From seeing a bulky and dishevelled Amjad Khan playing Gabbar in the ’70s to having the tall and handsome Abhishek Bachchan playing antagonist Avinash Sabharwal in Breathe, the industry’s villains have had quite the makeover. It’s not white or black anymore, instead, filmmakers, writers, and even actors have started exploring shades of grey. Gone are the days when villains were supposed to be brutal, immoral, ruthless, and would always have a gun in their pocket.

Veteran actor Govind Namdev known for films like Bandit Queen, Prem Granth, OMG: Oh My God!, Wanted, Singham, and many others, tells us that villains now need not be fierce or extremely corrupt. He says, “Earlier, most films worked on one formula – a hero, a heroine, and a villain; some emotional scenes, fights, and songs. Villains were shown as larger-than-life characters. With 10 actors auditioning for a single role, there were a lot of struggles. Today, we have digital media, which has made filmmaking more creative and dynamic. These days, actors have a lot of options to choose from – short films, independent films, multi-starrers, web series, television, etc. Also, the focus is on producing realistic content. Now villains are quite realistic and relevant or might not be a villain in the end.”

Another fine actor Gulshan Grover, also known as the ‘Bad Man’ of Bollywood feels that complete black or complete white characters are now vanishing. 

“Villains in Bollywood have evolved with time. Writers are now working on scripts around the villain who have a grey side to their characters. Instead of fictionalising the entire film, writers are now taking inspiration from real life.”

The credit for this evolution should also be given to streaming platforms. Actor Abhishek Banerjee, who played the role of a ruthless killer Hathoda Tyagi in Amazon Prime Video’s web series Paatal Lok says, “OTT has given a good boost to talents and the best thing about it is that you get to see a lot of grey roles.”

He mentions how the character of Hathoda Tyaagi changed his life. He says that he never thought of him as a dark character, but it was the director who believed in him and his character – Vishal Tyagi who was taking revenge for the rape of his sisters. “The grey characters are sometimes the protagonist dealing with several flaws,” he says.

Abhishek Bachchan, who hasn’t shied away from doing negative roles, tells us: “A lot of mental and physical preparation goes behind working on grey characters. Be it Bob Biswas or Avinash Sabarwal, both have their reasons to be bad. Portraying a grey role is a lot more challenging than depicting a regular black or white character.”

Directors are also understanding the importance of villains in a film. They want the audience to connect with them and their backstories. Director-producer Faruk Kabir explains this. He says, “We are progressing as a society, and with exposure to such diversity all around us, I do see a trend where we are now making more plausible realities in cinema. I think when we write our antagonist characters today, we want to bring out the different nuances to a villain too. This not only makes the character more interesting but also more relatable. We all have a good and a bad side to us and by bringing alive the yin and yang side of the villain, we make the audience connect more with the story. It’s no longer just the hero character that needs to have a connection with the viewers.”

He adds, “The audience interest has also undergone a major and progressive shift. Increasingly, the audience wants to watch a grey character. And this only makes our job as filmmakers and writers more interesting. Imagine a Sholay without a Gabbar or Batman without the Joker. We can’t.”

Producer Jay Shewakramani, however, has a different take on this. He feels that the villains of the ‘90s are coming back and there is no difference but rather a similarity. He says, “Of late, we haven’t been glorifying the hero, and that trend seems to be coming back. The only way our heroes will become bigger is if villains are built correctly. That’s the only reason one has to pad up the antagonist with a back story and layers. The West did it successfully with Joker and so many other villains. It’s high time we do it right too.”

Ankur bhatia aarya

Ankur Bhatia, known for playing the antagonist in the Disney Plus Hotstar series Aarya starring Sushmita Sen in the lead role, thinks the depiction of villains in Hindi cinema has evolved over the decades. The industry has witnessed villains who have managed to overshadow heroes. “Villains are no longer the bad guys, who have an identifiable feature like a scar or a mole. A villain and hero have an action and reaction kind of a relationship, which makes the story of the film worth remembering. The villains are now suave, well spelled out on script, and have very interesting backstories. This has transformed negative roles into lucrative opportunities for actors,” he explains

Chandan Roy Sanyal (Kaminey, Aashram) adds, “Some of the iconic villains of Bollywood were shown to be victims of lust and avarice three decades ago. Back then, the fear of being stereotyped hovered over an actor. Now Indian cinema has evolved into a space that allows actors to change gears and showcase their versatility. Shah Rukh Khan’s brilliance as a villain in his debut film Darr was such a breath of fresh air that it’s impossible to imagine the movie without him.”

Aashram Chandan Roy Sanyal

“Filmmakers, writers, and actors are getting braver by the day and they’re scripting villains with much more care and thought. They’re making us think about their backstories.”