Malevolent. Insidious. Evil. Bloodthirsty. Manipulative. Bitter. Arrogant. Malicious. These are some of the words that define the baddies of cinema. They play the classical role of antagonists that create hindrance to the protagonist's growth. In cinema, their presence has defined different ways of storytelling where their villainy propels the narrative.
But what exactly makes them such an integral part of the story? Surely their vileness cannot be the sole factor. Tapan K. Ghosh, in his insightful book, Bollywood Baddies: Villains, Vamps and Henchmen in Hindi Cinema, Tapan K. Ghosh states that villains contribute substantially to the commercial aspect of the story and even add charisma to the hero. In the end, the villain's end of the bargain is to face bitter humiliation or even death.
The villain's presence also substantiates the poetic justice, which becomes an endpoint of the story. The audience feels content in seeing justice being served, which is actually a long, tedious process in real life. The fact is villains have always been a reflection of the evils of society. The representation of villainy has changed through the course of history. In earlier cinema, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, villains were primarily chosen from oppressive social classes. Moneylenders, evil landlords, zamindars were represented as vile people. Who can forget the evils of the 'lala' in the iconic film Mother India? Or the evil schemes of Harnam Singh in Do Bigha Zamin?
As the years progressed, the villains of cinema were drawn from the social milieu. But integrating them into the script has to be nuanced. Villains or baddies need to have a character motive, and while developing them, one can add elements that became the driving force of their formation. Either it is pure villainy like that of Gabbar Singh or Mogambo, or society forces a person to choose the wrong path.
The facets of writing a villain inadvertently stem from the obsession with good versus evil. The path that leads to the hero's final triumph forms the film, and if the villain is layered, the audience is actually invested in the story. Almost all the iconic villains have a strong determination to achieve their evil goals, and if this grit is translated into physical elements, they will truly captivate the audience.
Even if you are devising a compelling backstory, emotional logic has to be the focal point. A contemporary example would be that of Thanos. Even though the character originated in Marvel Comics, the film adaptation had a history driven by his emotions and rationale. As viewers, we might not agree with the methods, but it perfectly fits with the overarching narrative within the script.
The duality of nature and the power wielded by the villain creates all sorts of odds for the character. Obstacles do not crop up automatically; they have to be placed via the villain's presence. There are plenty of examples for this, but a good study of villains before venturing into creation is the corpus of James Bond films. Some might entice you; some might be bland. But the power, story, duality, and villainy are the elements that make Bond's journey enigmatic.
Ultimately, as you sit to create a villain, think for yourself that is the character driving the story? The portrayal of evil has to be relatable because we are, after all, living in a space riddled with fallacies, and you can surely pick them up and translate them into your character.