In a decade where heroes struggled to stay relevant, villains came to embody a more corporate approach to villainy that felt as systematized as it sounded loud and showy.
Kulbhushan Kharbanda to Shaan
It’s no secret that the 80s were a tough time for Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan’s star had begun to fade, reliable peers became handicaps, and India’s first generation of superstars began to slide into oblivion. Therefore, the hero, the protagonist of our stories has disappeared, not in terms of narrative presence but of cultural imposition. Bollywood sought new faces, stories beyond the usual good versus evil to tell, and experimented with styles and formats that led to an era of terrible music, garish cinema and grating aesthetics. It was not until the dawn of globalization that the industry discovered the three Khans and was brought to safer shores. The 80s therefore represent a decade without obvious leading men, an era of whimsical cinema that was really trying to navigate its way through uncertainty. With the hero largely absent or in decline in the public eye, the ’80s became the age of the larger-than-life villain.
In Shan (1980), newbie Kulbhushan Kharbanda plays a cold sociopath who has his own personal pool full of live sharks. Chakaal gently pats his barren head, like a sort of soothing reflex whenever he has to ponder the fate of his antagonists. It’s a spellbinding form of villainy, more austere and grander than anything audiences have seen before. Even though Shaan boasted a lot of acting heavyweights, it was really Kharbanda’s uncanny performance that redefined the image of evil. We had known scheming mothers, cunning middle-aged men, but this form of evil was new. He was decorated, proud of his privilege and his greatness. We’d seen villains with means before, but this was a new form of elite villainy that was transformative through its controlled persistence. Sure Chakaal was inspired by the films of James Bond and Revelation now to some extent, but it was still foreign territory.
In Karma (1986), Anupam Kher played the deceitful but comparatively more approachable Dr. Dang. Damn, unlike Chakaal, resorted to chicanery, often ridiculing his victims or making them joke a little. Dang isn’t exactly eccentric but driven in a different way. In 1987, Amrish Puri, tried out for the iconic role of Mogambo in Mr India, a typically wide-eyed menace, which exalts itself in self-serving rhetoric. He of course iconized the dialogue’Mogambo Khush Hua‘. MogamboThe brutality of was somewhat subverted by the film’s coming-of-age tone, but the intensity of his eyes, his ornate uniform suggested a streak of militaristic thought. It’s really no wonder that Puri is considered the gold standard of hair-raising villainy and has tried out not one but many iconic roles over the years. There were other actors like Shakti Kapoor, Ranjeet and Bob Christo who stepped into the shoes of crime and ill intent, but it was these three who headlined an era that is also considered Bollywood’s trashiest. Beyond the curious antics and self-serving hyperbole, however, there was something these three villains had in common – their baldness.
The 1980s came a day after an emergency and the return to power of an Indira Gandhi who had by then become a precariously divisive figure. While most ’70s villains operated in the annals of family ties and intimate feuds, the ’80s villain went all out to capture the country, colonizing landscapes far greater than those imaginable in the previous decade. The most iconic villain of the 70s – Gabbar – envisioned only modest territorial rule, a humble life compared to the economic and cultural status of the 80s.
This new breed of villains splurged on modern cave dwellings, secret stations, sophisticated gadgets, an army of minions, and a mission that foreshadowed Gabbar’s imagination and skill. Beyond imagination, the ’80s villain also represented the audacity to aspire to bigger things and execute it through a degree of diplomatic control that, while pressing in places, also felt corporate. . It was perhaps cinema’s first signs of entrepreneurship, coupled with the hunger to occupy and covet thrones, rather than little bits of wall. The systematic and obscene capture of the power that urgency represented may have fired the imagination of writers who previously imagined the villains to be petty thugs. While not necessarily meaner, the ’80s villain believed in grand entrances, indulgent lifestyles, and the whispers of monarchism.
The 80s produced a lot of low and forgettable cinema that ultimately resulted in audiences yearning for the romantic heroic figure, the kind of man whose heroism would emerge in the battles he won for the sake of his life. woman. The Good v Evil model was never quite abandoned, but at the turn of this whirlwind and most imprecise of cinematic decades, India had returned home to refocus on family matters. The emergence of Doordarshan and religious epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata sated the appetite for great mythical battles, and the larger-than-life villain retreated to the pavilion to play tough father figures embroiled in a battle for prestige and honor rather than rule and territory. If nothing else though, the 80s gave us three bald men who, though precariously named and imagined, commandeered oddly hired and orderly ships.
The author writes about art and culture, film, books and everything in between. The opinions expressed are personal.
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