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The many faces of evil in Hindi cinema – Dussehra Special

Usually the other side of the coin in a commercial Hindi film, the villain is often reflective of the times he is born in. On the occasion of Dussehra, the day when evil came to a mythical end, we take a look at the new faces of evil that haunt Indian cinema screens.

Shriram Iyengar

One of the most intriguing discussions that broke out on the internet after the release of Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) was whether the film glorified villains.

In the history of Hindi cinema, if there was any character that occupied, if not equal, equitable position alongside the hero on screen, it was the villain. From Kanhaiyalal's Lala in Mother India (1956) to Ajit's Lion in Kalicharan (1976) and Amrish Puri's Mogambo in Mr India (1987), these characters were often a product of the social and cultural upheavals of their time. On the occasion of Dussehra, it seems apt to look back at the films released in the past two years and their projection of the new villains in Hindi cinema. 

1. Societal hierarchies
Films have increasingly turned inward to find the villain. Society itself has grown to fill up the space that was once occupied by men of great evil stature. Films like Masaan (2015), Mirzya (2016), Madaari (2016), and Aligarh (2016) pointed at the evils of a growingly disturbed society. The society depicted in these films is hypocritical, corrupt and often the cause of the downfall of a number of good people. Hopefully, these films also help to change the system in addition to pointing out its flaws. 

Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh (2016) was an example of an individual hounded by society

2. The misogynist brigade 
The growing trend of strong and outspoken women is a sign of misogynists taking up the place of the villain. Though misogyny was always considered a default characteristic in a Hindi cinema villain, it no longer requires the intervention of the hero to protect the heroine. Films like NH10 (2015), Pink (2016), Akira (2016) and Saala Khadoos (2016) are examples of women taking up this battle on their own. 

Anushka Sharma took on the evil of patriarchy and misogyny in NH10 (2015)

3. Corruption 
If one villain has survived the onslaught of changing storylines and themes, it is corruption. Gabbar Is Back! (2015), Madaari (2016), and Gour Hari Dastaan (2015) are excellent examples of how the theme has morphed from a few corrupt individuals dominating the system to complete systems falling prey to corruption. It even spreads to sport sometimes with Saala Khadoos and Azhar (2016) being examples. 

Anurag Kashyap gave up his director's chair to play a corrupt, violent cop in Akira (2016)

4. The self 
Increasingly, cinema has turned inwards to the neurotic self to examine the rise of evil. Characters had always been bordering on the frontiers of black and white but have now completely settled in the dominion of grey. Sriram Raghavan's Badlapur (2015), Raman Raghav 2.0, and Drishyam (2015) are examples of stories that focused on inherently good individuals who turn to the dark side in dire circumstances. It is not that these individuals turn to evil, but that they possess such control, poise and supremacy over it that makes the story chilling. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Raman Raghav (2015) was an examination of the darkest parts of an individual's self

5. Pakistan 
The eternal rivalry between India and Pakistan seems inevitably to be part of their portrayal on screen. Pakistan has long been a villain on screen in films like Border (1997), LOC: Kargil (2003), and Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), but the format of the evil has faded in recent years. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) used the rivalry with Pakistan to build up the drama for its hero. Dishoom (2016), Baby (2015), and Azhar (2016) played on the sense of patriotism to create a villain for their films. Sarbjit (2016) was another example where the battle with Pakistan arrived on screen; however, it was only the setting and not the conscious villain of the film. With the growing tensions over the ban of Pakistani artistes and the rise of cross-border infiltration, it does not look like the theme will die any time soon. 

6. Love 
Love as a villain might seem incongruous in a Hindi film, but it seems to be the case in recent times. More and more films are turning towards the complications of love, the distress it causes, and sometimes the obsession to create a counterbalance to the positives in the film. In Tamasha (2015), love was an obsession that drove its protagonist to despair and success alternatively. In Fan (2016), the same love was taken to obsessive levels creating fatal danger to the protagonist. In Masaan (2015) and Mirzya (2016), it foreshadows the doom of its protagonists. 

Ranbir Kapoor flipped between the dark and lighter sides of love in Tamasha (2015)

7. International conflict 
Hindi cinema has become far more global since the turn of the millenium. No film is an island anymore. Films are set across international waters and, often, their stories reflect the problems that plague that part of the world. The fractious world of the Middle East found expression in Neeraj Pandey's Airlift (2016). Dishoom (2016) spoke of the growing threat of terrorism to sports. But no other film came close to displaying the nature and effect of terrorism on ordinary individuals like Neerja (2016). 

Neerja (2016) was based on a Libyan terror group's hijacking of a Pan Am flight in 1986

8. Murderer's row 
Sometimes, evil is simply that, evil. There is no explanation for why and how an individual is transformed into the monster that he is. In recent years, Hindi films have tried to examine this phenomenon in detail. Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav 2.0 and Randeep Hooda's turn as a serial killer in Main Aur Charles (2015) are great examples of such films. 

Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav (2016) was based on the eponymous serial killer who terrorized Mumbai in the 1960s

9. Drugs
It is no surprise that one of the many evils to appear on screen today is the threat of drug addiction. Abhishek Chaubey's Udta Punjab (2016) opened up a whole new can of worms when it broke the story of drug abuse and its spread in the Punjab. Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt's performances as the main victims of a crazy phenomenon, and the reaction of the authorities to such a raw, gritty story, spoke of the reality of the threat. 

Udta Punjab's portrayal of a drug-addled state found opposition from both the state government and the film certification board

10. Censorship 
If there was one evil that plagued the Hindi film industry this year, it was been censorship. The growing threat to the independence and creative liberties of filmmakers, writers, and thinkers arrived in the form of CBFC diktats that sought to ban films on the basis of rules that remain largely unchanged since 1982. The battle for Udta Punjab proved to be one of the most important moments of the year, as filmmakers came together to fight for a common cause. Hopefully, this is a sign for the future.