A lot can go wrong when it comes to representing evil on screen. For starters, filmmakers end up caricaturing otherwise solid characters, the dialogues can come across as stuff straight out of a badly visualised comic book, and genuine mental health concerns can be painfully glossed over.
In cinema, villains have gone through it all – from excessively dramatic dialogue deliveries to nuanced portrayals of loneliness and a disturbed psyche. For us as audiences, this is often a fascinating peek into the human mind and its capacity for what we consider bad, wrong or plain evil. In some cases, these characters end up getting the messed-up bit spot on. In the multiple Academy Award-winning film No Country for Old Men, the character of Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) coldly kills people with a bolt stunner and a sound-suppressed shotgun. For its sheer accuracy, Bardem’s portrayal was determined by an independent group of psychologists to be the most realistic depiction of a psychopath.
Bollywood of course has its share of caricatures and characters in spine-chilling, psychopathic pursuits of power and pleasure. Dr Syeda Ruksheda, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, walks us through the minds of some of the most iconic villains Bollywood has ever known.
Dheeraj Pandey in “Murder 2” (2011)
A psychopath goes on a rampage of hiring, torturing and killing sex workers because he believes all women take unfair advantage of men and must be punished. He himself cross-dresses while killing them.
In the film, it is shown that during his days as an idol-maker, the villain would only make idols of demons and not gods. So, the fact that he was given to devil worship means that he perhaps identified himself as a devil too. He’d abuse his wife too, so he clearly blames all the women in and around his life for his incompetence and also sexual impotence. There is a particular way he likes women to suffer, by throwing them in a well of mice where they are eaten alive while he gets off their screams. He does not see these actions as wrong, and the lack of remorse is a common theme in such men. While sex workers might be an easy target, it is possible that he developed a love-hate relationship with them early on in his childhood. This is also an acute case of what we call projection – one deludes oneself into believing that there is nothing wrong with them and it’s the environment and people around them who are wrong and so, therefore, these people deserve to be punished.
Makdee in “Makdee” (2002)
A witch living in a haunted mansion abducts children from the village and manipulates them into helping her find a treasure. Failure to do her bidding ends up in children being transformed into animals.
This movie was definitely one step ahead of the terrible Ramsay Brothers movies I grew up watching. The character is aptly named “Makdee,” meaning a spider. She is spinning a web around herself and anyone who tries to come near her, but then she gets quite literally trapped in it herself. Moreover, she has used propaganda very well and effectively preys upon the superstitions that the villagers hold. She is essentially a con artist, as we later find out. And like all good con artists, she consciously manipulates not just the people but also their responses. She is also conscious to target only those children who have good leadership qualities – so that she can keep them petrified with fear but also use their intelligence to get what she wants. In Makdee, we find a powerful manifestation of the art of weaponising fear. People who are evil have perhaps a stronger understanding of the human psyche because that’s how they control the human mind. They don’t want anyone to respect them but simply fear them, and that’s how they stay in power. Such people have a low requirement for social validation. They are not interested in nurturing a community so it’s easy for them to prey on people’s vulnerabilities. But what can raise you up can also bring you down, so it’s always important for us to balance our powerful traits too. She took it for granted and lacked oversight.
Gabbar Singh in “Sholay” (1975)
A ruthless dacoit, Gabbar Singh is the terror of the village that he frequently loots. With a larger-than-life personality, he also ensures he has absolute control over his army of men.
He is a leader. That role for him is the most important. It is no coincidence that his character is frequently studied by management companies and MBA colleges. He definitely had his project managers, the men he abuses the most. When he abducts the actress and asks her to dance, it’s not necessarily because he is lecherous. This is for his men to enjoy and to show them he is the undisputed leader. Those mountains are his territory, he is content to be the king of that space. He is not very ambitious and does not really want to go out of his comfort zone. He is a great communicator and knows how to use his voice and the legends surrounding him.
But more so, he is interested in his own team and he needs people to fear him so that no one ventures into his territory. He will insult his army of men or praise them, depending on what will motivate them to work harder for him. He is also a tactical person. So, at one point, he organises plunder during the festival of Holi, when he knows people will have their guard down. He tells you that everyone is scared of him to ensure you are scared of him. He seems to have done a proper SWOT analysis of his team and his area. He infuses his team with enough aggression that they can direct to other people but come home to be his domesticated pets. It is worth noting that his endgame here is only how he impacts his people to get the work done and that is why he inspires his people. He is also insecure, so he needs people to fear him so that they don’t venture into his personal space. In many ways, he tactically uses everything from gossip to propaganda to his benefit.
Alauddin Khalji in “Padmaavat” (2018)
Apparently inspired by true historical events with some heavy creative liberties, a foreign invader declares war on an Indian kingdom because of his obsession with the beauty of the local queen.
Khalji is only portrayed in black, so the contrast between light and dark is shown beautifully in the film. Ultimately, he is a hedonist. His pleasure is paramount and he doesn’t care how he gets it — it could be food today, a woman tomorrow or even a man. He is also given to dramatics and understands the effect of visions, visuals, and emotions that he can evoke in people. There is no endgame here, as he shifts from one pleasure to another. He is driven by his passions and is as much a victim of them. There is no restraint and he has impulse control issues. He takes immense pleasure in these actions, even if it means becoming a sadist to maximise his pleasure. He is also not bereft of charm so he can manipulate people emotionally to serve his pleasures. So, clearly, he is a narcissist too. But this doesn’t mean he is cavalier about the way he seeks his pleasures. He is very much a hard worker too — he puts in the immense effort and strategises very well to get what he wants. And then, he likes to enjoy the fruits of his labour. It is perhaps quite metaphorical that an attempt is made on his life while he is dancing and drinking away, thus undermining his narcissistic belief that he was invincible. It is quite a testament to the power of his narcissism that even though the people around him might not always like him, they feel compelled to do his bidding, and not always out of fear of cruelty.
Rakesh Mahadkar in “Ek Villain” (2014)
An unsuccessful man is constantly ridiculed by his wife for his general incompetence, but he still loves her. He vents out his frustration by murdering other women who speak rudely to him.
From a psychiatrist’s perspective, there is a lot of empathy for this character. You can almost see the childhood experiences that might have shaped his life today. It’s possible that he has a major attachment to a mother figure. He ends up marrying someone similar to his childhood experience with an abusive mother figure. So the wife has similar traits: She is dominant, humiliates and degrades him. He suffers from acute self-esteem issues too. He is not dissociating and is not coming out of a haze. He is fully aware of what he’s doing. When there is abuse, there is a certain amount of aggression that gets turned inwards and outwards. This is why we see elements of sociopathy when he gets triggered after a woman is rude to him. His low self-esteem gets underlined in these moments. He also takes trophies from his victims to his wife and child. This also shows that he was absolutely in charge of himself. He doesn’t necessarily have emotional attachment with those trophies but it’s his way of rewarding himself. Ultimately, the character manages to bring together the intersection of a lot of issues, from abuse, aggression, patriarchy, to bullying and even class struggles.
Ramadhir Singh in “Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2” (2012)
A cold, selfish politician and a warlord, he does anything it takes to stay in control and assert his power over mineral-rich India – even if it means killing his own loyalists and their children to sustain his empire.
This bad guy is not mindless at all. He is not a self-obsessed person but a self-serving person. One of the major reasons he is not happy with his son is because the son lacks the finesse that he associates with success and power. But he is a survivor and thrives. He will sacrifice everything that comes his way while still protecting his family. He wants to wield power even when he’s not in power. When it served him, he worked with the British; he continued to keep parcels of land from the miners. He rarely shows his emotions because he is very calculated and business-like in that sense. Everyone in his life is dispensable except his family. He never does the dirty work himself — that’s for the working class. It’s all about everyone serving a purpose that is his purpose. Ramadhir’s character is a great study of someone who is highly self-aware and maintains sinister power while always being one step ahead of other people.
Mogambo in ‘Mr. India” (1987)
He operates his criminal network from an isolated island, with dreams of ruling India. However, his power is threatened when an ordinary man fights back with a device that can make its wearer invisible.
Mogambo’s character needs to be larger-than-life and ostentatious so as to contrast with our hero who is a common man, and we can then love and root for him. Sure, I’d recommend some mood stabilisers because he is constantly in a manic phase — he talks a lot and is a megalomaniac. Everything he does is in full volume. If he is laughing, everyone in the room must hear him roar. His coat must be heavily embellished with gold. He doesn’t need any validation from others because he is getting enough from himself. As with most megalomaniacs, he has many delusions and there is nothing too small or too big for him. From petty crimes to terrorism on a national scale, he wants to do everything and anything. But I still wouldn’t say that he is an unreal character. We find different manifestations of the same in reality too. Even if we don’t talk about evil people, we see that Bappi Lahiri has a similar thing going for him in terms of wanting to live life magnificently, covering himself with gold all the time. Similarly, (financial crime fugitive) Vijay Mallya always wanted to drive the fastest car, and wear the best suit. Art imitates life but often, the inverse holds true and we never know what came first.
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