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Shaan's Shakaal was inspired by Bond's Blofeld

The iconic villain portrayed by Kulbhushan Kharbanda, who turned 72 today (21 October), had striking similarities with the villain in You Only Live Twice.

Mayur Lookhar

Veteran actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda is largely known for his character roles, often cast as the father or the wise old head. He played that role immaculately in Haider (2014). But if there is one outstanding role in his career, it has to be as the bald villain in Ramesh Sippy’s 1980 spy thriller Shaan. Today's cinegoers may not be familiar with Shaan, but Shakaal remains one of Hindi cinema's best-known villains.

Spy thrillers have been aplenty in Hindi cinema, but with Shaan, Sippy created a film with strong shades of a James Bond movie. Only, it wasn’t the hero who was inspired by a Bond film; it was the villain.

Sippy surprised many by picking Kharbanda, till then largely seen only in what was called parallel cinema. Shaan was Kharbanda's first out-and-out villainous role. He shaved his head to a smooth finish, donned a Nehru jacket, and perched himself on a throne with flashing buttons all around to operate fantastic gizmos. Shakaal was perhaps the first hi-tech villain in Hindi cinema.

For all their bravura performances, Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha were not the real deal in Shaan. Just as Sippy's earlier film Sholay became synonymous with Gabbar Singh, Shaan became a legend for unearthing Shakaal. Pity the film could not replicate Sholay's success.

Much as Hindi cinema fans loved him, Shakaal, perhaps, had lost an older sibling far away in some mela in the West. That is because his character bore a striking resemblance to the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the 1967 Bond movie You Only Live Twice.

The late Donald Pleasence played Blofeld. Like Blofeld, Shakaal was bald, wore similar clothes, and had deadly gadgets at his fingertips. While Blofeld fed his enemies to piranha, Shakaal fed them to crocs. Kharbanda’s manner, too, was Blofeld-like. He spoke softly but meant business every time.

Shaan, unfortunately for Sippy and his team, did not go on to become the blockbuster they had expected it to be, given its huge star cast and humongous cost – it was the most expensive film made in India till that point. But while the film flopped, Kharbanda played the defining role of his career. Even if the character was inspired by Blofeld, Kharbanda's voice and demeanour gave Shakaal a touch of originality. Fans loved him, and Shakaal went straight into the hall of villainy fame.

Watch classic footage of Shakaal and Blofeld below: