The typical plot of Bollywood's three-hours plus bonanza runs according to a predictable formula- two young lovers find their chances of marriage threatened by a nafarious villain or a seemingly insurmountable social barrier, but after several songs, a long car chase and a cliff hanging fight, all obstacles are suddenly removed just in time for a whirlwind wedding before "The End". Just as songs and dances are important in a Bollywood movie, so are the villains and the vamps, without whom the story would literally fall apart. However, even in this typical plot, the role of the villain has varied according to the time-frame of the film and more importantly, the personality of the actor playing the villain.
In the early years, the villain was usually the wicked 'zamindar' or the blood-sucking 'bania' in the village. Kanhayalal, one of the earliest villains of the Hindi cinema, excelled in the role of the 'bania', as no other villain ever matched his mastry of the charecter. The cunning, cruel and conniving 'bania' of Mehboob's Aurat (1940) was so powerfully played by Kanhayalal that the director could not think of any other actor to play the character in his famous remake of the movie, Mother India, and repeated him after nearly twenty years for another great performance in his greatest movie of all times. Jeevan was another well-known villain of early years who played the proverbial village moneylander in several movies of the 40s and 50s, besides playing his signature role of Narad Muni in almost all the mythological movies. There was one similarity between the two players, they had both mastered the art of converting their villainy into comedy. Another villain of yester years who displayed similar ability was Yaqub, who played the vagabond son in Aurat, and was as popular a villain as he was a comedian- Lal Haveli (1944). In later years this quality is bundently displayed by Shakti Kapoor who became immensely popular playing comedian-cum-villain in 300-plus movies.
With the change of scenerio from the village to the city, the villain became the big time smuggler or the smart operator in the business of black-marketing and underworld. K. N. Singh- Baazi (1951), Hulchal (1951), Awara (1951), Jaal (1952), C.I.D. (1956), Howra Bridge (1958) and nearly hundred other movies he acted in- was one of the most dreaded villains in this catagory, because of his very dominent personality and great dialogue delivery. With the proverbial pipe in mouth and dress-code to match the occasion, he was the first to bring a sort of sophistication to the role of a villain. Madan Puri, the veteran villain of 200 plus movies, was another city-brand baddie who dominated the Cinema of the late 40s and 50s. His most notable movies were, Ahinsa (1946), Vidya (1948), Nau Do Gyarah (1957), Howra Bridge (1958). The run-away hit of the Seventies, Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhai, changed his career from a villain to a lovable elderman, which left an idelible mark in the hearts of his fans. It is ironical that the famous villain, Amrish Puri, entered the industry introducing himself as Madan Puri's younger brother but in later years, the veteran Madan Puri was often referred to as Amrish Puri's elder brother.
Post independence period saw the rise of many renowned villains of the new generation- Prem Nath (Barsaat, Aan, Teesri Manzil, Johny Mera Naam, Tere Mere Sapne, Bobby, Amir Garib, Janeman and hundred-plus movies), Ranjeet (Sawan Bhadon, Sharmili, Reshma Aur Shera, Victoria No. 203 and nearly 200 more films), Danny Denzongpa- Padmshree 2003 (Sanam Bewafa, Khuda Gawah, Zaroorat, Mere Apne, Dhund, Kala Sona and over 150 films), Manmohan, known for enacting rape scenes with extraordinary perfection (Railway Platform, Yeh Raaste Hein Pyar Ke, Gumnam, Mera Saya, Upkar, Shikar, Poorab Aur Pachhim and 60-plus films), Gulshan Grover- pencilled in to play the villain in the next James Bond flick, Casino Royale, the villain of 350 films, seen in Hollywood, French, German, Canadian and British films in recent years, is currently awaiting release of his latest Hollywood movie, The Aftermath; Mohnish Bahl, son of famous leading lady Nutan (Bekrar, Raja Hindustani, Koyla, Dulhe Raja, Ek Rishta and nearly 100 more movies). In recent years two actors of exceptional talent gave memorable performance as villain- Kulbhushan Kharbanda, the Shakal of Ramesh Sippy's Shaan, who looked no less forceful than a villain straight out of the best of the Bond flicks, and Manoj Bajpai, Bhiku Mhatre of Satya, that made a star out of a 'no body'.
Amongst the vamps of the Hindi cinema, the early years saw them as the Monster-in-Laws or the step mothers(Manorma) or the extra-stiff Mausi (Leela Mishra), but the real vamps are the loose women dressed in revealing western outfits, who attempt to entice the hero with their seductive eyes. Three vamps of exceptional talent made the heroins run for their money dominated the cinema for many decades. Kuldeep Kaur (Kaneez, Samadhi, Afsana, Anarkali, Pyar Ki Rahen and over two dozen hit films) was the first female villain who created hell for the heroin and her family in the 40s and 50s. Shashikala (Jugnu, Doli, Arzoo, Nau Do Gyarah, Sujata, Kanoon, Junglee, Waqt and over 100 other films), with her innocent charm and attractive looks could easily be the leading lady in films. The producers somehow, preferred to cast her as the cunning other woman, bent upon breaking the relationship of the love birds, which she could accomplish with astounding success almost till the climax. The tables are turned against her, to give a happy ending to the film. Bindu, popularly known as Mona Darling after her classic portrayal of the 'bad girl' in Zanjeer (1973), defined the Bollywood cabaret dance numbers and the role of the vamp. She acted in about 150 movies, many of them super hits which made her the most saught after actress next only to the top heroins of her time. Both Shashikala and Bindu, like their contemporary counterparts in the world of male villains, switched over to character roles after giving stunning performances as vamps, their latest appearances being Bindu in Mein Hun Naa and Shashikala in Mujh Se Shadi Karoge. Kuldeep Kaur passed away early in her career, in whose shoes entered Nadira, though making her character more sophisticated. Starting her career with Aan (1952), she acted in 60-plus movies, including Raaj Kapoor's super hit Shri 420. Padma Khanna followed the foot steps of Bindu, becoming a very popular 'oomph girl' of the 70s. She worked in over 70 films with the most memorable performance in Johny Mera Naam. Evergreen Helen, the queen of cabaret, deserves a special mention, though she was never really a vamp in the true sense of the word. She remained for more than three decades an essential part of almost all first-rate movies, with at least one hot dance and song scene, now a days popularly known as 'item number', that was invariably the star attraction of the movie. Her role in Don will ever be remembered for the depth of emotion and the height of characterization the 'vamp' could reach in a movie. She has worked in over 200 films, starting from Awara (1951) to the presently under production Marigold. Dancing all the way to unprcidented heights of popularity in her half a century of career in Bollywood has baffled many, including the renowned producer director of documentaries in Canada, Eisha Marjara, who has produced a full length movie on Helen, Desparately Seeking Halen (1999).
Amongst all the villains of the Indian cinema, old and new, male and female, the following could be rated as the top-5 on account of their popularity, performance and legendary legacy:
Pran: The 'Villain of the Century' has had marathon six decades long career in Hindi cinema and is one of the most celebrated actors in the industry. The story of the most famous 'bad man' of Indian cinema began in Lahore (Yamla Jatt, Chaudhary, Khandan, Sahara, Ragni etc.) before destiny brought him to Bombay after the Partition. After Ziddi (1948) became a super hit, there was no looking back for him and he became the star attraction of hits (Apradhi, Badi Behen, Afsana, Bahar, Pehli Jhalak, Azad, Devdas, Kundan, Munimji, Chori Chori, Madhumati, Chhalia, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hei, Raaj Kumar, Ram Aur Shyam, Milan and so on). He worked extensively with the 'Trimurti' of the golden era, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raaj Kapoor and won several awards- Filmfare (1967, 1969, 1972, 1997), Stardust (Villain of the Millaneum-2000), Screen (Lifetime Achievement Award-2000), Zee TV (Lifetime Achievement Award-2000) and Government of India (Padmbhushan-2001).
Amrish Puri: He was truly among the greatest villains in the history of Hindi cinema, second perhaps, only to Pran. Following the footsteps of his elder brother Madan Puri, already a wellknown villain, tried his luck testing for a film actor albeit a leading man in 1950s. Rejection turned him towards the world of theatre where he showed his histreonics abilities. It was after a struggling period of nearly twenty years when he was offered a role in Sunil Dutt's Reshma Aur Shera (1971). However, much of his role ended on the editing table. It was his association with Shyam Benegal that led to Amrish Puri being noticed as an actor of substance. His menacing act as Mogambo in Shekhar Kapur's Mr. India was not just a turning point in his career but also the most memorable comic-book-villain-acts in Hindi cinema. He was finally a star when well into his 50s. What more, he even got called by the Hollywood great, Steven Spielburg, to play villaneous Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). His unstoppable super hits (Ram Lakhan, Tridev, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Saudagar, Pardes, Taal, Gadar etc.), made him as big a star as the leading actors in the movies.
Amjad Khan: Shole will ever be remembered for the heights it took villainy to in Indian cinema. Unlike earlier villains who were content to be pain in the neck for the lovers in the film, Amjad Khan's Gabbar seems to pursue evil as an end in itself. He, who can boast of being the most imitated character of Hindi cinema, is the villain that people love to hate. He was unarguably the most legendary character of tinsel world. His dialogues are now folk-lore and the trademark ferocity, Amjad Khan as Gabbar Singh is a true blue-cult figure. What better tribute can be paid to this legendary villain that Director Ram Gopal Verma could not think of any other actor to play Gabbar Singh in his modern day version of Shole than the all time greatest actor, Amitabh Bachchan.
Ajit: The Indian actor whose charming villainy and most lapped up one-liners made him a national folk hero during a film career that spanned several decades in Bollywood. His Mona Darling (Zanjeer) and Loin (Kalicharan) have stuck together as inseparable part of his villaneous support system. His penchant for Christian named cronies, ranging from Michael and Peter to Robert and Lily is legendary. His one liner from Kalicharan, "Sara shahar mujhe loin ke naam se janta hei", drew instant applaud from masses and then multiplied into hundreds of more such whacked out lines, especially as the real and made-up dialogues between him (the boss) and his dumb assistant Robert. He found ample support from his overly made-up sexy assistant, Mona (Bindu). Together they epitomized the smuggler/ villain and his dumb/sexy moll of the 70s, he delighted his fans by making a complete mockery of his mean act.
Prem Chopra: The cold-blooded demon of Bollywood, was destined to continue the legacy of the legendary villain Pran, on the latter's switching over from villainy to character roles. He got his first break in Chaudhry Karnail Singh (1962), a National Award winning film, and there was no looking back ever since. He showed his skill in spine chilling films as the super villain who could deceive, kill, rape and maim with an ease with which an ordinary mortal goes about his daily chores. After the runaway success of Upkar and blockbusters like Kati Patang, Woh Kaun Thi, Teesri Manzil, Poorab Aur Paschim, Jheel Ke Us Paar, Dream Girl, Des Pardes etc., Prem Chopra was on the peak of his career, shining in every aspect of the role of a villain. With the inimitable tinge of humour, Chopra added a new dimension to his devlish roles. A veteran of 400 films, the celebrated author of the famous line of Bobby, "Prem naam hei mera, Prem Chopra", he has been decorated with many awards.
With the sad demise of Amrish Puri this year, Ajit and Amjad Khan earlier, and self retirement from villainy by Pran and Prem Chopra, the typical villain is almost extinct from the Indian cinema, though not the villainy. Their place has been taken by the leading actors taking to negative roles for a change- John Ibrahim (Dhoom) and Hritik Roshan (Dhoom 2), Abhishek Bachchan (Yuva) and the legendary Amitabh Bachchan (RGV's Shole) for example. How far their fans will go to accept them as villains remains to be seen. As of now, the traditional villains and the vamps in Indian cinema are nearing extinction, with heroes and heroins assimilating such roles into their own characters. However, the memory of the veteran villains and the vamps will remain for ever in the history of Indian cinema.