The appeal of the comical villain is a strange one. How do you fear someone who makes you laugh; if you are laughing, is he still a villain? And yet film after film, decade after decade, the character type remains one of the staples of commercial Indian films, a potent combination of two things that logically don't go together. We picked our favourite funny villains in Indian cinema, from Pran in Munimji to Gulshan Devaiah in Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota.
On the surface, Pran plays what Pran almost always played: a villain with an eye on the money. But in this frothy Nasir Husain-style drama (he wrote the screenplay, which shares the basic baby-swap premise with later films like Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo; Subodh Mukherjee directed), the villainy comes with a delicious side of ham. On the one hand, Pran is a dreaded bandit named… Kala Ghoda. (I'm sorry, if that name doesn't make you laugh, something's dead inside!) On the other hand, he's Ratan, who's after Rupa (Nalini Jaywant), who's after Raj (Dev Anand). The comic highlight is the SD Burman hit, Dil ki umangein hain jawan, where Rupa and Raj encourage Ratan to make a buffoon of himself, asking him to sing. All he manages is to bray, and in a fittingly vaudeville touch, he's packed off on a donkey.
The prime villain in one of the greatest masala scripts of all time, and who's cast? The prime comedian, Nagesh. It's an odd fit, at first, but when you hear 'Crazy' Mohan's lines ("Sethupathi-kku porandhadhu rettai / Adhula onnu kuttai"), you see Nagesh take shape as a unique kind of comic villain, doing the evillest of evil things while also doing double takes right out of slapstick comedy. And the way he coaxes a pregnant Srividya to drink poison is surely one of the strangest "villain" scenes. He doesn't threaten her or raise his voice. He's not a villain playing a villain. He's… a comedian playing a villain. And somehow, it fits. Baradwaj Rangan
It's rare to find a film, and the characters in it, before you were born funny, the threshold for it seeming to change with each generation. Crime Master Gogo though, was in a league of his own. The man who seems to be feared by only himself, who gets beaten to pulp, whose pencil-drawn moustache that rounds like Veerappan, whose cape is more an impediment to than a statement of heroism (how can you forget how he had to hold the cape in his hand as he descended the staircase lest he trip over it?) is a riot. He threatens to play with your eyeballs, but his own are always hidden behind his black goggles. He's a chuckle and a half, a villain to remember, but not for the reasons he might want you to. Prathyush Parasuraman
Despite starting his career as a dashing, serious contender in films like Bandit Queen and Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin, mainstream Hindi movies of the late 90s and noughties typecast the late Nirmal Pandey – and his luscious mane of curly hair – as an oily villain. But none more hysterically hammy than his role as drug-lord KKV in the Shah Rukh Khan actioner, One 2 Ka 4. Juhi Chawla stole the show for her comic chops as a housemaid-cum-undercover-
In the original Karz, Sir Juda is the bad guy whose voice we never hear. When he needs to execute his evil plans, he just taps his whiskey glass and his henchmen decode what that means. It's quite preposterous but I can imagine it looking quite cool in the 80s. Sir Juda 2.0, played by Gulshan Grover, also can't speak. But it's hard to take the poor man seriously when he's been saddled with what looks like a mini laptop or keyboard stitched to his arm. He keeps punching in random musical notes and his two bodyguards translate it. It's hilarious. Mohini Chaudhuri
Zanjeer is a remake of Prakash Mehra's 70s classic, which starred Amitabh Bachchan, was written by Salim-Javed, and which created the archetype of the Angry Young Man. The original was a landmark moment in Hindi film. The remake, directed by Apoorva Lakhia, was all sorts of awful. The one bright spark in the train wreck was Teja, played by Prakash Raj. Teja is fond of purple suits and corny dialogue. At one point, he declares: Chicken and chicks are the two meows of life." In another, he tells his moll Mona, "Mona Darling, apna mooh sirf ek cheez ke liye kholna please." Zanjeer wasn't even fun enough to make the so-bad-they-are-good list but the sleaze-ball Teja remains lodged in my brain. I think he might even be solid material for a streaming show! Anupama Chopra
How often do inconsistencies in shades of the villain's 'blackface' count as a continuity error? This was just one of the few thousand problems with Odiyan and it's villain, Raavunni, played by Prakash Raj (he's had terrible luck with Malayalam cinema). I mean, how can a 2018 film's big reveal be 'Prakash Raj is the bad guy?'. Apart from the bad writing and silly makeup, the man's performance was too loud, even in a film about therianthropic assassins. It's a performance that brings back memories of another Prakash Raj performance…that of his character Suriya from The Prince (1996). These were meant to be synonyms for evil. But even our most gifted comedians seldom come close to forces like Ravunni and Surya. Vishal Menon
As the evil twin of the one-legged Karate champion Mani, Gulshan Devaiah's Jimmy is a local, homegrown version—much like everything else in the film—of the 'cliched psychotic villain': slick, suited but with a packet of banana chips and an accent that he seemed to have picked up from his backyard. Jimmy throws insults at his brother—and sly stabs at his victims (with a sharp object hidden under his sleeves). Consistently amusing, while never quite letting go of that menace, Devaiah walks the tightrope between over-the-top and casual, villainy and comedy. Sankhayan Ghosh