It was the summer of 1994. I was visiting my grandparents for summer vacations. We didn't have cable TV at the time, but we did have a VCR, and only one movie cassette for some reason – Yash Chopra's Darr. Only a 6-year-old at the time, I didn't relate to the love story in it too much. It was purely a hero and villain story for me. The hero (Sunny Deol) – a handsome military man who single handedly rescues the daughter of a minister from terrorists, has a beautiful girl in love with him and doing everything right one to be deemed a hero. The villain (Shah Rukh Khan) – a lonely psychopath, who stalks a young woman repeatedly, shoots at the hero like a coward, and kills policemen by falling elevators. From scene one, it was clear who was the hero, and I rooted for him. Yet, when the film was over, I could only recall the scenes of the villain in my mind, hum his songs through the day, and speak his dialogues to the people around me. Such was the impact of SRK in Darr.
SRK delivers a once-in-a-lifetime performance in Darr. A role that changed the meaning of the villain in a film. A performance powerful enough to humanise a monster for the masses. He really does not have too many scenes with co-actors in the first half. He is either talking to himself in his room, or cold calling Kiran, or just gazing at her from a distance as he talks his heart out to the audience. He does not need a co-actor to play off in the movie. And yet, every time he is on-screen, you sit at the edge of your seat anticipating what he's going to do next. From the first scene, where he appears walking on the edge of the roof, to the last scene where he succumbs to death professing his love for the hundredth time, SRK dominates every frame with command like never before. Whether he is quietly playing the Dhol at Kiran's place during holi festivities or talking to his deceased mother on the phone, I was simply in awe of his performance, while also being worried about how disturbed his character really is.
It's tough to pick his best scenes from the movie, but I would go for the 2 running sequences of SRK. The first one in Mumbai, after he has just missed a shot at Sunil leading to a long provocative chase sequence. As Rahul misses the shot, he can't escape Sunil's sight and Sunil starts chasing him. The 3-minute chase sequence follows the 2 leading men running through the streets of Mumbai. Starting in the market, heading into the by-lanes of Mumbai via Chowpatty, finally culminating on the main road again. Sunil is a commando, naturally fitter than Rahul and gaining on him. Just as he gets his hand on Rahul's collar, he is knocked over by a passing vehicle and ends up in the hospital. An extremely stimulating scene, accompanied by brilliant tabla in the background, leaves the audience completely outraged.
This scene is somewhat redeemed by the second running sequence in Switzerland. This time Sunil is not chasing Rahul; he is simply running away from the music that he tormented Kiran with (or perhaps he is running to it). As he wakes up after a night of heavy drinking, all he can hear is the music and runs manically into the forest. Again a brilliant 2-minute sequence, this time accompanied by exquisite violin. Rahul runs through the fields, the river and the road to reach the forest where he breaks out into his psychotic laugh, eventually confronted by Sunil. Sunil starts questioning him on his actions, and by now the burden of lies is too much for Rahul to refute them. He simply admits to all his crimes, getting bashed black and blue by Sunil with each question. The frustration and deceit in him finally flows out as blood and tears. However, just when you think this is the end for him, he pulls out a knife out of nowhere and stabs Sunil in the stomach. By now the audience is enraged not at Rahul but themselves, because deep down they have started feeling for the character and are relieved this is not the end for him.
Darr, by no means, was a movie made to glorify the villain. A brilliant romantic director shooting in exotic locations in Switzerland, a top actress of her generation headlining the plot with some superb acting and delightful dance sequences, and a formidable leading man who was delivering blockbusters year after year at the time. Yet if you ask any 90s kid of their memories of the film, I bet they won't be able to talk about anything beyond SRK's magnificent performance. Two catchy songs ('Tu Hai Meri Kiran' and Tu Mere Saamne'), disturbing scenes of talking on the phone to his deceased mother, engraving Kiran's name with a knife on his chest, and of course – "I love you K-K-K-K-Kiran." This performance was the result of the talent and sheer determination of an actor to achieve greatness in a role that was refused by several leading actors at the time. It's hard to think of a movie in my lifetime where the villain (or anti-hero) had such an impact. SRK did deliver some great performances in a negative role around this period (Baazigar and Anjaam), but Darr is in a league of its own.
Over the years there has been some criticism of the movie that it glorifies stalking, and understandably so. However, I think Yash Chopra was well aware of this and the script makes it a point to not reward Rahul for his behaviour at any stage. At no point does Kiran even mildly reciprocate his feelings by falling for his twisted gestures of love. Not a single character supports him in his endeavour to woo a girl through unscrupulous means. Even his own father only acknowledges his mental illness, not his unfulfilled love. In a way the movie was ahead of its times, decoding the toxic lover for the first time in such detail on screen, while also asserting that no sensible girl would fall for such behaviour. Darr truly is a masterpiece.
While there have been many iconic villains in Indian cinema, what makes Darr's Rahul my favourite is the single-mindedness of it. He is not after material things like money or power like our classic villains Mogambo and Gabbar. Nor does he have an entourage of henchmen to help him in his endeavours. He is simply a young boy in love, absolutely convinced that no one else can provide her the love that he can. Perhaps the first ever portrayal of toxic unrequited love, and no other film has been able to match it in almost 30 years.