but as things progressed, blurred the line between being a ‘hero’ and the ‘villain’. Was it the alacrity with which he was lapped up by the viewers that he soon became the hero despite his flaws? So, while the end of Deewar is justified in terms of the morality factor — the anti-hero Vijay (Bachchan) takes to crime and much to the dismay of his mother (Nirupa Roy) refuses to mend his ways and is finally killed by his own younger police officer brother Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) — the criminal emerges as the hero. Even though some of the biggest Angry Young Man hits were high on realism as opposed to other popular hits of the era (Trishul, Kala Patthar, and Shakti), the bigger a star Bachchan became, the further this template went from any semblance of reality

Both Ranveer Singh and Padmavati seem poised to add a new facet to the manner in which present-day Bollywood interprets the anti-hero. Traditionally, contemporary anti-heroes in Hindi cinema have all focused on the bad choices that they make — Shah Rukh Khan in Darr, Baazigar and Anjaam and more recently Varun Dhawan in Badlapur — as compared to the good that they don’t want to do. In Khilji, Ranveer Singh might find a chance to play a character for whom making bad choices is the only interesting thing and yet being the ‘hero’ in terms of box office appeal would push the narrative to explore the good that his villainous Khilji believes he is doing. On the face of it, this might also be a foregone conclusion considering the manner in which Sanjay Leela Bhansali models his characters even when they are on real figures. But could a small part of this also be because the narrative appears to play on the very element that makes any anti-hero drama more potent — the inverse morality?

Updated Date: Oct 04, 2017 13:13 PM