An antagonist is the one who stands in the way of the protagonist and is the root cause of every conflict that arises in a story. A good antagonist is usually scary, a threat that is seemingly undefeatable. They come in many types: the “we are the same, you and I” type of antagonist who is a mirror image of the hero; the pure evil antagonist who will stop at nothing; the outsider, whose greed becomes their own enemy; the opposing force of an anti-hero, and many more.
In South Indian cinema, especially in the mainstream space, the makers practice casting actors from Hindi cinema as primary antagonists. They are usually actors who have considerable fame in the Northern belt and can act as formidable forces, giving a sense of an “outsider” coming into our hero’s domain. Many have made their mark in some of the biggest blockbusters in South cinema and have cemented themselves in pop culture.
Here are 8 Hindi film actors who have played antagonists in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu films:
AR Muragadoss’ Tamil film Katthi begins with the hero, Vijay as Kathiresan, escaping prison and planning to run away to Bangkok. He then witnesses his doppelganger, Jeeva, getting attacked by a group of thugs. He admits Jeeva to a hospital and takes his place at an old-age home to steal money from them. Kathir is already an anti-hero here, who is not only on the run but is planning to swindle a bunch of elders. Of course, we cannot make Vijay the bad guy here, there would be riots. So, who will be his foe?
If there is anything more evil than a morally grey prisoner, it is capitalism and Neil Nitin Mukesh’s Chirag is a personification of it. Chirag is the CEO of a multinational company that cons the residents of Jeeva's village and encroaches on their lands to build a factory. He is unfazed by the farmer's suicides and uses all means necessary to win the case. While he does have a gruesome end, he acts as a formidable villain to Kathir, Jeeva, and the farmers. Neil Nitin Mukesh does a good job, having had experience playing grey characters such as the titular Johnny Gaddar. He also gets the coolest theme song in the soundtrack by Anirudh.
Aaranya Kaandam opens with a long, unbroken shot centered on Jackie Shroff’s Singaperumal trying to have intercourse with his young mistress Subbu and then resorting to physical abuse when he isn't able to perform. Immediately, we know that he is absolutely the worst.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Tamil film Aaranya Kaandam consists mostly of bad guys. There are multiple protagonists, but only one villain: the disgusting Singaperumal. He is manipulative, abusive, insecure, greedy, crass, and more. He is also the smartest, reminding us why he rose to the top. He tries to make sure he comes out as the winner and this is what makes his end so poetic. Jackie Shroff does a phenomenal job as the conniving gangster, with the film being his Tamil cinema debut. Much before Aranya Kaandam, he played the villain in Suresh Krissna's Astram (2006), the Telugu remake of Sarfarosh. He also went on to play the antagonist in Pawan Kalyan's Telugu film Panjaa (2011), Vijay’s Bigil (2019) and will be soon seen in Rajinikanth’s Jailer.
Vivek Oberoi may have been the poster boy for romance in Hindi films in the early 2000s, but he is not a stranger to darker roles. His first two films include Ram Gopal Varma’s crime film Company and Rajat Mukherjee’s thriller Road. His anti-hero role as real-life gangster Maya Dolas in Shootout At Lokhandwala was met with critical acclaim and, despite his own comparisons to Heath Ledger’s Joker to his role in Krrish 3, he did a commendable job in the film as the super-villain Kaal.
Even in the Malayalam film Lucifer, a movie headlined by Mohanlal and packed with actors such like Manju Warrier, Tovino Thomas, and Indrajith Sukumaran, Oberoi stood on his ground and managed to put a sensational act as the charming devil, Bobby. With his innate suave, Oberoi positions himself as a Bond-esque villain in the political saga. Oberoi has been a part of films in all four languages in the South, all being with superstar actors, but Lucifer remains his best to date. He played the violent, loud Raja Bhai Munna in Boyapati Sreenu's Telugu film Vinaya Vidheya Rama, a role that sits in complete contrast with Bobby, but the film was panned upon release.
For a while, it seemed like Telugu cinema could not make a film without Mukesh Rishi. Hindi cinema saw him in multiple roles, with Deshraj Thakur of Sooryavansham being exposed to TV audiences multiple times a week and the hilarious Bhulla of Gunda being a cult classic. But Telugu films used his talents to the next level.
Starting with a small role in Gandeevam (1994), he quickly became a staple antagonist in multiple films. We saw him as Veera Shankara Reddy in Indra (2002), Maisamma in Bunny (2005), Kuppu Swamy Naidu in Narasimha Naidu (2001), and Damodar Reddy in Jalsa (2008). These are just a handful of roles he played in Telugu blockbusters. Lately, he has been featured in more supporting roles but he is still part of the antagonist's entourage (such as in Race Gurram, Vinaya Vidheya Rama, Maharshi, Vakeel Saab). With such an extensive filmography, he heads the elite squad of Hindi cinema actors who have made it big in Telugu films, which include actors like Pradeep Rawat, Rahul Dev, Sonu Sood and more.
Sonu Sood has enjoyed success in three of the four South Indian industries. In fact, he made his acting debut with the Tamil film Kallazhagar (1999). While he had become a household name among Telugu cinephiles with his incredible performances in Arundhathi, Julayi, and Dookudu, his Kannada debut too was received with great fanfare.
Featuring as the antagonist Adisesha in the Kichcha Sudeep starrer Vishnuvardhana, Sonu Sood brings out the frustration of a gangster losing his main source of income due to the hero. In a way, Adi is the protagonist whose biggest obstacle is Vishnu. Adisesha is a notorious gangster who is known for, well, the usual mafia stuff like murders and kidnappings. He misplaces his work phone in a police station, which is quickly picked up by Sudeep’s Vishnuvardhana, who then proceeds to pose as Adisesha and takes contracts. They then engage in a cat-and-mouse chase that is equal parts hilarious and thrilling. Vishnuvardhana features some amazing performances. Be it Arun Sagar, Ravi, or Sudeep himself, Sonu Sood still holds his ground as the antagonist who has everything to lose.
After a rousing climax where the protagonist Rocky takes control of the KGF mines, the second chapter of this epic crime saga just had to get bigger. Rocky needs to safeguard his empire now, with obstacles emerging from every side, the most formidable ones being the ‘true heir’ Adheera, and the Prime Minister of the country, Ramika Sen. Sanjay Dutt looks menacing as Adheera, the primary antagonist who attacks Yash’s Rocky with his army. Inspired by the appearance and ways of Viking warriors, Sanjay Dutt is a scary presence in the film, despite having limited screen time. Dutt had only appeared in a cameo role role in Nagarjuna's Chandralekha (1997), and KGF 2 was his South debut. He will now also appear in Lokesh Kannagaraj’s Leo. While Adheera attacks Rocky with his sheer brawn, Raveen Tandon's Ramika Sen uses her brains. She has an aura of power and confidence as she walks into the parliament to get it done. Having to be the leader in an apparent man’s world makes her a tough nut to crack and Tandon says it all through her eyes. While having made appearances in a few Tamil and Telugu films in her prime as well as starring as one of the three leading ladies in Upendra (1999), Raveena’s performance as Sen is sure to be remembered for a while.
Murali Sharma is another actor who has a considerable presence in Telugu cinema. After making his Telugu debut as the antagonist in Mahesh Babu’s Athidhi (2007), he went on to play supporting roles in many films. While he has played conventional villains many times, his role as Valmiki in Trivikram's Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo is probably one of his best performances.
Valmiki is tired of his middle-class life. He starts with Ramachandra (played by Jayaram) as a clerk, but when the latter gets married into money, Valmiki grows jealous of him. In a series of errors, he exchanges his child with that Ram’s, hoping that his son would grow up in a rich household while treating Ram’s child badly. The child grows up to be Bantu (Allu Arjun), who after knowing his true parentage, hopes to reunite with his family.
Murali Sharma plays the twisted Valmiki with utmost conviction. His body language and constant chiding and sneering give him an almost witch-like quality, making him a hated character. He becomes one of the few irredeemable characters in the film, making Bantu’s rise all the more satisfying.
Parallely, she also made a mark in the Tamil and Telugu film industry with films such as Kadhal Desam, Iruvar, and Kandukondain Kandukondain. In Snegithiye (2000), Tabu plays ACP Gayathri Varma, who, starts out as an aspirational figure to the lead duo Josephine and Radhika (played by Jyothika and Sharbani respectively) and quickly becomes the terrifying antagonist as the girls try to escape arrest when they become the prime suspects in a murder. In a twist of events, it is revealed that Gayathri is the killer, thereby becoming the ultimate foe of the innocent girls. Tabu’s deranged performance in the last act as her past is revealed is genuinely haunting. On a quest to avenge the assault on her sister, she becomes unstable. Her end, however, is kinder as she is visited by the girls in the asylum she is sent to.