Crime drama and the rise of the gangster in Hindi cinema
[dropcap]“I[/dropcap]’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” said the infamous Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972). One of the most influential gangster films in world cinema, The Godfather has a cult following and has served as inspiration for many crime dramas. Hindi cinema too is not far behind with an unquestionable affinity to this gritty genre. Drawing references from real life incidents, notorious characters and Mumbai’s murky underworld, each decade of Bollywood has seen the rise of the gangster with several films set against the hidden criminal underbelly. Whether it is the spine-chilling violence, realistic drama or mere thrill to peek into the world of crime that attracts the common man, it has led to gangster films becoming increasingly popular in Hindi cinema.
The trend of crime dramas driven by gangsters as focal characters has been prevalent in our film industry since times immemorial. A slew of gangster films have made a mark in the past decade or two and the fascination with this genre continues to grow. As we await the release of one such drama, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai Dobara, we take a look at some of the most influential and memorable crime and gangster films in Hindi cinema.
Parinda: This award-winning crime drama made in 1989 introduced us to the dark and daunting Mumbai underworld much before gangster films became the norm of the day. The film marked Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s entry into mainstream Bollywood and he excelled in it. Parinda merges the rawness of the criminal world with the emotional struggle of the protagonists. It was violent, vivid and riveting. Every character is finely etched and the actors including Nana Patekar, Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor excel with their performances. The film had a subtle approach to the underworld in comparison to the loud crime dramas of today.
Agneepath: A box office failure turned cult classic is what defines the iconic Agneepath. The story is etched with spiteful revenge and raw emotion as a young boy who wants to avenge his father’s death, grows up to become an underworld don. The film was filled with violent moments and bloodshed, mounting tension and a shocking climax that shakes you till date. Amitabh Bachchan as the dynamic Vijay Deenanath Chauhan, the classy ease with which he delivers the most impactful dialogs and a talented supporting cast including Mithun Chakraborty and Danny Denzongpa who plays the antagonist, is what makes Agneepath an iconic gangster film. The 2012 remake of the film elicited a mixed response but the original film has a legacy which cannot diminish easily.
Satya: Ram Gopal Varma revived the genre of gangster films with this blockbuster film. The taut and captivating script of the film was penned by none other than Anurag Kashyap, giving viewers a look into Mumbai’s criminal underworld like never before. The film also gave the Hindi film industry a powerhouse performer in the form of Manoj Bajpai who essayed the role of the underworld don Bhiku Mhatre and did complete justice to it. The hard-hitting plot, realistic treatment and the intensity with which the sinister underworld has been portrayed makes Satya one of the most memorable gangster dramas that went on to inspire several other films in the genre. With Satya 2 in the offing, will Ram Gopal Varma manage to win us over once again?
Vaastav: Vaastav marked the directorial debut of Mahesh Manjrekar who chronicles the harsh reality of life in Mumbai through this crime drama. The fast paced saga of how an innocent boy turns into a vicious gangster provides a startling view into the mafia world. Vaastav is said to be a biopic based on Chota Rajan. The film does have many loopholes with its moments of melodrama but what adds this movie to the list of memorable gangster flicks is Sanjay Dutt’s realistic transformation from an easy going chawl boy to a shrewd misguided gangster. He solely carries the film on his shoulders.
Company: Another crime thriller by Ram Gopal Varma, Company was loosely based around Dawood Ibrahim’s ‘D company’. Like its predecessor, Satya, Company too exposes the reign of gangsters in Mumbai albeit in a more dauntless manner. The protagonists in the film are said to draw references from real life dons with Ajay Devgn’s character said to be inspired by Dawood Ibrahim and Vivek Oberoi’s by Chota Rajan. Noteworthy are the performances by a debutant Vivek Oberoi, one of the best roles of his career, south superstar Mohanlal who ventured into Hindi cinema with this film and Ajay Devgn who fits his role to perfection. The violence is treated with sophistication while the dialogs hit you like bullets making Company an intriguing gangster film.
Maqbool: Mumbai’s underworld meets Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool. What follows is the nightmarish world of crime given a twist by Bhardwaj, as he stays away from the clichés. A visual treat, Maqbool blends together dark nuances of crime with a generous helping of satire. The film revolves around Maqbool played by Irrfan Khan who is the right hand man of Abbaji (Pankaj Kapoor) but eventually murders him and takes over as the underworld king. The film is replete with astounding actors – Irrfan Khan, Pankaj Kapoor, Tabu and the likes, each a master at their craft and leading them is Bhardwaj who pulls this outstanding crime drama together. Though a niche film, Maqbool is definitely a class apart.
Sarkar: Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar draws several similarities to The Godfather but is done in Varma’s own characteristic style. He interweaves the socio-political complexities with power play and arising familial conflict. No one other than Amitabh Bachchan could have played the dynamic Sarkar who emotes effortlessly in just a few words, with the conviction of the leader that he portrays. Abhishek Bachchan and Kay Kay as the sons on opposite sides of this power game deliver a fantastic deal but it’s the narrative that captivates you. It refrains from going the loud way and the drama is dealt with subtly, a characteristic that sets it apart from the other films in the genre. The sequel, Sarkaar Raj, however failed to recreate the impact of this high drama.
Shootout at Lokhandwala: This film was based on real-life incidents that took place in Mumbai in 1991 – a police encounter involving gangster Maya Dolas. Shootout at Lokhandwala takes you into various unknown layers of this incident and the criminal world of the 90’s where a gangster rose but was eventually eliminated by the cops. The film boasts of an ensemble cast with Sanjay Dutt playing a top cop and Vivek Oberoi playing Maya Dolas, both the actors delivering outstanding performances. Drawing inspiration from a real life incident and recreating it is not an easy chore but director Apurva Lakhia does it with aplomb. The action is impactful and it is the attention to detail that makes this film a good watch. The second installment in the shootout series – Shootout at Wadala – drew some praise from the critics and was an entertaining fare.
Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai: A period drama created with precision, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai (OUATIM) transports you to the ‘70s era with its recreation of the style, mannerism and attitude of that decade. Said to be loosely inspired by the lives of Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim, the film is devoid of unnecessary violence and bloodshed, focusing mainly on the mentor-protege relationship between underworld’s kingpins and all that ensues around it. Rajat Arora’s crisp script and dialogs grip you. The casting is an added bonus; Ajay Devgn playing a criminal with his own principles or Emraan Hashmi as an ambitious and rising underworld don are fantastic. Even Kangna Ranaut manages to surprise with the perfect portrayal of a yesteryear Bollywood actress. The success of the first film has led to the making of a sequel, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobara, which is all set for release. It is only a matter of time to see if the sequel can recreate the magic of the first film or better still, take it forward.
Gangs of Wasseypur: Anurag Kashyap’s masterpiece (it is one film divided into two parts), inspired by the works of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, gives you an insight into the gang wars that take place in the hinterlands of the country. The films revolve around a family feud that engulfs three generations that are constantly at war; murder and bloodshed being their staple. What differentiates the Wasseypur series from other gangster dramas is the rugged yet pragmatic approach with which it’s made. The revenge saga is infused with dark humor, unforgettable characters (from Sardar Khan & Nagma Khatoon to Perpendicular & Definite), quirky music and performances that are brilliant to say the least. While part one established the background of the feud and revolves around the patriarchs, the second film plays on the rise of the underdog, Faizal Khan enacted splendidly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Every character is treated with sheer brilliance and even the women shine strong in this violent drama. The credit of it all goes to the maverick director who delivers a cinematic treat with this series which are a must watch.