Antiheroes who swept us off our feet with their villainy

What Indian cinema needs is some cracking antiheroes. After all, we have done it in the past.


Here’s something you might have missed this past weekend as Highway hit screens nationwide: Critics, wannabe-feminists and others derided its criminal hero.

Indian cinema virtually ignores lead characters with a grey streak. In Indian cinema we celebrate the over-the-top virtuous, good human beings.

Won’t life be boring with such virtuous souls all around us taking life and themselves seriously? But then again, being bad can get a bit wearisome too (all that evil laughter and grueling moustache upkeep). If only there was some kind of balance between the two; complex, three-dimensional characters who are troubled and tormented by inner conflicts and existential angst.

Maybe it will be hard to sell an antihero. Finicky producers don’t accept reality, so it’s really up to us, the viewers, to call for change. For further proof, take a look at these eight examples. Love them or hate them, plenty of popcorn was had in the company of these antiheroes.

1) Sanjay Dutt in Khalnaayak

Unlike Ganga (Madhuri Dixit) in the film, I would have preferred the witty and sarcastic Ballu to the boring Inspector Ram. Ballu was Subhas Ghai’s best creation and I loved the tense relationship he has with the arrogant, immature and somewhat amoral Ganga.

2) Shah Rukh Khan in Darr

One of my all-time favorite SRK films, the outrageous Rahul did exactly as he pleased, because he was rich, clever enough to surprise Kiran and completely indifferent to what anyone else thinks about him. I loved the idea of a man who loved so passionately and wants Kiran to choose him. The other thing that I liked about Rahul was that he was brilliant liar – or should I say, storyteller?

3) Amitabh Bachchan in Trishul

Vijay Kumar is a swashbuckling antihero, a criminal mastermind who devotes his ruthless intelligence to building a real estate empire and avenging his mother’s death. Great fun, and a great example of the antihero as protagonist. Sheetal Varma would have done far better by opting for Vijay than the do-gooder Shekhar Gupta, who in spite of his highbrow education failed to succeed in business.

4) Manoj Bajpai in Aks

This is pure evil. Manoj Bajpai as the sinister psychopath Raghavan is as hilarious as he is terrifying. It’s a complicated story with supernatural element in it, but with just the right direction by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, spry lyrics by Gulzar (aaja gufaon mein aa), and motivated performances by Manoj Bajpai and Amitabh Bachchan. A strangely entertaining film.

5) Akshay Khanna in Humraaz

A criminal, addict and a creep — Karan Malhotra wasn’t much of a hero. Yet that bloodstained résumé hasn’t stopped anyone from sitting down on the couch and tuning into Humraaz whenever it’s on television. Why? He’s a psychopath surrounded by other psychopaths. Here’s a guy who brings down a big business family by dancing to cheesy numbers — and we’re still rooting for him? Either something’s wrong with us mentally (likely) or Abbas-Mustan are two rare geniuses who have always made the dark seem more desirable.

6) Akshay Kumar in Ajnabee

Who could fail to be captivated by Vikram Bajaj and his single-minded determination to have his own way and do whatever needs to be done, whether it’s swapping his wife or killing good-hearted for money and love. What’s fantastic about Vikram is his incredible determination and bravery. He’s also a rotten husband, two-faced, selfish, and a force of nature. Vikram Bajaj grabs us and we get swept away.

7) Emraan Hashmi in Murder

It’s hard to fantasize about an extra-marital affairs anymore, especially after watching Mahesh Bhatt’s Murder. Emraan Hashmi plays the role of the other man with such weaselly intelligence that it’s less about fanaticism and more about intrigue. The film loses steam in the final act, but by then, it’s a strange comedown that leaves you feeling sympathetic for this lonely lover boy.

8) Saif Ali Khan in Omkara

Vishal Bhardwaj should have won the National Award for Omkara. One of the committee’s most unforgiving oversights continues to precede the director’s seminal 2006 masterpiece based on Shakespeare’s Othello. (It helps a bit that Vishal did win the Special Jury Award.) Saif as ‘Langda’ Tyagi (Iago) was a force of nature too malevolent to ignore. His relationship with just about everyone ends in tragedy, but he’s still worth cheering on and losing hope over. Why? Blame it on flawless direction or unprecedented acting.

Let us know your own personal favorites in the comment section below.

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