Actors Who Have Played the Villain in Films

With Saif Ali Khan playing the demon king Lankesh in this week’s big release Adipurush, we’re looking back at some of our favourite anti-heroes
Actors Who Have Played the Villain in Films
Actors Who Have Played the Villain in Films

What makes you root for the hero? A good villain. You see the hero’s strengths because the villain brings them out. And if the character is written well, a villain gets to be wicked and fun, adding depth to a narrative and allowing the audience to see multiple sides of the central conflict. When we hate a villain’s actions, it helps nudge our sympathies towards the protagonist. When we find ourselves unwittingly love a villain, it makes the story that much more engaging and memorable. Heroes have to be good. Villains, on the other hand, get to be complicated, which can make them an actor’s dream. Here are a few of our favourite heroes in roles that make villainy look good.

1. Manoj Bajpayee in Satya (1998)

Mumbai ka King kaun? Bhiku Mhatre! You can’t talk about villains without raising a toast to Manoj Bajpayee's brilliant portrayal of Bhiku Mhatre in Satya. The gritty underworld don exudes a style and swagger that has inspired awe in generations of actors (Ranveer Singh counts himself among Bhiku Mhatre’s fans). This is one of Hindi cinema’s most powerful acting performances.

You can watch Satya on SonyLIV.

Manoj Bajpayee in Satya (1998)
Manoj Bajpayee in Satya (1998)

2. Shabana Azmi in Makdee (2002)

Society tends to villainise women (thanks, patriarchy) and Hindi cinema has a legion of evil women, led by fantastic actors like Lalita Pawar, but they’ve rarely been allowed the spotlight. Enter Shabana Azmi, as the evil witch in Makdee. She may not be the film’s central character, but she’s the one who haunts the audience’s memory. Azmi received much critical acclaim for her performance and while we cannot back this with data, personal experience suggests Azmi as the evil witch convinced many children to not poke around and look for trouble.

3. Tabu in Maqbool (2003)

Tabu's performance in Maqbool as Nimmi is one of her most powerful portrayals of a femme fatale on the Indian silver screen — one that transcended the clichéd portrayal of a seductive and manipulative woman. Nimmi's wickedness was accentuated by her ruthless quest for power, independence, and control. To her credit, Tabu made her version of Lady Macbeth a standout character in a film that was teeming with remarkable performances.

You can watch Maqbool on Disney+Hotstar.

4. Priyanka Chopra in Aitraaz (2004)

Another leading lady who stole the show as an antagonist is Priyanka Chopra as the manipulative and ambitious character of Sonia. In this unofficial remake of Disclosure (1994), Sonia falsely accuses her former lover of sexual harassment in order to advance her career. Chopra's nuanced portrayal of the character mixed charm, intelligence and ruthlessness, earning her critical acclaim and numerous awards. The role cemented her status as one of the most talented and sought-after actresses in Hindi cinema.

Aitraaz is streaming on Zee5.

Shabana Azmi in Makdee (2002)
Shabana Azmi in Makdee (2002)

5. Shah Rukh Khan in Don (2006) and Don 2 (2011)

Everyone always talks about Rahul Mehra from Darr (1993), but Shah Rukh Khan's portrayal of the charming yet ruthless Don is one of his best performances. The suave persona, witty one-liners, and Khan’s charisma make Don one of Hindi cinema’s most glamorous villains. The actor lends his likeability to this ruthless gangster, turning Don into the most irresistible antagonist.

You can watch Don and Don 2 on Netflix.

6. Saif Ali Khan in Omkara (2006)

In Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of Othello, Saif Ali Khan played the role of Langda Tyagi, bringing the sinister Iago to the Indian hinterland and shedding the sophistication that he exudes off-screen. Manipulative, snivelling and cunning, Langda Tyagi was an unexpected departure for Khan, who had been known for being a suave romantic hero until then. His performance in Omkara is a masterclass in acting. Fuelled by a deep-seated jealousy, Khan’s Langda Tyagi will give you the chills.

Omkara is available on JioCinema.

Saif Ali Khan in Omkara (2006)
Saif Ali Khan in Omkara (2006)

7. Rajkummar Rao in Omerta (2017)

Rajkummar Rao played Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British terrorist of Pakistani descent, showcasing just how versatile he is as an actor. Rao shifts persuasively between portraying a loving family man and a cold-hearted killer, making it a nerve-wracking performance. His ability to get under the skin of his character and add depth to what could have been a flat villain makes the film much more compelling.

Omerta is streaming on Zee5.

8. Ranveer Singh in Padmaavat (2018)

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat will be remembered for two things — making the abhorrent practice of jauhar (self-immolation) seem glamorous and turning Ranveer Singh into the terrifying and mesmerizing Alauddin Khilji. Singh's version of the deluded ruler Khilji is a complex and layered antagonist. Of course, it’s not precisely rooted in history, but Singh’s portrayal of this cruel, greedy and morally reprehensible man is the standout performance of the film.

Padmaavat is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.

Hrithik Roshan in Vikram Vedha (2022)
Hrithik Roshan in Vikram Vedha (2022)

9. Hrithik Roshan in Vikram Vedha (2022)

It’s evident that Hrithik Roshan delighted in the role of a sociopathic killer in the Hindi adaptation of the Tamil film Vikram Vedha. Roshan brought a sparkle of humour and an unexpected sexiness to Vedha, a gangster who runs circles around the police who are chasing him. The Hindi adaptation may not be as celebrated as the Tamil original, but Roshan’s performance is original enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with Vijay Sethupathi’s Vedha.

Vikram Vedha is streaming on JioCinema.

10. Sanjay Dutt in KGF Chapter 2 (2022)

Sanjay Dutt has portrayed some memorable villains in Hindi cinema, including his portrayal of Kancha Cheena in Agneepath (2012). In KGF Chapter 2, Dutt brings a Viking vibe to the menacing and ruthless Adheera. His towering presence and ability to play outlandish roles with conviction make him one of the best antagonists in the industry. Adheera’s screen presence is menacing, enough to compete with the swag of Rocky Bhai.

You can watch KGF Chapter 2 on Amazon Prime Video.

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