The Evil Gora, smuggling and the 80s

bobchristo.jpgIf 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?

17 Comments

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17 Responses to The Evil Gora, smuggling and the 80s

  1. I’m finally reading Sacred Games and there’s some smuggling going on, but I’m not sure exactly what year it’s supposed to be, and it does have a decidedly 80s feel to it. In fact, now that you mention it, I can easily imagine Bob Christo involved. Even if the main villains are indeed Indian.

    And ohmigod, have you seen Commando? In it Bob Christo 1) helps assassinate (or try to assassinate? I can’t remember) the prime minister and 2) wears an OP baseball cap. And in Namak Halaal he has a ski chase with Shashi Kapoor! I have more pictures than I ought to and will happily give you some if you need to spruce up your desktop.

    Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, please do do do read the great Planet Bollybob (named after the one and only) on this topic.

  2. km

    Or could it be that smugglers saw those bad ’80s movies and simply decided to change their evil ways? You never know.

  3. By some weird act of coincidence, I saw Mr. India yesterday and was wondering what was the goora’s name considering he was always the stereotypical Angrez ki Aulad in our movie. Tom Alter’s hindi was far better to be cast as a goora (Remember Parinda?)

  4. Yes, I have seen that ridiculous advert. It’s cringe-inducing. Very!

  5. in 70% of his movies he was either named ‘mac’ or ‘john’. Seems like our filmmakers loved those names…

  6. Beth: Of course I remember Commando! Mithun Chaktraborty! My favourite bit is the fact that Amrish Puri is called Marceloni. In fact I think Amrish Puri gets a lovely pick of names – the best of which was definitely Mogambo! And, I did in fact come across Planet Bollybob – and am still laughing over this wonderful piece called “A History of Indian Movie Thermos“.

    km: You sir, have got it absolutely right! A change of heart. Now how did I miss that?

    Patrix: I think Mr India was a wonderful film, and the brilliant names added a lot of masala to it. Mogambo, Daaga, Teja etc. Tom Alter’s Hindi was as good as any of ours. I guess the two can’t even be compared. But Bob Christo is a different paradigm altogether. Angrez Ki Aulad, But made of Faulaad!

    Paras: Very very cringe-worthy. Was it Manikchand?

    maxdavinci: He did have a few interesting names though – I remember one called Mr Goodmark, and in another one where he was “Shaitan”!

  7. I remember both and thanks for sharing infos about them.

  8. How did I forget Marceloni? Dear lord! I love the thermos history too; in fact, I sent Bollybob a thermos picture from Main Hoon Na (which is the only place I have noticed a thermos – so sad, the disappearance of the thermos).

  9. Bob Christo, eh? ‘Just who is the bald angrez’ has been part of all the 80’s smuggler flicks i’ve watched with the family. Thanks for the answer…

    Teaching yoga- sigh, what a come down for the strongman of yore…

    The ad, its plain terrible – ‘xcept for a new one for “corporate khaini” – do see it if you get a chance – its so terrible…you’ll be in splits :)

  10. “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.”

    When you don’t write often, this is what happens. Rust.

  11. and helen was the gori chudail & sexy temptress in all our films. nobody came anywhere close to the oomph and class that she brought to her roles!

    there were some feeble attempts of using blonde wigs on some of our desi ladies which usually ended up with disastrous results! was it hema malini or saira banu in a blonde wig in one of the manoj kumar movies?

  12. Wow, that’s one heck of a career change.

    In other news, you are tagged ! The good news is, this should be the easiest tag you ever did :)

  13. I could easily relate to the gold biscuits part. For one thing, as a kid I didn’t know that they did not look like golden Milk Bikis but were actually gold bars.

    Secondly, I could not fathom why anyone would make gold biscuits when you could neither eat them as biscuits nor wear them as bangles or chains. Clearly, gold biscuits were specifically made for smuggling.

  14. I remember this gora.. for that matter there were some other poor guys in those sterotypical roles that I remember visually.

    I also remember that silly ad with east india company BS.. I remember thinking how money can help ppl get away with anything ..

    I remember thinking the same thing when we had to watch some horrendous pan masala ads with pan masala going inside a humungous mouth broadcast on ones screen belonging to none other than some tobacco merchant – just before the stardust or filmfare awards or something of that sort, some years back. Such pain we had to endure to watch some “awards”… goodness.

  15. When we talk of firangs in the movies of the 80’s, I can only think of 2 roles – the (evil) smuggler or the (evil) colonizer. Thankfully, Indian cinema has started accepting them in other roles over the last decade. Hinglish movies have brought in a breath of fresh air and helped break the stereotypical image of the firang babus.

  16. Ad – Pan Parag, pan masala Pan Parag. Lousy, lousy frigging idea, with surprisingly decent prouduction values.

  17. @lekhni : industrial gold is usually available i nbars. so i guess you are right when you say they were made as biscuits to aid smuggling.