In the history of Indian cinema, one could say, films have been a replay of the Ramlila. Despite being well aware of the denouement, people come in hordes to see the burning effigies of Ravana every year. He is the embodiment of all that stands for ‘bad’ in the eyes of the public, the source of torment, oppression and torture, of unforgivable lust, and he must, therefore, be destroyed. The spectators cheer in celebration, as the fiery arrow finds its mark many feet above the ground, its locus lighting up the night sky in a resplendent arc.

Likewise, for the villains in Bollywood, in the end, there is no escape from justice. They are beaten up to an inch of their lives while the audience cheers the heroes on. Like spectators in a Roman coliseum, we walk out of the cinema happy that justice has been served. We need villains to experience the satisfaction of comfortably externalizing the bad elements within ourselves and then witnessing their exorcism in public.

There has been a wide range of Bollywood villains portrayed on-screen through the years. There is the sly urbanite and the crude village man, the outsider and the traitor, the evil father–son combo, and the twins. There has been the comical duo in khakis at the quay and the effeminate rapist.

Among the women villains, we have seen wily mothers-in-law on the one hand and rebelling bahus wanting their in-laws out of and off their turfs; scheming wives of wealthy old men and evil young brides; a megalomaniac heiress who imprisons a blind painter like a parrot and an acrobatic countess trying to steal a jewel. We have also seen them as sexy molls, clutching the villain’s arm, fetching him a drink, serving as a bait for some ulterior motive of their boss ….

They have ridden stallions and driven in limousines. They have dwelt in hideouts under the sea, as well as baked in the hot sun of the ravines. Villains on-screen also have a distinct style. From chequered blazers, white gloves and cigarette holders to riding breeches, whips, bowler hats and walking sticks that turn into bayonets—fashion is an expression and extension of their character.

Contrary to the popular but bland ‘Vijay’ and ‘Rahul’ for heroes, the on-screen names of villains have been more colourful: Dr Dang (Karma), Teja (Zanjeer), Mogambo (Mr India), Shakaal (Yaadon ki Baaraat), Topiwala (Meri Aawaaz Suno), Loin (Kalicharan, though he meant ‘Lion’), Gabbar (Sholay), Supremo (Parvarish), Bhaktawar (Hum), Chappan Tikli (Sir), Poppy Singh (Kaala Sona), Gama Maatin (Yudh), ‘Danny Boy’ (Sharara), Makhan Seth (Qayamat), Master (Warrant), Kancha Cheena (Agneepath) and Wong (CID 909).

No hero’s image could have afforded a name like Drona. But there he was in Kathmandu (in Hare Rama Hare Krishna). There have been the Shera Daku or Daku Shamsher Singh with their cruel laughter, the cryptic JK, or the deliberately pronounced K … D … Narang, not to forget the perennial Prem (Prem Chopra had the screen name ‘Prem’ in no fewer than eighteen films) or the dubious Dharamatma.

Some had surprisingly innocuous names like Satish (Pyar Hi Pyar), Mukesh (Om Shanti Om), Sharmaji (Bombay to Goa) and Raghavan (Aks). There was an aptly named Sir Judas (Karz) whose actions spoke louder than his words; in fact, he could not speak at all. And there was Don – one each in 1978, 2006 and 2011.

And of course, there were the worthy deputies – the faceless (almost generic) Raabert (Robert), the butcher Martin, the hitman Shetty and Daaga faithfully assisting their bosses. Some, like Sunam from Sikkim, shunned villainy and returned to the quotidian. But the rest remained incorrigible.

Excerpted with permission from Pure Evil – The Bad Men of Bollywood, Balaji Vittal, HarperCollins India.