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'Pure Evil' has been my biggest and most complex project - Author Balaji Vittal

Love them or hate them, you simply can't ignore them. That cliche is perhaps most apt when it comes to the bad men of Bollywood. In fact, some of the most memorable lines of dialogue have been mouthed not by the heroes but by the villains of Hindi cinema. So it is only fitting that these shining stars of the dark world (after all, antagonists are the protagonists of their own stories!) deserve to be spotlighted. Balaji Vittal, the author of Pure Evil: the Bad Men of Bollywood undertakes this onerous task of highlighting the world of these evil characters and how they have come to occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of movie goers. 

I spoke to Mr. Balaji Vittal, a National Award winning and MAMI Award winning author of Bollywood books, a columnist for News18, Outlook India, The New Indian Express, a Bollywood commentator and a public speaker, about his journey of venturing into the world of Pure Evil.  

Here are some excerpts:


Your book "Pure Evil: the Bad Men of Bollywood" is a deep dive into the various types of villains that have tormented the heroes and heroines on the Indian silver screen. How long did it take you to conduct the research and write the book? Were there moments when you thought it was too wild and huge a project? What kept you going and why?

BV: It took a little over eight years to complete the manuscript and then a year more to re-work on the edits.  What took as long as it did was - a) To arrive at a framework. A biography has reasonably well-defined start and end points and a logical chapterisation. But Pure Evil was a subject that had not been explored in its entirety by anyone. So, I struggled for two years with what the book should say. My earliest drafts read like Wikipedia synopses of the films sandwiched by interview transcripts which didn't look good. And then I learnt that the big black box of villainy needed to be unpacked and categorized logically. These various categories needed to be classified as Villains of the individual, Villains of the society or Villains of the nation. And then I needed to map the various categories to the timelines. 
b) How much is (not) too much - I needed to balance between explaining the villainy of the villains without rambling and yet without being sketchy. It was a big challenge. When I signed up for the project I knew it was going to be wild and huge. And it lived up to my hunch every time I sat down to write. Watching ~300 films (parts of some of those multiple times), reading 20+ books, archival stuff on the net, old magazines, travelling to Mumbai to interview 50+ actors, film makers, journalists.  
Pure Evil has been my biggest and the most complex project ever - and arguably one of the most complex ever in Bollywood writing, I daresay. This challenge was precisely what kept me going. Taking on a project of such complexity itself was a bold statement. And not dropping it midway despite all the hurdles needed gallons of motivation. Motivation of pursuing a pioneering effort - yes, I think that is what it was.

Love how the book adds relevant anecdotes about the making of the films. Which among these is your favourite anecdote?
BV: The backstory about how the idea of a rabbit hitting Tabu's car windscreen in the climax of Andha Dhun occurred to Director Sriram Raghavan. Please read the book to know more about it!

The villains of Indian cinema have changed their masks and forms of "devilry" with the times. Would you agree that despite their bad streaks, our films tend to make their crimes a little less edgy than say what Western movies do? As a result, many a times they come across as caricaturish. Your thoughts, please.
BV: In many films of yore a villain had all the tell-tale body language, or his outlandish costumes. Or he would be cruel to the impoverished ones. He had to be wealthy. He would not be a family man and would be cavorting with multiple women. But in the last 2-3 decades script writers have weaved in more subtlety in the way villain characters are crafted. They are not loud or larger than life. Their cold viciousness does the trick. And also, in earlier films the scripts were biased in favor of the hero. The hero had to win and the villain had to lose. But these days the scripts give equal opportunities for both and this makes for more realistic viewing. 

In the light of new movies like Kabir and Animal, where the Anti-Hero has gone over completely to the dark side, do you feel that the villains of this era are losing their relevance as the Protagonist and Antagonist are sharing the same space? How do you see the evolution of the bad guy in the coming years?
BV: Kabir and Ranvijay in Animal are not anti-heroes. An anti-hero is one whose end goal is laudable but who adopts a wrong path to get to it. Kabir was a modern day Devdas i.e. a tragic hero and not an anti-hero. Yes, he had darker shades, but perhaps it was an upgraded version of Dev D (0209) starring Abhay Deol. Ranvijay in Animal was a blend of the mafia don Michael Corleone and Amitabh Bachchan's character of the neglected rich boy in Sharaabi (1984). But yes, today there are shades of grey in every character and those sharp lines that divided the villain from the hero are blurring. This makes for more realistic viewing because all of us have shades of grey. We change colors depending on the situation. So, personally I connect more with these grey characters rather than pure white or pure black.  

Who in your opinion is the Greatest Bad Man of all time in Indian cinema and why?
BV: Gabbar Singh. There was nothing good about him. He had fun with death and even more fun mocking people and making them laugh before killing them. Brilliantly crafted by Salim-Javed and executed so well by Amjad Khan.

The book is a great read and if you're a lover of Bollywood films, this is definitely for you! You can connect with Mr. Vittal on Twitter and his website.


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