In 1993, there was an actor who went against the grain in a fresh and somewhat unheard of fashion. In 2018, it’s almost as if history has repeated itself. The release of ‘Padmaavat’ last month presented a very different kind of villain in the form of a mainstream actor who has been seen in lead roles since his career began eight years ago. This got me thinking… Along with times changes and Bollywood no longer being merely about stories where the actors are dancing around trees or boy meets girl, is it possible to have a mainstream actor who is successfully seen as a male lead in some films and then perhaps an anti-hero in others? Would audiences accept this in the long term?
In 1993, Shah Rukh Khan was only a year in to his big screen journey. Making the transition from TV meant that a fanbase was already present for him. As his popularity gathered momentum, he did something that can be described as extraordinary. He stepped into the baddie role with ‘Baazigar’ and ‘Darr’. In the former, he was both the lead actor and the villain – romancing two actresses too. In the latter, however, he actually played the villain because his character’s obsession with the female lead didn’t stop her marrying another lead actor. The following year, Khan was seen in ‘Anjaam’ in which he was also seen in a negatively shaded part. All of these instances are very different but ‘Darr’ is comparable loosely to ‘Padmaavat’ and Ranveer Singh.
When an actor like Singh, who also has a very steady and growing fanbase, spends the first seven years of his career working with some of the industry’s best talents and is appreciated for his performances over and over, who would have thought that stepping into the role of Alauddin Khilji for Sanjay Leela Bhansali would have been quite the big deal for him as it actually has been. Khilji exceeded any definition of an antagonist possible and Singh’s performance eclipsed the other actors by miles. As such, it is a reality that the actor has been accepted in the anti-hero arena. But wait, is it really that simple? Would audiences really be able to fully accept Singh in roles where he is the male lead who has an element of a love story and also in roles where he is a baddie who is opposing the film’s lead actors… simultaneously? Could Singh really survive as an anti-hero at the same time as he’s seen success as a main actor? Would these blurred lines work in his favour?
Of course, there is an argument that the negative shades that other have shown in their lead roles also blur the lines. Let’s think about Aamir Khan in 2013’s ‘Dhoom 3’ who played a double role who was part-villain. We could also add to the mix Khan in ‘Fan’ who played a double role where both characters weren’t completely likeable. Here we have actors who are mainstream and have delved into the known territory of the bad and ugly. Whether that’s happened to enhance their own films or performances or to trick the audiences is a another interesting matter but I would like to argue this is acceptable to an extent. You could also bring into play actors like Irrfan Khan, Amrish Puri, Boman Irani or even Manoj Bajpayee but the difference with them is that they have played antagonists but in their films they have been seen in supporting parts.
Things might become a little obscure further with the release of ‘2.0’. In that instance, Akshay Kumar – an actor who has been seen in films of late promoting social causes and working towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Swachh Bharat’ – will be seen confronting the legendary Rajinikanth as an anti-hero. Although it can be said that this is tolerable because it’s not strictly in the Bollywood cinematic arena, it still gives food for thought. Will Kumar go on to play villainous roles in Bollywood if the film is a success? Will be move away from the mainstream lead role?
These are all questions that emphasise the audiences’ behaviour. Versatility is something Bollywood strives on and that’s why actors like Om Puri or Naseeruddin Shah are appreciated all the more. Like chameleons somewhat, they’re able to fit into various avatars convincingly. But would audiences be confused by Singh delving from good to bad on a regular basis?
It’s safe to say that a villain like Alauddin Khilji will take a while to top and Singh will go on to show the best of himself in the forthcoming projects he has lined up, as a lead actor. What Bhansali has encouraged Singh and the rest of the industry and audiences to do is look at an actor as an actor and not to place him or her into a particular slot. Whether the coming years show a conscious change in how filmmakers cast for their main roles and antagonists remains to be seen. This will determine whether a hero can ultimately also be an anti-hero too.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of this website.