Bollywood's Villainisation Of Psychological Disorders
Man's World|January 2022
The ’90s saw a rise and popularity of villains suffering from longterm trauma that was painted as their 'bad boy'ness. In his book, pure evil, author Balaji Vittal provides a detailed analysis of some of Bollywood's most career-making villainous performances
Balaji Vittal

Villains come in various shades of evil, but the '90s saw a rise and popularity of villains who were evidently suffering from long-term trauma, which manifested itself into various psychological illnesses, But instead of treating them with understanding or sympathy, the characters were painted with negative shades, doomed to die by the end of the film. From brutality and psychopathic tendencies to abandonment issues and obsession, the gamut was experimented with in Bollywood till the early 2000s.

Maybe changing times brought in healthier perspectives. Additionally, the black-and-white hero-villain structure also started disappearing from mainstream cinema after the gangster phase of Bollywood. So, when a Bhool Bhulaiyaa happened, the psychological disorder was treated with compassion and ingenuity. Although, that is not something one can say about Akshay Kumar's last release, Atrangi Re, which deals with paracosm irresponsibly, turning it into a hook for comedy. While we might not villainise psychological disorders anymore, does mainstream Bollywood understand how to sensitively portray it on screen? In this excerpt from Balaji Vittal's Pure Evil, we read about how characters afflicted with mental illnesses became some of the most career-making performances for actors like Nana Patekar, Shah Rukh Khan, and Manoj Bajpayee.

In the 1940 film Pagal, Dr Vasant (Prithviraj Kapoor) plays a doctor in charge of a mental asylum. Dr Vasant had been deceived into marrying Chhaya (Khatun) instead of her prettier sister Parvati (Madhuri). When he looks at his wife, he is reminded of her sister-the one whom Dr Vasant really loves. In his obsession for Parvati he loses his sense of rationality and professional ethics. Dr Vasant injects a drug into Parvati that makes her insane and, with her in that state of madness, he makes love to her. He himself goes insane later and ends up murdering his wife Chhaya. The story peg is not so much about Dr Vasant's villainous acts as his mental instability that was the root cause of his antagonistic behaviour. Pagal is arguably India's first film around the subject of psychosis. Prithviraj Kapoor's performance as the psychotic doctor was hailed even by a critic of the stature of Baburao Patel in the August 1940 edition of FilmIndia. The development of the theme was psychological and within natural limits of intellectual understanding ...' he wrote.

Remember Kunwar Saheb (Premnath) in Teesri Manzil (1966)? He commits three murders. Kunwar Saheb's wife catches him red-handed in bed with another woman. In the ensuing tussle, the gun goes off, killing Kunwar Saheb's wife. But there happen to be two 'accidental' witnesses to the crime and Kunwar saheb has to kill them too. Amol (Amol Palekar) in Khamosh (1985) too commits four murders. Soni (Soni Razdan) gets pregnant with Amol's child and she threatens to expose him, an eventuality that could ruin Amol's chances at the election that he is planning to contest. Amol kills Soni and is in a similar bind as he has to now dispose of three more witnesses. Both Kunwar Saheb and Amol are killing for pragmatic reasons. So, what is the difference between Kunwar Saheb and Amol? Kunwar Sahab demonstrates a sincere sense of remorse. He admits that his crimes have bought him a ticket to the gallows-and he prefers to atone for his sins by leaping to his death. Whereas in Amol's case, he progressively develops an insensitivity and, in the climax, actually admits, 'Ab to mujhe ye sab karne me mazaa bhi aane laga tha (By now I had started enjoying killing),' he admits. In other words, he's become a psychopath.

Amol Palekar recounted a little-known fact about the climax scene in the film (the one in which Shabana discovers that Amol was the killer and Amol captures her), that illustrates the mental condition of the character Amol, 'The original climax scene was set on a golf course. And then, while going through the script at Vidhu's place with editor Renu Saluja and Sudhir Mishra, I said, “Vinod, I have an idea. Now, instead of the standard loud announcement of 'I am going to kill you!', what if, in a whispered tone, I give a very factual, step-by-step cold description to Shabana of how I was going to kill her? Would the effect be more threatening and more blood-chilling? Vinod and Renu got very excited and asked Sudhir to rewrite the final climax scene basis my idea. And Sudhir went into another room and started rewriting the scene. All this was a very collective effort. Also, director Vidhu Vinod wanted this cold menace.' This coldness made the difference. 'Daro mat Shabana. Shabana, mere paas aao (Don't be scared, Shabana. Come to me, Shabana),' Amol calls out to her in a whisper, smiling when she tries to hide and slither away from him. His left eye twitches, and eyeballs bulge. 'Mai majboor hoon. Ab to mujhe tumhari jaan leni hi padegi na? Tum samajhti kyon nahi? Huh? (I'm in a fix. I have to end your life now. Why don't you understand?)' he explains in a silky soft voice the way a caring parent would explain to a child why it needed to be admonished. It showed an inner medical condition as opposed to a common villainy.

By the mid-1980s the established mainstream Bollywood heroes were ageing. But they refused to compromise on their conventional hero images that had made them the stars they were. Even the next generation of heroes that took over the baton between 1982 and 1990-Sunny Deol, Kumar Gaurav, Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Jackie Shroff-continued playing predictable macho/romantic heroes, almost as if they were worried about diluting their fan base if they did anything else.

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