The number-one blockbuster movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan not only became a catalyst in real life in uniting Geeta with her parents in India, but also reconnected character actor Ravi Khanna with Bollywood, who, after 33 years in USA, had moved last year to Mumbai. “Mumbai welcomed me with open arms because the very first role after my arrival here was in the biggest blockbuster featuring no other than Salman Khan”, says the veteran actor with a happy smile on his seasoned face. Khanna plays the role of the ISI boss who frames Salman as an Indian spy, jails him and gets him tortured to force a confession from him. It is a small role but he, as the only villain of the movie, plays it very effectively in the tension-filled climax of the film. “The roles are never big or small”
says the seasoned actor with a smile, “only the actors are big or small.” Khanna says he is thrilled when Salman fans tell him that they hate him because of what he did to Bhai in the movie, and the next moment they request him for a selfie. He was also thrilled to work with Kabir Khan, who like Khanna, also has a journalistic background.
Khanna wanted to do the role of the antagonist, he says, because “somewhere in my mind this hope sparkles that I can fill the vacuum caused by Amrish Puri’s sudden exit from the Bollywood scene because I have the similar theatre background, the same authoritative voice and a powerful stage and screen presence”. Although he is yet to get the main villain’s role in a Hindi movie, after BB Khanna bagged the role of Kafour (the main villain) in an Indo/Egyptian movie to be released in the middle of next year. Khanna says jokingly that although all the RK’s like Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Raaj Kumar, Ranbir Kapoor are protagonist, Ravi Khanna’s RK does not mind playing a villain.
Khanna is also writing a book called the “Indian Antagonist” in which he traces the history of Bollywood villain, who, he says, has not changed much in the last 100 years of the Indian cinema. If you really go under the surface, there is not much difference between K.N.Singh, Pran, Madan Puri, Ranjit, Prakash Raj because all of them in most pictures lead a team of goons who use force against the hero to defeat him and never succeed. Khanna says today’s villain is still like Kansa or Ravana and rarely like Shakuni. But whenever we made the villain intelligent and made him play the “mind games” it really worked. He gives the examples of the movies in which the directors hired Hritik Roshan and Aamir Khan to play the villain and the movies proved to be the blockbusters at the box office.
Khanna began his acting career in New Delhi in the 1970’s on stage, Radio and Television with his contemporaries such as Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Dinesh Thakur, Kamna Chandra, Om Shivpuri, Sudha Shivpuri, T. P Jain, R.P Sethi and Ram Gopal whose filmy name was changed to Ranjit. They ventured to Mumbai and Khanna on the insistence of his mother went to USA to do journalism. There he worked as the South Asia Bureau Chief in the Voice of America Newsroom for 27 years. But he kept his interest in theater alive and kept on acting on stage and screen (in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi) whenever he got a chance despite his busy life as journalist. He was awarded the most coveted Helen Hayes award for his performance in Tom Stoppard’s comedy “Indian Ink”.