From Gabbar to Voldemort: Why Villains Are So Important?

From Gabbar to Voldemort: Why Villains Are So Important?


Gabbar, Voldemort, President Snow, Hannibal Lecter, Loki, joker and many more—something is interesting about villains that fascinates so much. We want to know more about them, we love them yet we also hate them. We are more fascinated by them than the hero. It’s complex to understand why we are drawing towards villains, even when they have committed horrific crimes.

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It is safe to say that villainous characters have a certain allure. Today we explore if there is an explanation of why we are attracted to characters. The psychology behind villains and how they resonate with the general audience is an interesting take to ponder about, for sure! What Psychological Factors Make a Villain, The Villain? The psychological factors that contribute to the creation of a villain are often rooted in a combination of nature and nurture. Moral ambiguity allows villains to rationalize their actions, constructing justifications that align with their distorted sense of purpose. The anonymity often associated with villainy provides a psychological mask, allowing individuals to shed societal constraints and explore their darker impulses.

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The Psychology Behind Attraction Towards Villains

Can there even be a scientific explanation for the eerie attraction towards villains? There is! Krause (2023) published a paper in the Psychological Science journal that reveals that readers and viewers come to like villains or they start becoming a likable entities when they share some sort of similarities (regards to traits or past or behaviour) with the readers or the viewers. It’s like being guided into a safety net. We can relate to the eerily darker side, which is against the norm in the real world and we don’t need to feel like our self-image or even our morals are getting misplaced and trained.

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Creators of these villains make use of various psychological traits like Machiavellianism, apathy, narcissistic traits, and traits of a psychopath to catch the public’s eye. To make the villain more intriguing to the audience. Villains have those charming traits that we all admire. They are intelligent and they are confident. When they talk, they radiate an aura of power that is entrancing. They are the rebellion. They break away from the restrictive chains that social normativity offers and can raise questions on authority. These are all bolder, braver, and darker desires that a common individual cannot pursue.

We get drawn into the story of the villain because it provides us with catharsis. Catharsis was a term created by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who explained it as a release or purification of really intense emotions. By facing the villains on the page or the screen, individuals can face the stark reality of their fears on their own accord and they can also confront their inner demons (darker side) in a safe environment. Villains represent the darker chaotic side of our psyche. The one we do not wish to express openly.

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Lastly, what makes a villain, a villain? Behind the horrors of their crime, lies a human who has a story, a past. It serves as a reminder to us people that everyone is born human. Everyone can choose the path of a good person. They are villains because they are shaped by circumstances they have no control over. It’s a matter of nature vs. nurture. The attraction towards villains, for this reason, makes us also question the reality of empathy vs. reality and how closely they are interrelated.

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Villains feel the need for power strongly. They may want to acquire power to compensate for their insecurities and their weakness. Their past must be shrouded with injustice and the anger towards it makes them seek the darker side for power. The need for power also arises because the villain has felt helpless in the past and they want to avoid that feeling in the future.

The need for power corresponds to the Jungian Archetype of Shadow. Villains represent our shadows, repressed darker and unacceptable desires and emotions. By taking an interest in the villain we can look into how complex the human psyche is.

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Traumatic Childhood Experiences

Taking an interest in villains helps us understand how the role of childhood experiences in shaping humans is so important. Trauma can have a powerful impact on someone and the villain can be a perfect example to understand the detrimental impact of it. The range and extent of the trauma can vary, from abuse to betrayal, it can alter or change the way you look at the world.

The intention of the villain many of the times is often triggered by the desire to take revenge. They destructively exhibit their emotions and anger. The inner turmoil they go through becomes of their trauma that seeps into the external world and they deal with it the only way they can. By becoming the villain. It corresponds to humans where we can be driven to do bad deeds and engage in negative behaviour because of our negative experiences.

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Villains in India

India has a rich cinematic history with many iconic villains. These villains fall into a huge spectrum, and each of them is different from the others. Some villains are cunning masterminds who sit back and let their minions do all their dirty work, while others go to the protagonist’s house to kill them. These villains are not just the backbone of the storyline of movies. They don’t just exist to make the protagonist glow. They have their charm- and an undeniable one at that.

These villains have surely not gone unnoticed over time. In 1985, Filmfare Magazine featured a cover story on ‘The Many Faces of Villainy’ that was ten pages long. ‘Wanted—a villain for raping, looting and murder’ is a 1979 article that portrays the audience’s appreciation of antagonists in cinema. Tapan Kumar Ghosh wrote a book called ‘Bollywood Baddies: Villains, Vamps and Henchmen in Hindi Cinemas’. His book is an entertaining and detailed read of screen villainy. It discusses a large number of villainous characters and iconic cinematic moments that feature them, capturing the attention of the fans of negative roles that have made so many Bollywood movies a success.

As time proceeded, Nana Patekar became a well-known actor ruling the villains of the era. His character of ‘Anna’ in the movie ‘Parinda’ set new expectations from actors who chose the path of playing negative roles. Soon, through films like ‘Agnisakshi’, Nana brought the antihero character to the screen. This character blurred the line between the ‘heroic’ and the ‘villainous’, opening up this trend to other actors of his time. Recent years have brought to screen a more realistic antagonist.

These characters carry shades of grey with their humanity. They have brought attention to the motivation behind their actions- a backstory of the villain. The film series ‘Gangs of Wasseypur stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose character had more dimension, catching the eye of the audience. Lallan Singh in ‘Yuva’, Langda Tyagi in ‘Omkara’, Vikram Bajaj in ‘Ajnabee’ and Yashwant Angre in ‘Khakee’ are some other characters with shades of grey. Today, film producers in India are exploring these various villainous portrayals in their films to engage the audience. While these are some portrayals of villains in Indian films, there are many more that can be explored.

Summing Up

Villains are rarely one-dimensional; they often possess a distorted moral compass that justifies their actions. This moral ambiguity creates a psychological space where the villain rationalises their deeds, believing their malevolent acts serve a greater purpose. Exploring this rationalisation offers insights into the flexibility of human morality.

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