Bollywood movies have often made us root for the hero. We are told not to go after the bad boys who personify the evil that lurks in the world. Now, the ‘heroes’ themselves turn out to be quite problematic in most films – but that’s a discussion for some other day. Let’s talk about the antagonists and the villains – people who we are supposed to hate, and we do, but are often captivated by their charisma. Guilty as charged.
This reminds me of Arjun Rampal who brings a raw edge to his negative characters, making them memorable.
There’s something sinisterly beautiful in the way Arjun Rampal has embraced his antagonistic roles. While Om Shanti Om (2007) recently completed 15 years, I could not help but think about Rampal’s role as the wicked Mukesh Mehra.
You have to be lying if Mukesh did not make your blood boil whenever he appeared on the screen. Slick back hair, power dressing in tailored outfits, and a cigarette dangling from his mouth – Mukesh had all the traits of the classic Bollywood villain from the 80s. As the movie progressed, you could see how he was stringing Shanti Priya all along. The hate reaches a crescendo when he kills her on the set. Shanti Priya screams for her life while Mukesh waltzes off nonchalantly.
Speaking to Free Press Journal, Arjun Rampal said,
Playing antagonists is fun to do because they are totally not you…You do ponder over how would you design it according to the bad guys and try to do it in the worst possible manner so that audiences will think you are a bad guy. This is something you never do in real life. It’s a great and nice way to bring out all that we bear in heart and mind through the characters.
Quite recently, Arjun Rampal gave us another villain in Dhaakad (2022). Rudraveer, the arms and human trafficker, is deadly. He comes from a place where everything has been snatched from him. In order to get what he wants, he becomes anti-establishment. He is cold-blooded and vicious and does not spare a thought before he ruthlessly crushes anyone who comes in his way.
What really makes Arjun Rampal stand out in these negative roles is the way he imparts a certain sinful quality to his characters. There’s always an adrenaline rush about something that is forbidden. He makes these anti-heroes outright menacing.
In Daddy (2017), Arjun Rampal played the role of a gangster turned politician. He looked like him, and he spoke like him. The boundaries between the reel and the real are blurred as Rampal embraces the guilty gangster with utmost ease. There are no frills to his performance as Arun Gawli. While the movie passed like a silent breeze at the box office, his performance echoed loudly.
While we are at it, how can we forget the first time Arjun Rampal played a negative character in 2005? In Ek Ajnabee, Rampal’s flamboyant Captain Shekhar Verma shrewdly plays everyone along until it is revealed that it is he who is the mastermind. With Amitabh Bachchan as the protagonist, Arjun Rampal’s role got overshadowed but nevertheless, it still deserves recognition.
One has to agree that it really takes an effort to embrace characters who operate in the grey zones. His anti-hero engages with the audience and brings out the dislike that is always hidden beneath the layers. And Rampal has proved his mettle time and again.
In Ra.One (2011), Arjun Rampal oozed oomph as the titular antagonist. No other actor could pull off Ra.One as sinisterly as Arjun did. In this The Matrix meets Bollywood movie, he was the evil grey character. However, his physique, the stunts he pulled, and his expressions made everyone admire the evilness he embodied.
Throughout his career, Arjun Rampal has shown us the incredible range he possesses as a hero and as an anti-hero. But nothing comes close to how he shines in these antagonistic roles.