Jinder Mahal: The Throwback Villain

Jinder Mahal's WWE Championship celebration

Punjabi Celebration on Smackdown Live (wwe.com (2017)

At the Backlash pay-per-view, Jinder Mahal dethroned Randy Orton to become the 50th WWE Champion. Jinder also became first ever Indian WWE Champion, and in a recent Talk is Jericho, Chris Jericho called him an “Indiana Jones villain”. Jericho is certainly spot-on with his description of Jinder, because while Jinder is not pulling out people’s hearts (Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, kids); he certainly embodies the classic 1980’s, villain.

The foreign villain, who point’s fingers and blames the American people for all the terrible things that happen in the world, was a popular villain in the eighties and early nineties. It was not only popular in Film, but also in the world of professional wrestling. Look no further than WWE Hall of Famer’s Iron Sheik and Yokozuna for evidence of the foreign villains in WWE.

These characters were not only popular to produce in wrestling, but they were also essential to the progression of wrestling and were a part of some of the most important moments in WWE history. Iron Sheik ended the six-year title run of Bob Backlund and then went on to lose his championship to then rising star Hulk Hogan. Defeating the dastardly Iron Sheik only added to Hulk Hogan’s popularity, which was evident as “Hulkamania” went on to take the WWE to heights it had never been before.

This stereotypical, yet classic villainous character has a storied history in professional wrestling, and after so many years the WWE is bringing this character back to the main event picture.

Jinder Mahal has an incredible physique, and he also wears a turban to the ring. This gives him a distinct look and one that separates him from others. Also, it is clear to see this new interpretation of the foreign villain has been toned down and is far less cartoony in 2017. Jinder’s facial expressions may still be a tad over the top, and cartoony, but aside from his turban, he does not have overly colourful attire or a giant Indian flag with him at all times.

This type of character also allows the WWE to play on some real life events and touch a nerve to generate instant hatred, which then only enhances the good guy’s image and makes the fans cheer for him that much more. During Jinder’s Punjabi celebration, he used America’s current political situation and playfully used it in his promo: “Randy Orton is just like all of you, he’s just like America. He’s on the decline, but I, I am on the rise”. Jinder touches on a little bit of reality and then proceeds to rave about his own greatness. It instantly drew loud boos from the fans, showing the effectiveness and merit this type of character still has in 2017.

While American fans do not have a problem when a superstar chooses to embrace his home country and culture (e.g. Rey Mysterio), they do have a problem if that superstar talks badly about America in front of them, and then proceeds to discuss the greatness of his own country. Jinder usually starts his promos in English, but then switches to Punjabi when he tells the fans he wants to talk to “his people”. Jinder not only insults fans when he talks badly about their country, but he also disrespects them by cutting them out of the picture when he speaks in a language they do not understand.

The Bret Hart Effect

In 1997, Bret Hart became the most polarizing figure in the WWE when he turned his back on the American fans but remained loyal to his Canadian fans. Bret became the most hated superstar in America but was the most beloved WWE superstar in Canada. It was a very unique and fun dynamic which WWE took full advantage of. Jinder Mahal’s rise to the top may see the WWE revisit this battle of the nations.

It is no secret that WWE’s recent push of JInder Mahal is a strategy to try and capitalize on its large fan base in India, and trying to get those 1.3 billion people to invest their money into the WWE product. WWE constantly refers to the 1.3 billion people of India during Jinder’s segments on Smackdown, and also in a video package on Smackdown, they showed Indian news channels breaking the news of Jinder Mahal becoming WWE champion.

Jinder’s Punjabi promos may make the American fans hate him, but they endear him to the Indian audience. He is not only speaking to the whole country in a language they can understand, but he is speaking in a very patriotic way and making his victory, India’s victory as well.

I also come from the India/Pakistani culture, and I know the fans there love superstars with great physiques. Jinder Mahal has arguably the best physique in the WWE, which will no doubt make him even more popular in his home country of India.

If the WWE’s India plan works and they are able to produce Smackdown’s in India, a potential Bret Hart Canadian/American dynamic may return to the WWE, only this time it will be India and America.

What’s old becomes new again

Many fans have complained about Jinder Mahal’s sudden ascension to the top of the WWE, whether it is because it has happened too quickly, or because it is simply a business move to try and capture the Indian audience. Fans (as they usually do) had something to complain about, however, one thing people cannot deny is that Jinder becoming the new WWE Champion has created a fresh superstar, and opened the doors to many new rivalries.

Having attended Smackdown Live in London, and having witnessed the fans react to Jinder live and in-person. I can attest to the fact that Jinder is very effective in his new role as the evil foreigner, and the “heel” heat he generated from the fans only made the fans cheer for Randy Orton even more. Jinder Mahal becoming the WWE champion has brought back the classic foreign villain to centre stage, and has made this once old character a brand new and exciting part of WWE television.