A few months ago, our critic Rahul Desai started a list of his favourite “third wheels” in Hindi cinema – that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns – since 1990. There is no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving more. Here we list all 50 entries:

Munshiji from Karan Arjun

In Karan Arjun, it was Ashok Saraf’s street-smart Munshiji that stole our hearts. Over the course of Rakesh Roshan’s magnum opus, he went from annoying uncle to perceptive soothsayer. And despite being equipped with a stutter and a strange Rajasthani accent, it was his inimitable energy that ensured we remembered him – especially the way he virtually runs into every frame to air his concerns or make a point. And the way he offers his cheeks to get slapped by the big bad Thakur. He excels at these little physical eccentricities by making them look just the right kind of ridiculous.

Dr. Rustom Pavri from Munna Bhai M.B.B.S

In Rajkumar Hirani’s Munna Bhai M.B.B.S, Kurush Deboo plays Rustom Pavri who is a punching bag for not just Asthana (played by fellow bawa Boman Irani) but also for tapori Munna (Sanjay Dutt), who uses poor Rustom to settle personal scores with the dean. He plays a character that, despite being suppressed by everyone in his life, is the first to understand that Munna has his heart in the right place. His loyalty to Asthana is overshadowed by his ability to recognize the flawed humanity of their profession. For this, the authentic sub-thread of Rustom and his ailing ‘Pappa’ (Bomie E. Dotiwala) is perhaps the most evocative stories in context of Hindi cinema’s fleeting “minority” narratives.

Kantaben from Kal Ho Naa Ho

kantab-kal-ho-naa-ho

In Nikkhil Advani’s Kal Ho Naa Ho, through the comical prude-ness of the venerable Kantaben (veteran Marathi actress Sulbha Arya), writer Karan Johar caricatured the concept of alternate sexuality in the language of the famously conservative culture he gently scoffs at. Kantaben might seem like a flimsy device of comedy, but at the time she was a ready instrument of the masses, designed to make them laugh at – rather than be shameful of – their own flaws. Or it could just have been Johar suitably mocking the ways of tabloid fodder.

Bapu from Khosla ka Ghosla!

In Dibakar Banerjee’s 2006 directorial debut Khosla Ka Ghosla!, Navin Nischol plays the veteran theatre actor the wronged Khosla family relies on for justice and revenge. He is nervous because there is, literally, a lot at stake. He cannot digest the fact that for once there is no partition between his audience and craft – he has spent too long trying to fool people who are paying to be fooled. This time he is being paid to simply fool people.

Pappu Pager from Deewana Mastana

It was the indefatigable Satish Kaushik, the ultimate third wheel of retro Hindi cinema, who stole the show in Deewana Mastana in just two scenes. His character, Pappu Pager, remains one of the most iconic comic roles of David Dhawan’s heydays. Pappu Pager is not a person; he is a genre. After all these years, he is still the most memorable embodiment of the classic bumbling-gangster avatar. Satya and Kallu Mama were yet to alter the cinematic underworld landscape, and Pager seemed to be spoofing Ram Gopal Varma’s vision even before it gained form.

Bhagwati Prasad Mishra from Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke

In Mahesh Bhatt’s 1993 film Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Mushtaq Khan played the incompetent and eager-to-please manager desperate to keep the garment factory running despite its owner’s death. In just a handful of scenes, he becomes the yin to Rahul (Aamir Khan)’s yang. He at once serves as a reminder of what Rahul doesn’t want to turn into, as well as a journeyman whose loyalty he appreciates. Mishraji is irritating, challenging, new, emotional and somewhat of a defeatist, and exactly the wake-up call Rahul needs to ease into his role as a responsible patriarch.

Dadu from Kapoor & Sons

 

dadu-kapoor-and-sons

In Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons, Amarjeet Kapoor, lovingly known as “dadu,” is at an advanced stage of his life where he simply cannot comprehend the need for conflict – his tone is playful, his demeanor cool, because he feels like the only adult in a house full of petty children. Rishi Kapoor is delightful as the crude old man. Not unlike a foul-mouthed Alan Arkin’s Oscar-winning role in Little Miss Sunshine, his character is a reaction to a generally uptight environment: smoking doobs, perving on Mandakini’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili scene and openly insulting his friends are defense mechanisms he has obtained over the years.

Dolly from Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

It was a young Richa Chadha who made the most vivid impression in her Hindi film debut, three years before her ‘official breakthrough’ in Anurag Kashyap’s crime opus, Gangs of Wasseypur. In Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Chadha as Dolly shines in a performance that goes beyond the girl’s firebrand persona, crude twang and kitschy body language. She has a total of three scenes – all opposite Lucky at subsequent stages of his graph – in which she, through three distinct moods, manages to suggest an entire character and history, one that might have informed a full-blooded spin-off had Dibakar chosen to revisit this cinematic universe.

 

Rajju from Omkara

In Vishal Bhardwaj’s 2006 Shakespeare adaptation Omkara, Deepak Dobriyal plays Rajju – the man(child) friend to Saif Ali Khan’s Langda Tyagi. What’s remarkable about him is that he is a comedy who thinks he is a tragedy; he aspires to the drama of all the ‘heroes’ of the story, spending most of his time in the shadow of a villain who he believes can make him that hero.

Steven Kapoor from Rangeela

It’s quite ironic that for an actor who sealed his legacy as Bollywood’s go-to “bad man,” perhaps his most enduring role is a satire on the very medium he thrived on overplaying. In just a few scenes in Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela – most of them ‘comic relief’ in context of the primary plot – Gulshan Grover immortalized the self-obsessed Hindi film director like few others before him.

Charlie from Ghulam

It’s Deepak Tijori’s character in Vikram Bhatt’s Ghulam – not so much for his performance, but for the subversive significance of his role – that goes a long way in separating the 1998 film from Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront. Tijori, as retro biker-gang leader Charlie (incidentally the name of Brando’s brother in Kazan’s film), is the “masala” in an unofficial adaptation that thrives on crowd-pleasing additions. That’s why the ridiculous long sideburns and leather jackets – there is no direct reference for Charlie, prompting Bhatt to go West-Side-Story wild with this particular device.

Dolly and Biji from Vicky Donor

In Shoojit Sircar’s 2012 romantic comedy Vicky Donor, Dolly (Dolly Ahluwalia) and Biji (Kamlesh Gill) find in each other a partner they once had – Dolly is annoyed at how laidback Biji is, and Biji, like a henpecked husband, playfully dismisses her rants. They understand, and cancel out, one another, allowing their unified love for Vicky (Ayushmann Khurrana) to tide over any of their inherent differences. It’s because of them that Vicky subconsciously becomes the unorthodox leader of thoughts – not unlike the deep-rooted, quirky sensitivity of young American film characters brought up by same-sex couples.

Mrs. Deshpande from The Lunchbox

In Ritesh Batra’s 2013 film The Lunchbox, veteran Marathi actress Bharati Achrekar plays a faceless neighbour to Ila (Nimrat Kaur) who we only hear and never see. The two chat, gossip, exchange recipes and listen to ‘90s audiocassettes through their grilled windows. ‘Aunty’, as Ila calls her, is one of two friends of a subsequent, older generation – the other being Saajan (Irrfan Khan) – whose vocal presence becomes a daily part of Ila’s routine.

Natasha Arora from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

In Zoya Akhtar’s 2011 buddy flick Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Kalki Koechlin played the “girlfriend from hell” – pushy, insecure, passive-aggressive, sharp and with complete control over Abhay Deol’s Kabir. We tend to see the chic, upper class Indian city girl through a certain prism of snobbery and ignorance in Hindi films. Even their accents are exaggerated and parodied. That’s why the choice of a French performer like Kalki as Natasha subverts the caricature by confronting it head-on. It works, because we tend to see beyond her physicality, as someone who may have perhaps whipped a passive Kabir into emotional shape.

Komal Chautala from Chak De! India

In Shimit Amin’s Chak De! India, the pint-sized Chitrashi Rawat lived the role of Komal Chautala instead of playing it, because of her visible experience as a national-level professional who just happened to audition for a hockey film. Most of her scenes are alarmingly organic – like a peek into the world of early morning sprints and solitary practice sessions long before it became a Bollywood biopic staple.

Shanta Shivalkar from Vaastav

In Mahesh Manjrekar’s hard-hitting underworld drama Vaastav (1999), Reema Lagoo played the remorseless city gangster Sanjay Dutt’s disapproving, heartbroken mother Shanta Shivalkar. She amplifies her pain every time she looks at him, torn between blaming herself and the system that robbed him of his modest principles.

Mr. Thapar from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

In Ayan Mukerji’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Kabir (Ranbir Kapoor)’s father (the late Farooq Sheikh) is sensible, empathetic, perceptive, non-dramatic and endlessly tolerant. Sheikh plays the role so wonderfully, so naturally, that you wonder why more Indian storytellers don’t choose to explore this “other” side of fatherhood. Maybe this picture of fatherhood isn’t as theatrical, maybe it doesn’t fit the palette of masala sensibilities, but there is perhaps not a youngster in this country unmoved by each of the man’s three unassuming scenes with his son.

Arjun from Udaan

In Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan, it’s because of Aayan Barodia’s character – a child who is unusually glum and passive – that Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) wakes up to the broader humanity of his situation. The tiny actor’s gait is such – school uniform rarely tucked in, a bag and oversized water bottle bigger than his head, a reluctant army-like discipline – that it becomes impossible for Rohan to not ‘rescue’ the kid in order to free himself.

Neelam Mehra from Dil Dhadakne Do

Shefali Shah’s Neelam Mehra, is perhaps Dil Dhadakne Do‘s most pivotal character, because she rises above the stereotype of subservient domesticity with a brand of vulnerability that amounts to anything but weakness. She is a powerful mother but a powerless wife – a quintessential “silent sufferer,” but not to an extent that allows the superficial Kamal (Anil Kapoor) to revel in his cunning double life.

Anna from Khiladi

Johnny Lever, one of the most iconic funnymen in the history of Indian cinema, was actually tailor-made for the “caricature” of ‘Anna’ in Abbas Mustan’s Khiladi – as a desperate, endearing and impoverished coconut-selling caretaker of a bungalow that becomes the scene of a murder. His was the accent that ended all accents.

Tukaram Patil from Mumbai Meri Jaan

In Nishikant Kamat’s multi-narrative communal drama Mumbai Meri Jaan, Paresh Rawal played Tukaram Patil, the “bindaas,” seasoned but deeply resentful senior police constable. Rawal immortalizes him in a manner that ironically requires him to imagine himself at a stage where he has not accomplished anything substantial in his acting career. His regret and resentment feels eerily real – one that eventually helps him recognize the importance of setting an example for his juniors.

Kachra from Lagaan

Even after all these years, Lagaan’s reticent Kachra continues to hold a special place in our hearts. And perhaps the biggest achievement of Ashutosh Gowariker’s modern classic is the fact that we remember him more as a game-changing cricketer than a “reservation-quota” Dalit addition to a ragtag team desperate to signify unity in diversity. Aditya Lakhia, played the quintessential underdog in an underdog-region by achieving an anguished balance between submissiveness and deference.

Principal Shrivastava from Nil Battey Sannata

While Nil Battey Sannata revolves around a single mother going back to school to inspire her daughter to focus on her board exams, it is Shrivastava who quietly forms the backbone of this unlikely underdog tale. Shrivastava, in his own quirky way, enables their story to take flight by simply understanding a relatively young Chanda Sahay’s (an excellent Swara Bhasker) farfetched intentions without an iota of judgment. Pankaj Tripathi plays him with a flourish – upright posture, upturned chin, sarcastic taunts and measured grumpiness – that gives us a peek into our own school-master-filled childhoods.

Inspector Ghorpade from Hum Hain Kamaal Ke

In Vijay Reddy’s 1993 goofball crime caper Hum Hain Kamaal Ke, the versatile Sadashiv Amrapurkar serves up one of India’s first versions of the legendary Peter Sellers avatar, “Pink Panther” Inspector Clouseau. From eating accidental “shampoo omelettes” to being a cross-dressing “mistress of disguise” sashaying seductively in a peppy stage performance, Amrapurkar has a blast caricaturing one of Indian cinema’s most judged vocations.

Catherine McNally from Black

In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black, Catherine McNally, brought to life so sensitively by stage veteran Shernaz Patel, lends the film some of its most poignant moments with little more than her anguished eyes. She serves as the emotional prism through which Bhansali wants us to view a wild Michelle being tamed.

Kharak Singh from Hera Pheri

Perhaps only an actor of Om Puri’s caliber could have turned what was essentially yet another offensive ‘Sardarji’ caricature into an enduring presence within a movie full of iconic roles. Om Puri’s Kharak Singh, ironically, stood out in an overpopulated plot not because of any witty line or set piece, but because his is a tragic – and most of all, painfully trusting – personality in a story that thrives on mistrust.

Dharamvir Malhotra from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

In Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Anupam Kher playfully immortalizes the ‘parent-cum-best-friend’ prototype far before it became fashionable in every other urban multiplex drama. His chemistry with the young, floppy-haired Shah Rukh Khan is one of the film’s most enduring strengths, even as they break tradition by (perversely) celebrating Raj’s horrid exam results – almost as if they were rapping the uptight knuckles of the several disciplinarian filmy (and real-life) fathers of the country.

Vijay from Queen

Vijay – the unsavory Delhi male behind the wonderfully acted female-driven coming-of-age film Queen – is also the thematic midway point in context of Rajkummar Rao’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. As Vijay, Rao advertises the frustration of a suppressed soul, as well as the oppression of a closeted heart.

Ratanlal Sharma from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar

In Mansoor Khan’s Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Mamik Singh’s Ratanlal Singh is the only sane mind engulfed by the passion of stronger personalities – he serves as the bridge between a troubled son and a single father, a steady gulf between Sanju and the Rajput hooligans, a subtle reminder to Sanju of Anjali’s unerring loyalty, and a bed-ridden motive to unite Sanju with his championship destiny.

Nitin Rathore from Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year

In Shimit Amin’s Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year, Naveen Kaushik plays Nitin Rathore – a living, breathing nutshell of the bleak system that is supposed to inspire Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbir Kapoor) to Rocket-like heights. Ironically, Nitin himself comes across as a hard-nosed veteran who, while rising from the very bottom to the middle, compromises on his passion to excel at a job he might have once loved; somewhere along the way, he has compensated for his modest education with a primal attitude recalibrated to fit the backsides of every new boss.

Anthony Gomes from Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa

As melodramatic Goan don Anthony Gomes in Kundan Shah’s Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994), Goga Kapoor tips his (mafia) hat to his own tired side-villain legacy – by playing a “softy” retro gangster who, presumably rebelling against masala movies’ favourite template, becomes a diehard fan of the film’s jittery young protagonist, Sunil (Shah Rukh Khan). He spoke like a don, but emoted like a hero. He was everything a menacing filmy outlaw wasn’t supposed to be: emotional, romantic, tragic, generous, lovelorn and – a rarity in Kapoor’s case – the boss.

P.K. Dubey from Monsoon Wedding

Vijay Raaz’s Parabatlal Kanhaiyalal Dubey was perhaps Monsoon Wedding’s most important element. He represented not only the rare bridging of the class divide in a region notorious for dehumanizing these peripheral “lowly” figures, but also symbolized the only real outsider in an environment full of conflicted, hypocritical Punjabi insiders. That they achieved a level of honesty synonymous with his – and therefore celebrated his “small” wedding with their bigger one in the final scene – remains the film’s most enduring and remarkable achievement.

Bob Biswas from Kahaani

In 2012, much of India fell for the ultimate assassin. Rarely before had a murderously mischievous cameo, played by a veteran regional actor barely known to Bollywood enthusiasts, become such an overnight sensation. This “cool” man, though, was a grotesque and strangely delicious subversion of the romanticized template: older, pot-bellied, polite, bland and the bespectacled “every-man,” complete with the most unassuming – and therefore, wildly frightening – catchphrase. “Nomoshkar,” purred Bob Biswas (notice the cheeky superhero/villain alliteration) in Sujoy Ghosh’s atmospheric Kahaani. “Ek minute,” he winced, as if apologetically asking for a pinch of salt.

Subodh from Dil Chahta Hai

Subodh, over time, became more than a character; he became an adjective to address an entire breed of “stable” companions. “Don’t be such a Subodh” is a regular figure of speech even today, especially while mocking a particular brand of blandness and security in a relationship desperate for new-age pace and adventure. It isn’t complimentary, and yet it is – because he remains an aspirational figure in a country whose urban-dwelling, intellectually limited men are becoming increasingly aware of cinema’s unrealistic standards. And Hindi cinema, at least before this decade, depended so heavily on the inherent manliness of their heroes – even when they were losing and crying – that it became imperative to run down nerds and geeks in order to highlight the artificial complexities of good-looking love stories.

Khadija from Iqbal

For long, Hindi cinema had mistaken juvenile nobility for song-and-dance-montaged squeaky-clean dialogues and “cutesy” children. With Khadija, the focus might have shifted to organic behavioral patterns and competent child artistry. Ironically, it took a character emblematic of communication to bring about this necessary change. Of course, it needed a bit of cricket – the better kind of religion – for us to sit up and take notice.

Savitri and Amar Singh Rathore from Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na

The Savitri-Amar bond, in context of the 1990s “masala” thematic threads (reincarnation, family revenge) it succeeded, remains funny because of how progressive it is – especially within the confines of a self-depreciatory cinematic romance that culminates in a classic airport dash. And who better than Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah to hold a mirror to the illnesses of mainstream storytelling and social structure? And they do so, even while reinforcing the importance of these clichés. Of telling the same story, and making a strong case – perhaps a little differently.

Romy Rolly from Luck By Chance

We’ve seen this person morph into a low-hanging caricature in so many comedies. Here, Rishi Kapoor – who else but a member of Bollywood regality – lends Romy the kind of easy uncle-ness that, for the first time, compels us to look beyond the crass proverbs, silk shirts and curly hair. He is both funny and real because he refuses to evolve while mourning the demise of the wine-and-respect industry he once knew. And yet he is the oblivious to the fact that he is also the poster-child of nepotism, wondering why the “stars” don’t want to work with him when he is launching the directorial career of his excitable younger brother (Sanjay Kapoor).

Dhingra from Rockstar

On the face of it, the role of Dhingra in Rockstar was destined to be a total caricature. Even further so, when one considers that Dhingra is the closest this gloriously messy film comes to having a conventional “villain” – designed solely to make us notice the realness of Ranbir Kapoor as a musician far too talented and restless for the small-minded man he works under. But Mishra immortalizes the record-label owner in a way that at once makes him sound familiar, and yet so very different from all the other standard impersonations of shady media moguls we have seen in Hindi cinema over the decades.

Nathu from Agneepath 

A far cry from the villainous roles he normally excelled at, an inspired Anand here represents the dying soul of the Mandwa that was unjustly taken away from Vijay’s parents. He is senile, desperate and lonesome – dismissed as a harmless nuisance in the land he once loved. He is their last connection to the past, still garnering hope for a future against all odds. A natural successor to his legacy would be Rakhee’s “Mere Karan-Arjun aayenge” routine in Rakesh Roshan’s 1995 reincarnation blockbuster, given that Nathu, too, believes that the son of the slain will return in style to reclaim the corrupted village from Kancha’s murderous hands. Not to mention the timeless and wise old mandrill Rafiki, from The Lion King, whose slow march into insanity is redeemed when Simba actually returns to avenge the death of his father. The resemblance is uncanny.

Chatur from 3 Idiots

It might be easy to dismiss him as a shrill outlier desperate for validation, but Chatur in fact – despite a flimsy resolution designed to reward the starry heroes – humanizes the geek by sounding like such a clown. He is made to be the same student-man years later, even as a Vice President of an American company, when in reality he might have had to unlearn everything he learned at the Imperial College of Engineering to succeed abroad. If anything, he was the Fourth Idiot. Maybe if (NRI) Vaidya weren’t a complete debutant, there would be more to Chatur than meets the eye – and ear. Or even nose: given that his nickname, Silencer, was derived from his “quiet” farts, a smelly byproduct of his ambitious memory pills.

Loknath from Newton

In Amit Masurkar’s powerful, poignant and earthy political satire, Raghubir Yadav showcases a lifetime of untapped potential. It became his eighth Oscar-submitted movie. Amidst scene-stealers like Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil and Sanjay Mishra, Yadav’s presence is integral to the film’s pursuit of procedural mundaneness and its wry depiction of “autopilot” seniority. Loknath, in Yadav’s deft hands, becomes the sort of good-natured uncle who would rather keep everyone entertained than endure the pointlessness of his profession.

Appa from Tu Hai Mera Sunday

In Milind Dhaimade’s Tu Hai Mera Sunday, it is Shiv Subramaniam that unwittingly causes the five friends to set about their eternal search for better “space”. Subramaniam, who has spent much of his Bollywood screen-time as no-nonsense tycoons, strict school principals and traditional parents, appears as a hapless dementia-afflicted man whose condition immediately appeals to the humanity in the film’s (semi) protagonist, Arjun (Barun Sobti). An errant kick by him gets Arjun and his pals banned from the beach. At first, this mentally diminished man feels like a narrative device designed to bring his rat-race-winning daughter Kavya into drifter Arjun’s life. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that he is more than just a trigger for just another love story. Without a line of dialogue, Shiv Subramaniam, with nothing more than gurgled sounds, amplifies a city famous for making storytellers out of people.

Somayajulu from Delhi Belly

Delhi Belly’s Delhi-ness was immortalized by the inimitable Vijay Raaz as the droll, dastardly don desperate for his diamonds. Expletives roll off Raaz’s tongue, as they often do, like pure poetry – no other actor today has such sharp linguistic control over the sacred mother-and-sister oddities of the Hindi language. As the godfather of gunmen and gangsters, he commands the screen as the kind of legendary character who is constantly at odds with the genre of the movie he occupies. In his head he is a stylish desi Guy-Ritchie-type villain, but the film consistently undermines his aura and makes him feel more like a Pink Panther baddie.

Kanchan from Badlapur

In Sriram Raghavan’s 2015 film Badlapur, Radhika Apte plays ex-criminal Harman’s (Vinay Pathak) wife. What’s most interesting about Kanchan is that she is merely collateral damage. She is caught in the crossfire between the past and the present, and yet Apte manages to lend Kanchan the kind of ambiguous morality that Raghavan’s movies (and side characters) are notorious for. You can see that Kanchan is simultaneously disappointed and desperate – she swats away Harman’s hand when he tries to subdue her, and at the same time wants to protect their marriage and not their wealth. She wants to rescue what they have, and not what they own.

Malini from Raaz

Despite the skewed gender politics of what was otherwise an effective desi horror movie, it was the spirit of the murderous spirit that lent credibility to the careless plot in Vikram Bhatt’s Raaz. Malini Sharma played the role of Malini – the disturbed, sultry stranger who threatens to expose her torrid affair with the married man if he didn’t leave his wife. There was something about this girl’s presence, and (a less senile) Bhatt shot her with the kind of intrigue – her striking kohl-lined eyes and curly hair accomplished an aura that the script might have otherwise failed to – that infused the famous Ooty cabin with a sense of tragic musicality.

Don Pedro Cleto Colaco from Finding Fanny

What’s most interesting about Pankaj Kapur’s character in Finding Fanny is director Homi Adajania’s understanding of his toxic masculinity – and, by extension, the inherently flawed and inhumane equation between an artist and a muse. Under the tomfoolery of Don Pedro’s personality, lies the dark heart of a man who seems to be confounded that the movie isn’t all about him. Adajania infuses into his lecherous ways the familiar graph of an artist who is willing to embrace the idea of lust in order to squeeze the art out of his muse. For him, the vain and delusional Rosy is simply an instrument – she is a guinea pig that he uses to capture the “empty ugliness of beauty” on his beloved canvas.

Kaveri Amma from Swades

In Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades, veteran Kannada actress Kishori Ballal makes for a fascinating study of maternal traditionalism. She walks the thin line between caretaker and caregiver – both to Gita (Gayatri Joshi) and to Mohan (Shah Rukh Khan). It is her – an adopted mother (nanny), memories of whom bring back Mohan from his adopted country – that lends Swades the spiritual dimension of distance. Mohan is pulled back and humbled by his need to “rescue” Kaveri Amma from the isolation he thinks she has succumbed to. In reality, though, the film languidly conveys that it’s an isolated Mohan who was the one in need of rescuing – and it’s Kaveri Amma’s life that does the needful.

Bindiya from Raanjhanaa

In Aanand L. Rai’s Raanjhanaa, Bindiya, played by the perpetually terrific Swara Bhasker, who is Kundan’s (Dhanush) best friend’s sister, falls short of being the villain of Kundan’s story. She is to Kundan what Kundan is to Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) – a one-sided love triangle that doesn’t end well for anyone. Bindiya, too, shadows Kundan, amuses him, expresses her affection by quarrelling with him and lets him use her to fight his (and Zoya’s) battles. Bhasker infuses in her the kind of energy that makes us root for her despite her naivety and juvenile dreams.

Bajodia Seth from Baazigar

Baazigar was a film asking us to empathize with a psychopath – one that, in any other film (Darr, for example), would be presented as the unhinged villain. Which is why the cast of supporting characters in Baazigar – some as comic relief, others as victims and plot devices – is what really defined the morally compromised thriller. As the loud Gujarati businessman named Bajodia Seth, veteran character actor Dinesh Hingoo, who played different variations of Parsi and Gujarati caricatures in more than 80 percent of his 300-plus Hindi film cameos, single-handedly turned Baazigar into a rip-roaring stage comedy when he was on screen. His nasal voice, combined with a vividly expressive face and clownish physicality, seldom failed to lift the fluffy portions of the archetypical Indian masala movie.

Ammaji from NH10

Nobody might have imagined Deepti Naval, one of Hindi cinema’s most elegant, soft-spoken and genteel actresses, as the fiery orchestrator of the NH10’s horror. Ammaji’s situation isn’t black or white. Here’s a woman who is visibly trying to hide her heartbreak at having to kill her own daughter in the name of honour. She is essentially a leader who has had to sacrifice her womanhood in order to survive in, and define, a man’s world.

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