Alfred Hitchcock once said that the more successful and dangerous the anti-hero or villain is, the more successful the film would be. Films which followed this rule have worked wonders at the box office.
Mohan Raja, the director of Thani Oruvan, once expressed concern over the audience celebrating the anti-hero, Siddharth Abhimanyu, over the hero, Mithran. The role gave the biggest breakthrough to Arvind Swami who made a strong comeback. In the same way, Arun Vijay made a comeback through a powerful villain role in Yennai Arindhaal, and Arjun with Irumbuthirai.
One can quote many such examples, beginning from PU Chinnappa’s Uthama Puthiran. Of the two characters played by him, villain Vikraman appealed more to the audience with his antics. When the same film was remade with Sivaji Ganesan, with the title retained, Sivaji as Vikraman in the villainous role appealed more to the audience.
While Ranjan, the anti-hero, scored over the hero in Chandralekha, in Mandhirikumari, more than the hero, MGR, it was SA Natarajan in the role of a powerful thief along with MN Nambiar as his father Raja Guru, who scored in their villain roles and are remembered even today. Rajinikanth scored as anti-hero in several films, including Moondru Mudichu, Avargal, 16 Vayathinile, Netrikkann and they became big hits due to the strength of the characters.
Sathyaraj, too, scored big as anti-hero in numerous films like Nooravathu Naal, Kaakki Sattai, Pagal Nilavu, Mr. Bharath, Vikram before turning into a popular hero. Even today, his villainous role as Amavasai in Amaidhipadai is a benchmark for many. So much so that Bobby Simha earned his National Award for Best Supporting Actor for his villainous role in Jigarthanda recently. Even in Shankar’s Enthiran, more than hero Dr. Vaseegaran, it was villain Chitti Robot, which was loved by the audience.
Why does the audience like villains more than the heroes?
Villains tend to be suaver, more charismatic, powerful and intense as we have witnessed with Siddharth Abhimanyu in Thani Oruvan or Vidyut Jamwal in Thuppakki. These magnetic villain characters contributed to the success of these films.
Lastly, villain characters are usually complicated and imperfect, unlike heroes. While a hero has just one job of stopping the villain from doing whatever he is trying to do by using his strength and power, villains, on the other hand, never cease to amaze us with their intricate, overwhelming plots. Nobody is perfect among human beings. Hence, perfect heroes become boring, which most heroes, however, invariably end up looking like in films.
When the main character is also a villain in films (as we have witnessed in films like Vaali and Villain by Ajith Kumar, and Arun Vijay in Thadam), it is even more interesting to watch.
Only when the role of the villain is powerful, with more intricacies and layers as we witnessed in Bahubali or in Mersal, is there a bigger goal for the hero to achieve, and that makes the story more interesting. When the villain character scores over the hero from the beginning, the audience end up expecting the hero to win and keep their hopes on the film’s story alive. Villain, in reality, is the hero of a film as it is he who drives and makes the hero to act, as we witnessed in Sandakozhi. If Kasi (Lal) had not done any wrong in that story, the hero in Balu (Vishal) would never have emerged. Hence, it is the villain who drives the story till the end. Stronger and surprising his or her character, better the film becomes.
— Dr G Dhananjayan is film producer, distributor and founder- director of BOFTA Film Institute