Even in Raj’s dreams, the tormentor Jagga in his gigantic form towers over Raj like a spectre. Not that KN Singh (playing Jagga) was 25 feet tall as the shot suggested. But it was symbolic of his dominance over Raj. Be it the corpulent schoolmaster who would cane the boys or the tyrannical bahu/saas/mausi/chachi who would inflict blows on the domestic victim, Bollywood villainy has customarily been characterised by a physical superiority. This is perhaps because our earliest films were mythological ones, with a ten-headed Ravana and other Raakshasas (demons) who bore incredible physical might.
However, there were notable exceptions. In Ram Balram (1980), Jagatpal (played by Ajit) raises two young boys with a vice-like supervisory control. And… he would traumatise them by pointing the sharp end of his crutch at their throats to coerce them into following his instructions. Yes, Jagatpal was a one-legged man. Do not discount lame men. Colonel Columbus’s (played by John Saxon) right leg was wasted away in an accident and he walked with a walking stick. But that didn’t stop him from stealing Katherine’s heavily guarded jewels worth thousands of pounds. Why, Columbus even attempts to steal the priceless Shalimar (1978). And then was a Sir Judas (Premnath) in Karz (1980) whose vile actions spoke louder than words — in fact he could not speak at all! But he exercised enough control to swing financial destinies using an ingenious alternative to sign-language for the speech impaired — the wine-glass language. Check it out.
The smoking gun
Sometimes their physical shortcomings turned out to be the smoking gun — almost literally. In the crime thriller Teesra Kaun (1965), the hero Prakash hears someone’s severe asthmatic wheezing from a distance. And realises that it had to be the burglar Khanna – and starts chasing Khanna. Khanna’s asthmatic wheezing was something that had stuck in Prakash’s memory from an earlier burglary incident.
Short-sightedness can be a problem as well. In Andhaa Kaanoon (1983), Meena escapes from Amarnath’s (Prem Chopra) attempt to rape her thanks to the fact that Amarnath loses his thick-lensed spectacles in the scuffle. As Amarnath fumbles around for his spectacles, Meena escapes. When Meena narrates this to Vijay, the latter realises that the scoundrel was none other than the old culprit against whom he was thirsting for revenge. And Amarnath’s poor eyesight leads him to his well-deserved death. Professor Puri’s (Madan Puri) thick lenses in Jhoothi (1985) were a red herring. His poor eyesight had nothing to do with his academic pursuits. He turned out to be the drug mafia lord in the film.
Hunchbacks are a mixed kind. If we had a heroic one in Notre Dame we had a mischief-monger in Ayodhya. Juda (Amjad Khan) in Kasme Vaade (1978) belonged to the latter category. The hero puts Juda in his place in more ways than one – in the climax fight sequence, he pummels Juda on his hunched back.
In the last 25 years or so, Bollywood has matured and villain characters have become more real and believable. It is neither the Kader Khan – Shakti Kapoor buffoonery nor the Indrajal Comic-type Mogambos. Young Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) in Darr (1993) looked outwardly normal but his mental instability and self-destructive sadism evinced in no way except the solitary stutter when he took Kiran’s name. Kaal (Vivek Oberoi) in Krrish 3 (2013) was more physically challenged than any of his predecessors. His entire body below his neck was paralysed; except for two fingers one on each of his hand. He used these to not only navigate his wheelchair but also to concentrate all his mental power in those two fingers using telekinesis. Kaal’s motto was to wipe out mankind and have ‘demonoids’ take control of the planet.
The most intriguing deformity...
One would have thought that the first thing a hardened criminal hiding from the police and his own past would want to do is — camouflage any easily identifiable physical deformity. We have heard of criminals and state witnesses under the Witness Protection Programme (WPP) undergo plastic surgery and identity change. So, even if the smuggler Shakaal (played by Ajit) in Yaadon ki Baraat (1973) was born with feet of two different sizes “8” and “9”, why could he have not worn “9” sized shoes on both the feet? Or at the very least, he could have erased the manufacturer’s markings from under the sole. And therefore, as a fitting punishment for his carelessness, it was his misshaped foot that got stuck between the railway tracks in the face of a fast approaching train.