HINDI cinema chanced upon the character of the psychotic hero in the '90s and a trail of films followed Darr, Anjaam, Dastak, Fareb, Agnisakshi, Dushman... In the good old days the villain was always an outsider, now the anonymous stalker can be the heroine's friend, the next-door neighbour or even the innocuous postman.
Director Mahesh Bhatt feels that the formula is 'a reverse engineering of Hollywood films' like Cape Fear, Bodyguard or Sleeping With the Enemy. Others prefer to read this as an attempt to grapple with the increasing alienation and despair of urban existence. 'The psychopath becomes a representative of this urban nightmare,' says film scholar Ranjini Majumdar. But does this portrayal translate the woman's trauma into sensitive cinema?
Sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan feels these films do capture the vulnerability of the woman. The continuing subtext is that she is unsafe in a public space. In Dushman the woman has to live with menace even within the secure confines of her home. However, the most debatable issue is that of glamourisation of the stalker. 'It's the glamour industry. Here even realism has to have the trappings of glamour to make a dramatic impact,' explains Bhatt. Vishwanathan thinks the attraction for the anti-hero is primarily because he is a far more layered character. Says he: 'There is a latent sympathy for him because the hero is too wooden,' he says. However, despite evil being attractive in the moral frame of Hindi films, the anti-hero does get his just desserts. 'The stalker is never redeemed,' says director Rahul Rawail. It's always the hero and the heroine who live happily ever after.