Introducing : Kaal Pahelia! Or The Anatomy of a Charismatic Villain
The measure of the effectiveness of a villain can come from two things – one is their popularity among comic book fans, and the second is how much their existence gives meaning to the hero that they are pitted against. It would not be too far-fetched to say that a hero is as good as the villains they face.
All this while we have been talking about the Gods living on Indian comics’ Mount Olympus. Today we will also begin talking about the other end of the spectrum, the devils who are a raison d’etre to the Gods. We begin with one of the most enduring villains of Indian Comics – Kaal Pahelia (The Riddler of Doom)
Doga does not have many recurring villains. It is chiefly because Doga likes to splatter the brains of his villains all over the panels of the comics, and is successful in doing that issue after issue. The only one he has not been able to kill till now is the wily coyote Kaal Pahelia. Pahelia became part of Doga’s canon (while escaping Doga’s cannons) in the comics ‘Khooni Pahelian’ where he was introduced as a smooth-riddling criminal who committed atrocities and bank robberies but had an obsessive compulsive disorder to leave behind a clue and a lead towards his next crime using a Paheli.
And this would be the perfect time to address a small riddle shaped elephant in the house. The modus operandi of Kaal Pahelia is the same as that of Batman villain Riddler, but the comparison stops at that, in fact if there is a mirror villain for Kaal Pahelia’s traits, it’s more Joker than Riddler. Part of this could also do with the fact that the inception of Kaal Pahelia was done with ace humour writer Bharat Negi (one of the most underrated talents in Indian comics) along with Tarun Kumar Wahi ji. Thus lending a tone of dark comedy to Kaal Pahelia’s comics and his behaviour which is absent in most Raj Comics villains. Also Kaal Pahelia comes with a solid background story, born in a tribe of gypsies and magicians his OCD comes from being a showman, the need to exhibit his skills as a Pahelia. Kaal Pahelia rarely associates himself directly with organized crime, and instead works as a renegade one man army, using other criminals to do his bidding.
Kaal Pahelia is one of the more charismatic villains in the Raj Comics universe who has a habit of hiding in plain sight. He doesn’t wear a mask, nor does he have a hideout, and yet he never strays too far away from his operative city of Mumbai. He also has no superpowers except for a razor sharp brain and the athletic abilities of a gymnast along with a mean kick. And despite being at some level afraid of Doga he often challenges him openly, or does things to aggravate Doga to a level which would warrant an open chase. And like mentioned above he almost always leaves a clue for Doga to solve and be after his case.
This brings us to the relationship which Kaal Pahelia and Doga share. Despite a million bullets fired by Doga at him, Kaal has managed to escape, by providence or by luck no bullet of Doga has found its mark. And this tenacity to survive and keep on returning to the pages of Doga’s comics has formed an uneasy friendship (if that’s the word that I am looking for) between Kaal Pahelia and Doga , if for nothing else but the number of times that they have squared against each other, and while Doga foils Kaal Pahelia’s plans, leaving a body count in his wake, Kaal manages to remain undefeated by being alive, levelling the score at the end of each story. This friendship exists despite (or because) of the fact that Doga would like nothing more than to see Kaal Pahelia dead and gone.
There exists an intimacy between the two which Doga does not share even with his close allies, Doga calls him Kaalu and in turn Kaal Pahelia calls him ‘Dogey’, nicknames shared by friends who have known each other for a long long time. In one comics when dealing with another villain who leaves riddle based clues after committing crimes Doga enlists Kaal Pahelia for helping him solve the riddles, and Kaal Pahelia because he cannot help but solve riddles plays along with Doga (he also has the constant threat of Doga’s gun pointed at him) but in the end he leads Doga to the criminal.
In fact with Kaal Pahelia Doga has also shown a rare kind of clemency, when Kaal Pahelia decides to get married and turn over a new leaf leaving crime behind Doga supports his decision and commutes his death penalty to a life sentence, in fact when some of Kaal Pahelia’s tribesmen and other associates try to stop Kaal Pahelia from getting married Doga riddles them with bullets to make sure that the marriage goes through. It is of course another story that by the end of the comics Kaal Pahelia returns to his old ways and Doga continues his endless pursuit.
And it is not just Doga who shares this strange relationship with his nemesis, the fans love him as well. So when there is viscera flying around because of Doga’s weapons and dead bodies stack up across panels even the fans hope for Kaal Pahelia to escape and live to die another die. Because of his status as a fan favourite in the few Multi-starrers where villains combine together to form a team Kaal Pahelia is ubiquitous.
Kaal Pahelia is still roaming as a menace across the city of Mumbai, and while Doga polishes his gun with a hope that he will someday drill his skull and end the flow of riddles once and for all, the fans and consequently the writers will never let Kaal Pahelia die, leaving the chance of another Khooni Paheli always open.
(If you liked reading about Kaalu, do hop over to our piece on his hunter Doga)
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