The villain, in and out

Bhansali’s Khilji stays with you well after you’ve left him

By Paromita Kar
  • Published 18.03.18
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Sometimes you walk into a movie hall, spend over two hours in the dark and come out with nothing. Nothing that you might recall the next day. Then there are times when you do find something to take back home, such as a headache.

There is another kind of situation that may arise. You go to watch a film knowing full well that you will return empty-handed. And then, strange forces set to work on you in the darkened hall. After the final roll of credits, you step out, not knowing that an idea has been sold to you. An idea or construct that remains in your head - at least for a while - like a stubborn monkey following you around.

Padmaavat's Khilji is somewhat similar. After weeks of mulling whether I should scatter away precious time, money and effort on this much-touted and much-fought over film, I opted to go for it. Little did I know that at the time of exit, Khilji would sneak into my handbag.

You could say it was my shuturmurg moment - the realisation that the abhorrent villain was my takeaway. Nothing to do with the ostrich's much-maligned behaviour - but the entry of the wayward Khilji, the bird in tow. The epiphany, likewise, was surprising and funny, although not without some amount of uneasiness.

I am not one who glorifies villains. No. But Khilji is entirely a cinematic creation with a semblance of historicity. A clever play of several elements under a thick blanket of grey and black. The result - it manages to outshine the thousands of diyas, rhythmic swirling of yards of silk, and porcelain necks strengthened with myriad diamonds. It even surpasses the measured power of righteousness, played out in regal charm, much to the discomfort of the discerning viewer.

Rest assured there is no astounding play of emotions on the actor's rugged countenance. Such lack in emoting, however, is generously compensated by the interplay of make-up, costume, plot requirement, setting, movement and so on. A cunning confluence of specific technical processes to create a deep psychological impact on the viewer.

Therefore, when you are presented with the weird and uncanny song-and-dance sequence, Khalibali ho gaya hai dil..., you gladly slip into the role of subject. Cinema takes grip of your senses and you take cognisance of Khilji's thundering presence. You train your eyes only on him as he suggestively brushes his square hands on his flowing hair and beard, fingers adorned with giant gems, as if to convey excess. The catchy music and rows of extras stomping their feet in unison are effective boosters. Khilji then challenges you with his act of repeatedly slapping his thigh looking directly into the camera all the while, and slowly turning around.

Such is the magic of cinema, of which Khilji, in turn, is a mere pawn. Behind the curtain of kitsch, as many knowledgeable people have pointed out, this medium of entertainment is dead serious.

There is also a moment or two when the barbaric attacker appears vulnerable, unarmed. As when he looks at himself in the mirror, head tilted slightly upward and eyes wide open. Clinical narcissism, one might say. Ultimately, a craft so powerful that it makes a fool out of you.

There are many arresting sequences. Indeed, one may view the entire film as a matrix to some brilliant Khilji moments, events of fascinating falsity held together by picturesque intervals. A painstaking enterprise, wherein evil is perceived as sparkling against the serenity of truth, beauty and honour.

Much to one's relief, the sustained tension of the immediate film relaxes with the passage of time. After all, Khilji is neither Gabbar nor Joker. The internal drama in his case is no match for the intense external drama. And for this he has to pay the price of not being allowed to join the ranks of illustrious villains in the history of cinema.

Perhaps to aid this process of fading, I come across poster advertisements of a certain hosiery company. The same actor who portrayed the maniacal Khilji is seen sporting a brilliant white vest, holding out a blue face towel. The catchline - Free. One face towel with any two pieces of the company's products. The freebie is otherwise worth Rs 34.

Just as bland as bland could get. And with that, poof! goes the blaze that is Khilji.