The art of storytelling is probably the oldest tradition known to mankind. As we evolved, that art soon started translating on to paper. Be it mythological tales or stories that are written for films, all of it stems from the basic need to tell and hear stories. Informative or entertaining, the stories have always existed in our lives.
Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, discusses the journey of a ‘Hero’ and the kinds of characters or situations he encounters on his way. In the context of a film, the main protagonist can be labelled as the ‘Hero’. The supporting cast plays the role of getting the ‘Hero’ to his destination. The destination could be getting to the love of his life, saving his country from terrorists or alien attacks or it could be as simple as getting back to his roots.
The character types are not specific to gender, race or nationality. And in accordance to the story, the purpose can sometimes be delegated to a situation rather than a character. In some cases, one character can serve more than only one purpose and sometimes, the role of a character can be performed by a situation that happens.
Bollywood has been telling stories for more than a hundred years now and just like all the stories in the world, the various kinds of characters discussed by Campbell can be seen here as well.
There could be various characters in a film but there are only a certain number of character types that can exist to enhance the plot. These can be broadly classified into 8 types.
1. The Hero
Example: Bhuvan in Lagaan
Hero is not a gender specific term here; it could be a man or a woman. The central character of a movie can be loosely called the ‘Hero’. It is this character’s journey that we watch. The Hero’s journey is what forms the story. He grows and evolves in the story, tries to attain what he has set out to achieve and faces certain obstacles on the way.
Aamir Khan’s character, Bhuvan, in Lagaan is the ‘Hero’ of the story. He raises his voice against the system. He is faced with opposition in the beginning but gradually gathers support from other villagers who help him in winning the cricket match. The goal could be marrying the love of your life or achieving the greater good, which was the case in Lagaan.
2. The Herald
Example: Simran’s friends in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
This is the character that pushes the ‘Hero’ into a challenge or is instrumental in starting his journey in the story. The ‘Herald’ can be a character but can also be in the form of a letter or a phone call or just an event that inspires the protagonist to start his journey.
Simran’s friends in DDLJ can be called as the ‘Herald’. It is her friends who push her to come for the Euro trip which actually starts her journey in the film.
In Udaan, Rohan’s expulsion from is school is the ‘Herald’. It can be an event too.
3. The Mentor
Example: Amitabh Bachchan’s character in Black
A mentor is the one who guides the protagonist along his way. He is the one who encourages him to fight, to go for his goals.
In context of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the film Black was the ‘Mentor’ to Rani Mukerji’s character. He comes in early in her life and guides her through her problems, equips her with what she needs to survive in her world and gives her the courage to face her fears.
4. The Guardian
Example: The man who tries to snatch Rani’s bag in Queen
The ‘Guardian’ is the one who meets the ‘Hero’ on his journey to get to his goals. This character or situation will create the obstacle that the hero will have to pass to get to his goals. The obstacle can come at any stage of the story to stop the protagonist. A guardian can be good or evil or someone to whom the hero is insignificant.
In Queen, the guy who tries to snatch Rani’s (Kangana Ranaut) bag in Amsterdam is someone who is trying to block her path. She fights him and moves ahead in the journey that she has planned for herself.
5. The Ally
Example: Jaggu in PK
The best friend, brother, sister, mother or girlfriend, anyone who goes along in the hero’s journey and supports him completely to get to his destination is an ally.
In PK, when PK tells his story to Jaggu, she instantly becomes his ally. She constantly supports PK, even when the world finds his story or theories hard to believe.
6. The Trickster
Example: Chatur in 3 Idiots
The ‘Trickster’ appears in the story usually for comic relief. They sometimes offer a point a view that is different from the protagonist.
Chatur in 3 Idiots is the perfect example of a trickster. He is a significant part in Rancho’s journey, adds comic relief and also has a point of view which differs starkly from Rancho’s.
7. The Shapeshifter
Example: Aamir’s character in Fanaa
A ‘Shapeshifter’ can refer to anyone who pretends to be someone else and is hiding their true self. Two faced characters can be included in this category. They usually start out as an ally but deceive the hero when he needs them the most. They intensify the story by developing various layers to the character and intrigue the audience.
In Fanaa, Aamir’s character is of a shapeshifter. He deceives the other characters into thinking that he is a good guy but it is later revealed that he is actually a terrorist.
8. The Shadow
Example: Gabbar Singh in Sholay
Shadows are the villains of the story. They represent the polar opposite of the ‘Hero’. They are the conflict that the hero has to win against to accomplish their goals. The defeat of the ‘Shadow’ results in the success of the hero’s journey.
Gabbar in Sholay is the classic example of a ‘Shadow’. He is the obstacle that has to be taken down and it is in his defeat that Jai and Veeru can win.