About the story: Ballu Balram (Sanjay Dutt), a contract killer working for don Roshan Mahanta (Pramod Muthu), is the country’s most wanted criminal. After shooting a politician he is caught by the police and put behind bars in a jail led by prison warden Inspector Ram Kumar Sinha (Jackie Shroff). Shortly after he manages to flee, which badly damages Ram’s reputation. To help her fiancé Ram, his intended Ganga, who usually works as sub-inspector in a women’s prison, pretends to be a dancer and infiltrates Ballu’s gang on her own. She accompanies him on the run, and gets to know him better. Although she can not reciprocate his love for her, but she develops enough sympathy for Ballu as a human being, to help him escape the police again when they catch up with him. While Ganga is arrested and charged with treason, Ballu meets his mother (Rakhee Gulzar) for the first time after six years, and finds out she has been collaborating with Ram (to save her son’s life). Once again, Ballu feels betrayed by everyone. From now on, he only has one goal in life: To become the world’s most feared villain...
It was sheer, bitter irony, that Khalnayak just advanced to one of the biggest hits in 1993, while at the same time the fiction became reality for Sanjay. After his arrest because of illegal possession of firearms and suspected of being involved in terrorist acts leading to the Mumbai blasts, he was no longer called Bollywood’s "Khalnayak" (= villain) only because of his title role in this hit movie. Besides the later movie characters of Raghubhai und Munnabhai, Khalnayak will always remain the role, Sanju is most identified with. From a cinematic point of view, this is correct, because his performance as Ballu is first class and one of Sanjay’s greatest role portraits ever, for which he got his second nomination as best actor for the Filmfare awards. In this respect it is acceptable to sometimes hear Sanju being called "Khalnayak" even today, particularly since there is a nice pun in this title: "Nayak" means hero, and in the movie Ballu is reminded several times that there’s a hero (nayak) in every villain (khalnayak). Sanjay’s Khalnayak is one of the best examples for a likeable antihero in Hindi cinema. Although Shahrukh Khan’s feat to create similar antihero characters during the same year in his films Baazigar and Darr is commendable, it would not be correct to claim this kind of characterisation only for him (which happens a lot these days). To be fair, Shahrukh Khan’s fame as "best antihero of the 90es" should be shared with Sanju, while of course this kind of role has been played by the famous "angry young man" Amitabh Bachchan much earlier, in films like Deewar (1975).
Khalnayak was released in the same year as Sahibaan, and those who just saw Sanjay as fairy tale prince in sumptuous garments, will have doubted their eyes when they saw him in Khalnayak: Is this really the same guy?? Mahesh Bhatt once said he never knew any other actor besides Sanju, who cares so little about looking good in a movie - in Khalnayak at least, one believes him verbatim. But who bothers about scruffy, shaggy hair covering half his face, when Sanjay Dutt’s piercing glance and matchless grin look out of it? Wholeheartedly, Sanjay embodies this character, he depicts its way from an angry youth, frustrated by his poor but honest father’s bitter fate (and lack of understanding), who is lured into a life of crime by a don who likes to recruit embittered children just like young Ballu, all the way to the hardened criminal and killer who lost all faith in emotions and love – until he meets Ganga, who leads him to rediscover his own buried humanity. Further crucial experiences with Ram and his mother irrevocably awaken the nayak in khalnayak. One can argue the credibility of the movie’s climax, but here Sanjay’s performance is so awesome that, honestly, I don’t care. (And here, at the latest, I have forgotten and forgiven the horribly campy suit Sanju had to wear for the song "Khalnayak Hoon Main", which made me wish itch mites on the responsible costume designer until today.)
Despite all enthusiasm for Sanjay’s performance, let’s not forget his two important co-stars. Jackie Shroff often gets typecast as the honest and tough police officer, but this time his role is not quite as straightforward – the character of Ram has his weaknesses, too, and is driven to its emotional limits several times by this movie’s plot. The chemistry between Jackie and Sanju in their (sometimes verbal, sometimes violent) disputes is great, by the way. And Madhuri finally is allowed to be more than some pretty decoration of the male hero, but plays an interesting and well thought-out character with Ganga, who gets to grow in this story as much as Ram and Ballu. She looks fantastic and plays impressively, and she gets to perform some of the most beautiful dances of her career – from charming "Palki Mein Hoke Sawar" to the marvellous classic "Choli Ke Peeche", which make the movie even more precious. And I will never fathom how Madhuri managed to look dead serious, when she had to watch Sanju-Ballu and his buddies presenting her with their own version of "Choli Ke Peeche"...
This movie is a must-see. As a fan of Sanjay’s (and/or Madhuri’s) you absolutely must not miss Khalnayak.
Produced and directed by Subhash Ghai
179 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (not for the songs)
© Diwali; Translated by Anamika
Additional information: The premiere of Khalnayak in August 1993 was a charity show for India AIDS Foundation, combined with an AIDS-conference the day before. Bothe were organized by Elizabeth Koshiv, who earlier arranged many similar events for the benefit of drug addicts. Of course, "villain" Sanjay did support her cause.
Interesting is also the cast Subhash Ghai originally had in mind: Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit as Ram and Ganga versus Jackie Shroff as Ballu...