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.
I know it seems like Radhika Apte is everywhere right now – the Baazaar trailer plays before Andhadhun these days – but this in no way diminishes her gradual monopoly over the consciousness of Hindi film audiences. Apte, in fact, had been around before she arrested our (mainstream) attention with her explosive cameo in Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur. She had acted in Bengali (her breakout in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Antaheen was one of her first roles back in 2009), Marathi, Telugu and Tamil cinema for close to half a decade. I remember first noticing her in Raj & DK’s fantastic Shor In The City (2011) and then in the massy Marathi blockbuster Lai Bhaari.
Yet, I believe Hindi cinema truly embraced her only after Raghavan’s divisive revenge thriller – though even Harshavardhan Kulkarni’s retro-Maharashtrian Pune-tinged adult comedy Hunterrr (2015) furthered her reputation as the “new Bollywood” talent on the block. So her scene-stealing act in Badlapur in 2014 – despite playing a panicked character that is traditionally anything but scene stealing – didn’t come as a total surprise.
Apte’s Kanchan appears in the second half of the film, and mid-way through the trajectory of Varun Dhawan’s unhinged Raghu. What’s most interesting about Kanchan is that she is merely collateral damage, because her only mistake is being ex-criminal Harman’s (Vinay Pathak) wife. 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. In essence Kanchan – “Koko” to Harman – initially comes across as a trophy wife, perhaps a gold-digger too, who gets married to an older man because of his money (the money that cost Raghu his family).
But when Raghu threatens to turn their life upside down in their bungalow, Kanchan suddenly displays her identity as a genuine partner. She is convinced that her husband – however murky his role was in the bank robbery years ago – didn’t kill anyone. She even offers to sleep with Raghu if it means he would forgive her husband. This is because she assumes that Raghu is a typical ‘70s Hindi movie villain. Apte’s jittery reaction subverts our perception of her character.
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. It’s a complex feeling – not very different from what the close friends and families of offenders in the #MeToo movement go through when they first learn of the accusations.
Kanchan reluctantly guides Raghu to her bedroom upstairs to do the ‘deed’. Raghavan then turns the psychology of the scene on its head. Raghu scolds Kanchan when she strips to her underwear – “you’re willing to sleep with me to save a killer? Shame on you!” What follows then is a rare moment where both of them are finally on the same wavelength. It’s more dark than funny when Raghu orchestrates a sequence of fake giggles and moans from Kanchan so that Harman misconstrues their encounter and breaks down. Kanchan ‘performs’ willingly, because at some level she wants to punish her husband for not being honest with her about. She simulates erotic sounds, knowing that perhaps Raghu isn’t wrong to want this much. Apte’s fine performance embodies this internal conflict.