In this weekly series, Rahul Desai lists 50 of Hindi cinema’s favourite “third wheels” – that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns – since 1990. There will be no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving for more.
Technically, Vikas Bahl’s Queen represents the center point of Rajkummar Rao’s short, but illustrious, acting career. This is just as well. Because Vijay – the unsavory Delhi male behind the wonderfully acted female-driven coming-of-age film – is also the thematic midway point in context of the actor’s “romantic” career. Vijay contains, in equal doses, shades of the greasy characters played by a pre-Queen Rao, as well as shades of the imperfect bashfulness of the “small-town lover boy” often seen in Rao’s popular post-Queen roles.
Vijay is a South Delhi man who dumps his fiancée, Rani (Kangana Ranaut), on the eve of their wedding – a heartless action that triggers the under-confident girl’s solo honeymoon trip across Paris and Amsterdam. If you look closer, though, Vijay is such an effective “villain” because of our preconceived notion of Rao’s specific onscreen reputation.
He started his career by almost getting stereotyped as the quintessential desi pervert – in Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha he plays a detestable market supervisor who cornily seduces his new employee and exploits her grief to make and sell a sex tape of their encounter, and in Ragini MMS he plays a horny boyfriend who has rigged a farmhouse with cameras to record his amorous weekend “getaway”. When Vijay brazenly breaks up with Rani at the café, one can’t help but associate both these characters with the sheepishness of a boy who might have simply gotten a kick out of winning – and discarding – the intimacy of an introverted, virginal girl. The shifty gaze and quivering voice suggests that Vijay is merely an extension of those morally bankrupt characters, even if he didn’t go as far. One can very much see him conning someone like Rani into filming their honeymoon night, so that he can share the footage with his “foreign” friends.
Prior to this, in the first ten minutes of Queen, we see Vijay woo Rani in sweet, awkward, middle-class ways across the city – in a montage that could well belong to any of his future movies. In Dolly ki Doli (heir of a family sugarcane business), Trapped (migrant in Mumbai), Behen Hogi Teri (Bhopal family doofus), Bareilly Ki Barfi (meek momma’s boy) and Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana (overbearing Lucknow parents), Rao embodies the naivety of overprotected, middle-Indian youngsters aching to snap the umbilical cord in the name of love. Each of them has a ‘wooing’ segment that, like Queen, demonstrates the social anxiety of a guy torn between the macho-ness of the movies and the crippling practicality of real-life affections; it seems like he is constantly working, and failing, to express his feelings freely.
He advertises the frustration of a suppressed soul, as well as the oppression of a closeted heart. Irrespective of his confused man-child motivations, you sense that Vijay, too, is willing to break away from his household if Rani had succumbed to his stubbornness – except, it isn’t his story. It took Rani one trip to Europe, and two weeks of independence, to recognize that the angry-young-man-ness of Bollywood’s Vijay(s) need not be tolerated for the sake of ‘masala’ reunions.
Interestingly, an identical graph of patriarchal manipulation can be seen in Ayushmann Khurrana’s writer character in Bareilly Ki Barfi – and he uses the disarming “innocence” of Rao’s simpleton avatar, Pritam Vidrohi, to win back the firebrand heroine. Ironically, this is one of Rao’s most enjoyable performances, because he constantly adapts to the theatricality of the plot by responding to the scheming ways of Bareilly’s very own Vijay. Perhaps if Bitti Mishra (Kriti Sanon) had taken a trip outside of her town (and had actually eloped), she might have turned into Bareilly’s very own Queen, too.
When Rani walks away from Vijay’s house to the defiant rock-anthem tunes of Amit Trivedi’s Kinare, she seems to be taking revenge for all the girls Rajkummar Rao’s reel avatars have duped in previous outings. It’s to the great actor’s credit that we don’t completely hate him when she heroically hands him back their engagement ring.
For some reason, we feel amused with how very confident Vijay is, up until this moment, of constructing his own toxic masculinity saga around her in the near future. His ignorant mother enters the room the moment his face falls after Rani walks out the door. And here, you can almost hear Vijay’s gears clicking from Love Sex Aur Dhokha to Behen Hogi Teri to Trapped. He will stand up to his parents – at another time, in another film.