Repeatedly portraying a particular type of character in several movies brings a new and complete identity for the actor, who may find it extremely difficult to break the image. One may argue that how could an audience be carried away and not be able to distinguish between real and reel life. Still, we known that it happens, and defies all logic. And it is apparent mainly in the portrayal of the negative character. To give you one example, let me recall one incident that occurred in our residential society. The mega serial Ramayan was going on, and the episode being showed was the one where Meghanad had hit Laxman with divine weapon, which left the latter unconscious. The thrill and action was taken up to such an extreme, and the emotional sequences were played with so much depth, that the next time Meghanad reappeared on screen, one of the children sitting in the room threw an ash-tray or something similar on the TV and broke the screen to pieces. In my conscious memory, that was the first such incident. However, as time progressed, I came to know that that incident was not an isolated case and such illusion between real and reel life does happen time and again, especially with respect to the negative character.
To a certain extent, I attribute it to the skills of the actor playing that role. The suspense, thrill and adventure of the story is related to a great extent to this character. The soundtrack and the action sequences too provide support in building up the excitement of the movie. However, it should be noted that the wickedness of the character has already been established much before the arrival of the climax — thanks to the dialogues and the skills of the actor. The end result is a piece of art which stays in the minds of the audience for generations to come, whether it be Kitne aadmi they (Amzad Khan in Sholay) or Saara shehar mujhe lion ke naam se jaanta hai (Ajit in Kalicharan). Today I mention some of my personal favourites, and give instances that corroborate their negative images. By this I mean that their negative image carried on even outside the movie screen. Of course, the list is not exhaustive. For example, I have not included the legendary villain Amzad Khan, who had put high standards of villainy with his Gabbar Singh role, which arguably has never been surpassed. However, unlike Pran and Prem Chopra, Amzad Khan had already been playing comic, character, and artistic roles in parallel with his negative roles. Hence, in spite of his excellent performances on screen, I do not think that he commanded as much hatred off-screen as others from his clan. He has always been a darling, and his Gabbar Singh role has frequently been given tributes through songs and other movies.
1. Lalita Pawar
Talk of villainy and the first name that comes to mind is that of Lalita Pawar. Whenever Lalita Pawar did smile, she looked like divine-mother-incarnate, and I always wondered why did she choose to be wicked. For example, you may see her in the song dadi-amma. Otherwise, she is the quintessential wicked, torturous mother-in-law whose only mission in life is to abuse and harass the poor daughter-in-law. It is no wonder that Lalita Pawar was the first and the obvious choice to play the role of Manthara in Ramayan. One could argue about the most appropriate person to play the role of Ram, Ravan or Sita. But for Manthara, there couldn’t have been any other choice. So when Sushma Swaraj said in parliament that ‘Sharad Pawar is Lalita Pawar’, you understand what she meant!
2. Gulshan Grover
Sometimes the (negative) actors get identified with the character to such a great extent that if they happen to play a ‘straight’ role, the audience gets confused. The first actor I remember confusing me was Bad Man Gulshan Grover. I had been watching only his negative movies, and was always scared of his eyes and stare. But then I saw him playing (I don’t remember the name of the movie) the role of a police inspector. I was sure that he is playing some trick and is deceiving the hero. Whole length of the movie I was sitting on edge trying to find the clue. I couldn’t find. Grover was playing a ‘positive’ supporting role. I wasted the 2.5 hours because all that time I watched nothing else other than Grover. In fact, the phenomenon does occur with equal probability in the opposite direction as well. That means, if an actor with a super-positive image on screen turns out to be a negative character in the film, the audience can get equally confused. As examples, you could consider sanskari Alok Nath in Bol Radha Bol, gentleman Anant Mahadevan in Khiladi and saintly Sachin Khedkar in Badshah, the positive images of all three of them were used quite successfully by the film makers to bluff the audience.
The top position of the hatred chart is occupied by Pran, the most ‘respected’ villain of all times. He had also played quite a number of positive roles, and was much admired in all of them. Interestingly, his negative image was never an obstacle while playing positive roles. However, people adore and remember him mostly for his villainous roles. Ask anyone about Pran, and they would tell you about the extremely good looking gentleman, with straight, concentrated gaze, determined to achieve his objective by hook-or-crook, and possessing enormous will power. He was always polished and cultured to the last thread, and his clear strong voice resonated his strength of determination. Only if he could do one good deed! Only a single noble deed! But the hatred stretched itself too far — No parent wanted to name their child Pran, which is perhaps the biggest tribute that could be offered to a performing artist. In a TV interview, the anchor asked Pran this same question. Such honour had otherwise been reserved for Ravan and Kansa only. In fact, a competition was organised to locate any person named Pran! If you do not have time to read the biography titled ‘. . . and Pran‘ of this wonderful actor and person, I suggest that you at least read this article in The Tribune.
Another actor who commanded no less hatred than Pran is Prem Chopra. In fact, Pran and Prem Chopra are a legacy, a brand, and perhaps an integral part of Indian culture! The hatred did not go that far that parents hesitate naming their children after him, so we do often meet people named Prem in real life and movies. However, in a recent movie, actor Ajay Devgan’s character introduced himself simply as Prem, and never gave his full name. The reason was simple — his surname was Chopra! The ultimate distinction which made Prem Chopra different from rest of them all were his extremely polished manners and beautiful voice. Teachers, sages and saints from all cultures preach us to speak sweet words to win hearts, and example is given of nightingale. However, in spite of his amazingly sweet voice and kind words, Prem Chopra could not win a single heart in any of his (negative) movies. The more he smiled and showed affection, the more we hated him and got scared of him. And his introduction line — Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra (Bobby), is perhaps the second most popular introduction after James Bond. In a Doordharshan interview, he narrated an amusing incident. A new actress, who was known to possess good acting skills, was unable to play her role and speak her dialogues properly. Even after several attempts, the shot was a failure. The crew members were annoyed. Prem Chopra identified the problem, went to the lady, took her aside, and told her in his usual sweet voice — ‘Listen, don’t pay attention to what people had told you. I am not that bad. I am a really good man. Don’t worry, nothing bad would happen to you. Relax.’ The lady got comfortable, mainly by those affectionate words rather than any trust (pun intended), and completed the shot in the very next attempt. In fact, even movie makers do understand the deep impression that Prem Chopra’s performances have engraved into the psyche of Indian audience, and don’t fail to make use of it to deceive the viewer. For example, in the thriller movie Khiladi, the screenplay and the dialogues added to Prem Chopra’s already negative image and convinced the audience that he was the real culprit. It turned out to be wrong only in the climax scene, when Anant Mahadevan made appearance as the murderer.
The actor who commands the greatest admiration among children for his negative roles is ‘Mogambo’ Amrish Puri who was perhaps born to do wicked deeds. Every cell of his body, every neuron of his brain shouted wickedness. His assets were an extremely well built body and a rich voice. He looked and sounded so authoritative and dominant that one really pitied the hero who stood against him. Fighting Pran, Prem Chopra, Gulshan Grover was quite fine, but anyone fighting Amrish Puri was an event that I still cannot digest. Perhaps that was the reason that Anil Kapoor required the invisibility gadget (Mr. India) to fight against him. Amrish Puri was our dear old Madan Puri’s younger brother. The elder Puri was aware of his negative social image and did not want that to reach his younger brother. He was always afraid of losing his love and respect. So, in addition to a general restriction on watching movies, he was also completely prohibited from watching Madan Puri’s movies. But the restrictions instead increased the curiosity in young Amrish Puri’s mind. One day he dropped out of school and went to a cinema hall running a Madan Puri movie. When the character made his first appearance, Amrish Puri became so happy and excited that he started jumping on his seat and clapping so hard that the person sitting behind him had to pat on his shoulders to make him sit down silently. When the lights were turned on in the interval time, Amrish Puri turned back and saw Madan Puri sitting behind him. The elder Puri was relaxed now, and they watched the remaining part of the movie, and all other movies together. This incident was narrated by Amrish Puri in an interview with children’s magazine Nanhe Samrat.
This short review would not be complete without narrating an incident from Indian theatre. Neeldarpan is a Bengali play written by Dinabandhu Mitra, and depicts the condition of indigo farmers during British rule. In the stage performance of this play, the role of indigo planter was played by Ardhendushekhar Mustafi. Among the audience was also present legendary social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. As the drama progressed, Vidyasagar was so carried away by Mustafi’s realistic performance, that he threw a shoe at the actor. Mustafi took the gesture as a compliment for his performance.
Who is your personal favourite? Is there anyone that you can’t imagine being good?