5 Memorable Anti-Heroes in Indian Cinema

The concept of the anti-hero as a character is not new, it dates back to the slighted son Karn in Mahabharat and has continued in all forms of traditional story telling, thus it is no surprise that the Indian film industry thought it fit to include the anti-hero as a major character or even the lead from almost the time that the movies learnt to talk. There have been innumerable portrayals of this character archetype, I would like to talk about the 5 that I think are the most memorable.

5.Vikram (Johnny Gaddaar)


There are a bunch of reasons that make Johnny Gaddaar an important movie. And the biggest of them is that this might be the last good noir film to get made in Bombay. Sriram Raghvan knows films and loves them, that is why he gave a sly tip of the hat to the original Agent Vinod in his latest outing. However it is his second film that truly brings out this love of his

Giving Noir lovers something to Jerk Off to
The movie is about a bunch of crooks involved in a vague drugs scam, and gave a chance for Dharmendra to actually act in something good, it had all the prerequisites of a noir thriller, a dangerous damsel in distress, a set of shady characters making their living by illegal means and an Anti-Hero with ambiguous morals. The movie was not a Suspense film per se, rather it was more about 'What Happens Next'

And like the director Raghavan, Vikram too has a great affinity for movies, making him base his modus operandi on a film that had Amitabh Bachchan playing a villain, and conjuring up a fake name on cue from a Vijay Anand thriller.

Vikram is no 'made of 100% Evil' villain. But he is no victim of circumstance either. His plan is simple, his gang is transferring money for delivery of a shipment by train (because taking a suitcase full of cash in a plane would be mighty suspicious for obvious reasons), so all he wants is to steal this money so that he can escape with his sweet sweet girlfriend (who coincidentally happens to be the wife of one of his gang mates).

Vikram also wants to read James Headly Chase, but that's beside the point
His plan is to knock the guy transferring the money out, and then to steal the suitcase. But then, an accident happens, the guy is difficult to knock out using your standard chloroform

Because let's face it, he's DAYA 
and in a scuffle he falls off the train, hits his big head hard somewhere and manages to die. Till this point the only Gaddaari that Johnny was willing to do was to steal the money, do what Amitabh Bachchan did in Parwana and get back to work the next day, as if nothing has happened, and wait for his business partners to write off this theft as a loss.

Unfortunately he ends up killing all the members of his gang. But none of the murders are pre-mediated. His only desire is the money, and all the killings happen only on the spur of the moment, and have solid solid reasons - like his true motives and his theft being discovered.. But Johnny Gaddaar shows no great remorse or regret, all it shows is Vikram trying to save his ass, while being awesomely cool.

In the end Vikram dies (ironically because the murderer thought he was someone else), thus bringing the killings to a full circle. In fact, the only major character at the end of the movie left alive is the Damsel in Distress, who can be said to be the reason the killings started in the first place.

Red is for DANGER! Isn't that like Elementary school knowledge?


4. Ajay Sharma (Baazigar)


In the earlier stages of his career, Shah Rukh Khan flirted with the negative role with three films, of these three, Darr and Anjaam had him playing a clear-cut psychopath, but Baazigar was different.


Since PhotoShopping wasn't so prevalent at that time, those are actual photographs of the actresses on his shades. Also notice the mandatory disembodied 'Gun in Poster'.

Ajay Sharma is an anti-hero because he is out to take revenge for the ill-treatment of his family at the hands of Dalip Tahil. He takes the law in his own hand and shakes ethics about as if they have no bearing on him, and he leaves conscience home. Yes, Ajay Sharma is a cold-blooded killer. He calls up a girl (Dalip Tahil's daughter) with promises of marrying her at a registrar office, then takes her to the roof for 'isi tarah'  reasons, and then proceeds to kill her.



Ajay Sharma's motives are clear, he seeks one thing and one thing only - revenge.

He also wants to audition for the role of  Pandit Gangadhar Vidhyadhaar Mayadhar Omkarnath Shastri

And if in the path of his vengeance, he has to throw a girl off the roof of a high-rise building then he considers it legit.

Shilpa Shetty in her second Finest hour
Further, after killing off one daughter in the family, he calmly goes after the other girl of the family with a fake identity. Then with layers and layers of tricks and treats he makes Dalip Tahil's Business empire as his own, giving him the same fate as was given to his father.

Ajay Sharma too dies in the end after a ridiculous 15 minute long 'Fight Scene', but despite not showing a single Positive quality (except for a desire to fulfill his mother's wishes, something that even Norman Bates wanted to do) he never careens off to 'Villain' Space. During the whole movie, he retains the sympathy of the audience, and this was at a time Shah Rukh Khan did not exactly have a legion of 500 million fans etc, this was one of his earlier films, and yet the character of Ajay Sharma became his first major success.

Perhaps it has something to do with dying in his mother's arms at the end of the film
Speaking of which

3. Vijay Verma (Deewar)


We have already talked a bit about the quotable quotes of the movie Deewar here, if Zanjeer, with Amitabh Bachchan as an honest cop introduced him as an Angry Young Man, it was his Haji Mastan-esque performance in Deewar that cemented his reputation as one (In Sholay his character can hardly said to be a raging archetype)


Although Ravi Verma got the best line in the movie (and one of the best lines of all time in fact) but the movie belonged to Vijay (as do most of the movies starring Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay). As a child he suffers because his father is framed as a thief, and he gets literally branded for life when some workers tattoo his arm with 'Mera Baap Chor Hai', thus not literally giving him much of a choice honest career-wise. He has a stubborn violent streak in him from his early childhood when he works as a boot polish boy, with a strict policy - of not accepting 'thrown money'

They don't know that the kid they are messing with will grow up to become Amitabh Bachchan

However the career of a shoe-shine boy may be one of hardwork and virtue, it does not follow many inroads into the Get-Rich-And-Cool area. So he follows the logical progression of working on the waterfront to becoming mob-boss.

This Still from the film portrays 'Bangla, Gaadi, Bank-balance' all in one go

His brother becomes a Police Officer (only because he gets cozy with the Commissioner's daughter) while Vijay ascends/descends (take your pick) to becoming Tony Montana class Master Criminal. He also gets to make sweet sweet loving with the Hot Parveen Babi


Thus making it an easy choice for young Indians between Ravi and Vijay as potential role-models
When his girlfriend gets pregnant he starts straightening up his act, also in hope of making amends with his mother and his less-cool brother, but then the bad-bad guys ice her, thus turning Vijay into a One-Man-Rage-Machine. He kills all of his enemies, thus practically ruining his chances of becoming an honest-upright man.

In the end he dies by the hand of his own brother, I have a feeling that he allowed himself to get killed, otherwise he was too awesome for another human being to kill him.


In 1975, Amitabh Bachchan's dying scene was a lucky totem for film-makers
2. Raju (Guide)






Guide is one of the most important films of all time to come out of the Indian film industry, and it is by far the role that defined Dev Anand. Based on an English language novel of the same name, this film is a landmark in itself, and Raju is not only a memorable Anti-Hero but one of the best, finely etched characters of all time.

If the material that the film sprang from had been in a lighter vein, Raju Guide would have been a Wodehousian creature. He is a 'Freelance' tourist guide, who gets by with doing odds and ends, performing as a guide or as whatever role the situation would demand him to be. He falls into the category of a lovable ruffian who flirts with the wife of one of his clients (using the opportunity of the fact that his client had lost interest in her), he exhorts her to pursue her dreams of Dancing, even gifting her ghunghroo at one point. He is a glib talker, and a borderline confidence-trickster. He is no thief, nor is he exactly evil, it's just that he tries to mould each situation to the best of his interests. In fact, he always has good intentions although not exactly honourable means.

It would be tricky to call Raju 'Grey' I would rather say - colourful
Knowingly or unknowingly he breaks off the marriage of Rosie and Marco (his client) and helps establish Rosie as a Dancing star and gambles and drinks on her earnings. When Marco tries to contact Rosie at one point on pretext of needing her signatures for the release of some jewels in a safety box, Raju commits forgery in an attempt to keep him away from her.

Raju has no qualms about telling Rosie that her becoming a Dancing star is not something she should entirely take credit for, although her own weird behaviour makes him more and more dissolute.

He is jailed for Forgery, a crime Rosie doesn't quite understand why he committed. Upon his release from prison (which serves as the beginning of the movie) he becomes disillusioned with attachments (his family had abandoned him when he had supported a 'nach girl' and the girl had abandoned him when she had suspected him of theft) he roams around aimlessly to a song that is stuff that legends are made off



Once while sleeping near a temple, a Sadhu covers him with his shawl. The next morning a naive villager (named, well, Bhola) discovers him and thinks him to be a holy-man. In his final act as a smooth-talker Raju commences his life as a fake Sadhu, using his power of conversation to convince Bhola's sister to get married, and for some time period enjoys his life as the villagers impressed by him bring him gifts and food. He enjoys sparring with local pundits using his gift of the gab, although this is what ultimately lands him into trouble. He tells the villagers the story of Sadhu who fasted for 12 days to bring water to his drought ridden village and this is seen by them as an offer on his part to do so.

At the end of the film, for a brief moment Raju regains all that he lost, his friend, his mother and Rosie. But unfortunately he succumbs to the fast, as ironically it starts raining.


1. Shekhar (Kismet)


Ashok Kumar was one of the true pioneers of Indian cinema, so it comes as no surprise that he was the first mainstream actor to blur the line between Hero/Villain when he acted (and to some extent Produced) in Kismet way back in 1943. This film was such a huge hit that it ran for multiple years in a cinema hall in Calcutta and adjusted for inflation it earned over Rs 60 crore.

I love the charm of Hand-drawn posters
 This was the first movie to introduce the con-man in a lead-role. Like Guide, the story starts with Shekhar being released from Jail. The jailer tells him that since this is his third stint in the jail he should now go straight. The charming thief smiles as he listens to the jailer, goes out of the jail and promptly picks the pocket of a pick-pocket (who had just stolen a watch from another gentleman). Later when he meets this gentleman with the watch and gets to hear his sorry tale that the watch was his last worldly possession and now he has no money etc, he does not get all sentimental and returns the watch, instead he helps him buy tickets for a theater show that the man wanted to watch.

I invented being cool
He befriends the daughter of the 'watch gentleman' who thinks he is her father's friend, and eventually falls in love with her. The daughter thinks of him as a honourable gentleman, however he keeps up a pretense (although all in good intentions) in front of her while thieving around behind her back with the ultimate aim of helping her.

The other elements of the convoluted story aside, Shankar remains who he was, a suave cool character who knows what he does best and uses it for good and bad.

Allow me to make another Wodehousian reference here, if there were ever to be a movie made on Uncle Fred in India, Ashok Kumar would be perfect for the role (In fact he did a close enough turn in 'Chhoti Si Baat')


PS : Abhishek Bachchan character in Yuva in my opinion is a 'Villain' and not an Anti-Hero. He's deliberately immoral, and has no redeeming quality in him whatsoever.

14 comments:

{ Nitesh.B.Rai } at: May 5, 2012 at 10:47 PM said...

good job filmistani..really enjoy reading ur blogs.keep up the good wrk.

{ Amrit Verma } at: May 5, 2012 at 10:59 PM said...

Kismet! never even heard of it. :P
Good post Filmis.

{ Animesh Srivastava } at: May 6, 2012 at 1:06 AM said...

"I have a feeling that he allowed himself to get killed, otherwise he was too awesome for another human being to kill him." Awesome article.

{ Dhruv } at: May 6, 2012 at 2:21 AM said...

Awesome article... One of the very best on Filmstani... Raju guide has to be one of the most interesting characters ever portrayed on the Indian Silver Screen...

{ krishnakaushal } at: May 6, 2012 at 9:27 AM said...

and I loved sridevi in laadla too!!!:)

{ Vaibhav Srivastav } at: May 6, 2012 at 11:25 AM said...

Thanks for your feedback

Please drop in a comment on your favourite 5 anti-heroes too...people who you think should have made this list

{ Ashtung } at: May 6, 2012 at 11:38 AM said...

You missed Birju in Mother India... To me, Sunil Dutt made Anti-hero acceptable

{ flight uninterupted } at: May 8, 2012 at 9:06 PM said...

wow Pablo(God) sahi ohh ahhh maja hi hi hi
achha hai

{ Ashish Tickoo } at: May 14, 2012 at 12:48 PM said...

Satya ka Bhiku Mhatre?

{ Vincynation } at: May 14, 2012 at 1:08 PM said...

Awesome article.How about Mithun aka Prabhuji aka Shankar in Kanti Shah's Magnum Opus : Gunda? :D

{ Afroz } at: May 16, 2012 at 4:40 PM said...

How can you miss Raj Kapoor sahab of Shree 420

{ himess } at: May 17, 2012 at 10:46 AM said...

Excellent post...loved the Woodhousian references

{ Piyush Jain } at: May 19, 2012 at 12:34 AM said...

Excellent post,, Mother India's Birju and Omkara's Langda Tyagi could also make it to the list!!

{ amit } at: August 16, 2012 at 2:35 PM said...

how about srk's Don because in true sense Villian is actual hero of the film...And also Kamal hasan's Nayagan that was remade in hindi as daayawaan...

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