Baar Bar was an upscale pub in Mumbai, regularly patronized by Bollywood folks.
It was resplendent and looked cozy in the low lighting of the interiors. The dark wooden walls and the swanky furnishing created an opulent atmosphere. There were intimate booths and comfortable tables placed all around. The mellifluous voice of Jagjit Singh crooned from the speakers lending a mellow ambiance.
It was already very late, and the manager wanted to close up and go home. He took a peek at the seating area. Only two people remained, sitting far away from each other and steadily getting schnockered.
Ramchand was a regular at the bar. He had been working in Bollywood as a villain for many years and had retired from acting recently. Or, to put things in the proper perspective, he was not getting any offers because there were new villains on the scene, who proved to be villains in his own career.
He had a gregarious, louquacious personality that stood him in great stead when the casting agents recommended him to the directors. Middle-aged and of towering height, he had a matching frame and a beer belly. A mane of thick messy hair covered his head. But the most prominent feature of his face was a pair of dark, bushy eyebrows that rose and fell regularly, like a pair of black worms riding a wave.
A critic once wrote sarcastically that Ramchand’s eyebrows emoted better than him.
Ramchand had been drinking steadily for quite some time and was in that slightly inebriated state when one gets melancholic and reflective but not yet ready to weep. He had his pet grouses about the film industry, which usually surfaced during such moments.
Ramchand chucked the empty glass onto the table and looked around for someone who would give a patient hearing to his grievances.
The bar was almost empty. But there was Damodar.
Damodar had been a producer of many blockbusters, but his last few movies had bombed at the box office. But unlike other movie folks, he had taken the ‘fall from fame’ in his stride and remained non-combatant. But, yes, his failures had turned him philosophical.
He had a slight frame, a bald head, and an unassuming personality. Yes, a total contrast to Ramchand.
All the patrons of the bar loved Damodar. No one knew much about his personal life. Anyway, where he lived or how many kids he had was not very important for his function at the bar. He was the regular go-to guy when the boozers needed to talk and did not have anyone. He listened patiently to them, put up with their meaningless drivel, wiped their tears, and also managed to soothe them with the right advice. Once, he had even taken the trouble of driving home an old former superstar who had got himself plastered with drinks and put him to bed.
Damodar was the therapist cum life coach for all the Baar-Bar regulars.
Ramchand hiccupped twice, got up on unsteady legs, and stumbled towards Damodar’s table.
Damodar, who had finished his last peg, was planning to return home. But when he saw the ex-villain approach, he shrugged philosophically and moved aside to let him plop down next to him.
Damodar’s eyes searched for the manager and found him sitting behind his table in a far corner. He caught his eye and lifted two fingers. The manager understood the cryptic order and brought over two glasses brimming with brandy and a plate heaped with roasted, golden cashews. The amber liquid sparkled in the low lighting.
For a while, both of them sipped from their glasses contentedly and sat in companionable silence.
After a few moments of deep contemplation, Ramchand declared with a quiet vehemence, “I hate heroes. After years and years of being bashed up by them, I find them revolting. I have patiently put up with their haughty persona and overbearing heroisms all these years.” As he brooded, his eyebrows rushed toward each other. As if the black worms suddenly decided to mate.
Damodar clicked his tongue as encouragement and waited patiently for Ramchand to go on.
The manager took a gander from behind his place, found them both at the same table and realized that this conversation would continue for a long time. He closed his eyes and quietly leaned back on his chair. He knew there would be time for at least an hour of snoozing before he could close the bar up.
After staring at the half-empty glass on the table for a long time, Ramchand broke the silence and spoke passionately. The worms went back to their places. Looked like the female had changed her mind and said, ‘Not now.’
“You know these pretty heroines in the movies I act in? They become all prudish when I just look at them or try to chat them up. They treat me with disdain and thwart all my advances. If I persist, they become downright hostile. But when the hero gives them the same look, they become all lovey-dovey and bat their eyelids at him. They go with him to scenic locales and dance with him. They look at him shyly and let him kiss and hug them.”
They both took sips and thought deeply about the unfair world around them.
The worms stayed put and looked at each other warily from afar.
Damodar replied in a placating voice. “After all, the heroes do look so handsome. So you can’t really blame the heroines, can you?”
Ramchand spoke up, sounding peevish, and the worms danced a tiny jiggle.
“Why do the film people make the villains look ugly and menacing? After all, they start with the same material. I mean, the hero and I look very similar. They rectify all the hero’s flaws. Neatly coiffeured toupees cover their bald patches, dirty teeth are shined artificially to a white, and mustaches are trimmed and aligned perfectly. The makeup men work hard on them and make them look handsome.”
The villain stopped to scratch his ear lobes in animated disgust. The worms looked alert. As if they may be asked to perform a stunt, any moment.
Ramchand continued, “And take me! I started off by looking just like the hero. But I am given a denture of dirty teeth, a scruffy, false beard, and made-up to look creepy. I must also have a horrible-sounding laugh, a ferocious stare, and a taunting sneer.”
Damodar cupped his glass with both hands, looked far away, and asked in a contemplative voice, “What if in your next movie, we make the heroines ignore the heroes and fall for you? Just like for the heroes, we can get you a toupee, hide your paunch under loose jackets, cover your face with makeup, do something about your eyebrows, and polish your teeth.”
Ramchand looked at him petulantly and retorted, “No. You don’t understand my point. It’s not just about me. It’s about the villains in general. Your idea won’t work. Because the moviegoers will then think the villain is the hero and the hero is the villain. I mean, except for the costume, wig, and makeup, the actors are quite alike. Bald, middle-aged, slightly overweight, and sporting paunches. It’s the makeup that identifies who is who.”
Ramchand remained quiet for a while. The eyebrows relaxed, and the worms looked disappointed that there was no action.
The manager got up to take a peek at what was happening at the table. He could see both the heads bobbing next to each other in perfect symphony- the scruffy dark haired one and the shiny bald one. He sat back dejectedly and planned his next move.
After the long silence, Ramchand spoke with the utter conviction of a scientist who had developed a cure for cancer.
“The villain has to be the villain, not pretend to be a hero. He should have all his bad traits, look scary and uncouth, and still, the heroines should flock around him.”
Both of them sat there thinking happily about such a prospect. The worms decided to go to sleep.
The manager quietly got up, shut the music up, silencing Jagjit Singh, mid-sentence.
After another pause, Ramchand piped up. “The next grouse on my list is the music. When the heroes enter the first scene, the BGM is resounding, adulatory, and gracious. When he is courting the heroines, it’s pleasing, romantic, and melodious. Don’t forget the hero has entire songs pictured on him. The lyrics always praise his looks, habits, or style. But when the villain enters, the music is alarming and disquieting. When he approaches the heroine, the BGM is morbid and menacing. Whenever there is a scene in which the villain is present, they make sure the vibes are grim and ghastly.”
Damodar tut-tutted sympathetically.
The manager woke up with a start when his head fell on the desk with a thud. He looked at his watch. He knew he had to signal to the two the valued patrons that it was getting late. He slid out of his chair and purposely walked into the bar room. He moved around and made sure he was within their range of vision. He coughed a few times to draw their attention and returned to his seat, hoping they would get his message.
Neither the villain nor the producer had noticed the manager.
Ramchand was skillfully picking up a whole cashews after delicately sifting through the half-empty plate of broken ones when he stopped suddenly and decisively uttered a single word, “Guns.” He then transferred it to his mouth and continued to chew onnit with a dour look.
The worms bent into inverted ‘Cs’ and made perfect arcs of grace.
“What?” asked Damodar confusedly.
Ramchand swallowed convulsively and replied with a mouthful of half-eaten cashews. “Walther PPKs, Kalashnikovs, rifles, and shotguns. AND country pistols.”
Damodar patiently waited for him to build on his cryptic sentence.
“The most unfair and bigoted scenes in movies are the fight sequences. Just picture this. The villain has a Kalashnikov in one hand and a machine gun in the other. He surrounded by a menacing army of minions, who are also armed to the teeth. In contrast, the hero is all alone and running towards them with a single country-made pistol in his hand. The pistol contains a limited number of bullets. Or sometimes there is not even a gun in his hands.”
Damodar stopped munching and began listening with interest.
With eyes shining belligerently, Ramchand continued in an animated voice. The worms tried twisting themselves into knots.
“None of the Villians or his coteries’ bullets ever find their mark. Despite them firing continuously, the hero is left undented and undaunted. All that running does not get his hair tangled or his brows sweaty. He is left intact, and his face is fresh and unblemished. Once in a while, a random flying bullet leaves a bruise on his clean, shiny face, which somehow goes and accentuates his good looks.”
Ramchand continued angrily, “The hero manages to kill a minimum of 400 people with his pistol. I cannot do the math here, my friend. That is how many people per bullet? “
Damodar stopped listening after the word maths. So he did not even do the mental counting. But the worms arched downwards and put their feet up as Ramchand continued, thoughtfully.
“Now, only the villain is alive. The hero then shoots the gun out of the villain’s hands (yes! he still has some bullets left for that) and, adding insult to injury, throws down his own gun heroically and subdues the Villain with his bare hands. I mean, can you believe it?”
The manager gave up trying to dislodge them and went to sleep on his seat, assuming defeatedly this was where he was going to wake up.
Ramchand drowned his deep sorrow in a sip and went on to speak animatedly about a new grouse. The worms did some stretching exercises.
“Mostly, by this time, I am happily dead and am finished with my role. But if the movie needs to be prolonged, then I still lie there, thrashing and groaning loudly with blood seeping dramatically out of my body. Sometime I need to take some sermonizing from the hero. I do it stoically. But it’s not over. This is the moment for the most illogical happening in a movie.”
As Ramchand went through deeply disturbing emotions, the worms contorted themselves and showed off some yoga poses that would make Ramdev jealous.
Damodar was now totally hooked to the narrative. He prompted, “Go on. What’s it”
Ramchand smacked his lips theatrically, forgetting he was not in front of the camera and continued earnestly. “It’s the ending of the movie. The villain is still lying in a pool of blood. The hero is still preaching. That’s when an uninvolved bystander happens to be passing by the scene of crime and calls the police. And they drop everything they are doing and rush straight to the scene.”
Damodar shook his head disbelievingly.
“Yes. I know. No police worth his salt does this. They will insist you need to lodge a complaint in writing and follow all the police routines and also there HAS to be a dead body. Then they may turn up by the end of the day. But just an unknown caller on the phone saying two people are fighting and both of them are alive. I don’t think they will even respond to the call. But I am digressing. Let me get back to my grouse.”
His voice went up an octave and the worms dislodged themselves from a complicated yoga pose and went on to do shavasana.
“The villain’s humiliation is at It s height with the arrival of police. Anyone who understands basic police procedure knows that when two people fight in the open, the law enforcers have to take both of them into custody. But NO! The police listen to the hero as if he the prime minster of the country when he tells them to take the villain away, The hero leaves the place with a dismissive gesture. By then there is a large crowd of villagers gathered around. The villain is handcuffed and pushed ahead by the inspector and his policemen. The villagers part and give way to the cluster. Then the villain is forced to get into a jeep and driven away. The villagers gather around and look relieved/happy/angry/sympathetic/ashamed depending on the part they had played in the movie. Meanwhile, the hero gets to walk out into the beautiful sunset with the heroine clinging to his arms or both of them break into a song and dance routine.”
Damodar laid his hand on Ramchand’s shoulders placatingly. But he shook it off vehemently and continued, testily. “It’s still not over, my friend. Listen to this. In some movies, for some reason if it’s the hero who is taken to jail, the filmmakers show the subtitle after X years, and the hero walks out looking exactly like he did when he went in. And his friends/wife/girlfriend is shown waiting faithfully for him. So, why doesn’t the Villain get to come out during the end of the movie or rather, why can’t the filmmakers show him coming out and his cronies waiting faithfully for him? Or even the heroine?”
Damodar hadn’t taken his hands off Ramchand’s shoulders, sensing an ending. He continued to pat on it in an ineffective way. The ex-villain finally submitted to his anguish and began sobbing with self-pity: that common trait all drunks are afflicted with, when they have had too many.
“Can you imagine the beating my ego has undergone all these years? Every single time the hero gets the girl, every single time he wins the fights, and every single time the hero kills the villain or puts him into jailI, I go through a feeling of inadequacy. I feel outraged and humiliated. I am aghast that the public loves the hero and hates the villains. There are fan clubs for them but not for us. And adding insult to injury, the actors get a fatter pay cheque.”
He clubbed all his grouses illogically together.
Overcome by the unfairness of it all, Ramchand put his head on the table and began sobbing sorrowfully. With a heroic effort (I am sure he would have hated that word), he lifted his head up to utter an explicative sentence.
“Why? Oh why is the world so unfair to villains!”
He gave way to melancholy and began sobbing incessantly. The worms rushed towards each other passionately and consummated their forsaken love.
Damodar’s patting hands abruptly paused. There was a sudden new gleam in his eyes. His lips curved up in an unusual smile. He looked so pleased. As if the barman had offered him a free drink.
Damodar went on to make a new movie with the concept of ant-hero and it broke all records and went on to become a block buster. The press called it his ‘comeback’ movie. When his motion picture got the national award, he said in his acceptance speech, “I owe this win to a friend who is my hero… Errrr… My villain.”
That, my dear readers, is how the anti-hero was born.
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