Popular actors are no longer shying away from playing dark characters.
As the dust finally settles on the Padmaavat storm, there is one person who is standing tall, winning all the accolades, and riding a wave of success — Alauddin Khilji played by Ranveer Singh is being appreciated as one of the finest portrayals by the actor. The character is dark, brutal and menacing, and has clearly stolen the hearts of the audience and critics. And Singh has packed in a powerhouse performance.
In recent years, there have been several villains and anti-heroes who have been scripted and depicted as very interesting characters — with flaws that make them appear more human, weaknesses that evoke sympathy, dark shades that are intriguing, and layers and nuances to them that directors and actors love digging their teeth into. And many of our leading men are not shying away from going grey. From Shah Rukh Khan’s kohl-eyed shrewd bootlegger character in Raees to Akshay Kumar’s fierce, evil look in the highly anticipated 2.0 with Rajinikanth, there is a newfound openness among mainstream heroes to playing negative roles.
Critic Raja Sen says, “It is important to understand the difference between an anti-hero and villain. An anti-hero is a villain with very strong heroic motivations. Ranveer in Padmaavat and Akshay Kumar in 2.0 are outright villains, especially when they look like that. Also in a film like 2.0, when you are facing the biggest hero in the country, Rajinikanth, you will never be an anti-hero, you will have to be a pure, pure villain.”
“However,” he adds, “I feel it’s always a good thing when an actor takes chances and takes on a role that is slightly grey. Every now and then, if the film is good enough or big enough, actors do play such roles. For example Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan in the Dhoom franchise played such roles.”
Film critic Mihir Pandey lauds the fact that actors who had a typical image 10 to 15 years ago are also working on changing it and including more diversity in their career. “Only those actors have been able to survive who have changed themselves. In the 90s, one couldn’t have imagined Shah Rukh Khan doing a film like Raees,” he opines.
Raja Sen shares that one of the best examples of an anti-hero for him would be of Varun Dhawan in Badlapur. “That’s a proper anti-hero role,” he says, adding, “I would love to see Salman Khan play a negative role because he has never played a villain in his whole career.”
Pandey, on the other hand, wants to see Rajkummar Rao in a pure negative role. “However, I have not seen Omerta yet in which he plays the role of the infamous British-born terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.”
While there was a time when the audience did not just hate the villain but also the person playing the part, now a grey character is appreciated for being complex, layered and intense. Is this reflective of the changing society? “The audience is definitely open to seeing more greyness in their cinema. Moreover, these days there are very few villains in the pure sense of the word, there are more anti-heroes. In fact, Emraan Hashmi’s entire career was built on playing the anti-hero,” says Raja Sen.
In the film Simran, Kangana Ranaut plays a girl with strong flaws, but the character is one the audience can relate to and find endearing. Pandey feels this is a positive sign, “The kind of roles written during the times of Amrish Puri don’t exist anymore. Those were out and out negative roles but now the roles have evolved. Actually today, the roles are written with more detailing. There are very few negative roles that are just linear now. If they happen to be linear, they are criticised heavily for being old-fashioned.”
The audience is definitely more open-minded and not interested in a moral lecture while watching a film, feels Sen, “The importance of morality in every character has lessened.”