If you’ve seen enough films through the 80s – you need no visual introduction to this man. Big, muscled and bald, this guy was our Evil Gora archetype. This guy slid into various roles with incredible ease. Evil Smuggler who wanted to destroy India. Evil Bodyguard who could chew through the arsenals of small desi bodyguards. Resident foreign rapist. My strongest memory of this Evil Gora was in Mr India where he starred as Mr Wolcott. (A film I saw too many times. I had measles, and the tape was at home.). I finally know his name – Bob Christo.
It’s impossible to say if this man knew how to act. Not really his fault though. Directors seemed to have only given him cue cards – “Evil Laugh”, “Menacing Look” and “Forgive Me Whimper”. As for his clothes – it depended on whims of film makers. White suits, black leather jacket with silver chains, velvet coats, the works. And they insisted he wear boots. For some reason we associate boots with evil. Good people wear sandals. This man, must have had immense patience.
The only other “white” actor to grace our screens was Tom Alter. Unlike Bob Christo, Tom Alter never quite hit in the muscles department. Additionally, he wasn’t bald. Which means he never could play the bad guy with equal panache. Maybe if you were making a film on the Raj era. Tom Alter just didn’t have a smuggler’s face.
It’s interesting, how many films were based on the premise of evil smugglers in the 80s. Pre-liberalization, Bollywood loved smuggling. It was our link to the international world. You could shoot reel after reel of fight sequences near the docks. And smuggle just about everything. For years, I thought that gold biscuits were only manufactured for smuggling. It was only much later that I discovered that gold biscuits are a legitimate good. And can be sold or bought without bodyguards in tow. It fit into our wider world view of the “outsiders” wanting to plunder India, and that a few rotten Indians were plotting to make the country a colony, once again. But smuggling in Indian cinema died its death. Post early 90s, it no longer made sense to show smuggling as a crime. There was a brief period when Bollywood flirted with the idea of white men trafficking drugs. But, our villains are all ingrown now. Or from across the border.
The brown villain has come of age. They are underworld dons, policemen or politicians. Sigh! A white evil guy no longer has any place in our films. Bob Christo now teaches yoga. The Evil Gora, is no more.
PS – On that note, has anyone seen this ridiculous advert, where an “Indian businessman” pops a little flavoured tobacco in his mouth and vows to not let the Goras buy his company, and there’s some really funny business with the flags of Britain and India, and some talk of the East India Company, while they’re at it?