I’ve only read the first 50 pages or so of Just Violence: Torture and Human Rights in the Eyes of the Police, by Rachel Wahl (which is based on interviews with hundreds of Indian police officers), but already it’s looking like everything I’ve learned about the Indian policing and criminal justice sytem from Bollywood movies is 100% true. Here are a few of my favorite Hindi crime films if you’d like to get up to speed before I post my full review.
Ab Tak Chhappan (Fifty-six So Far, 2004) One of my favorite crime films from any country, and easily the best of this list. Nana Patekar (the Christopher Walken of India, if Christopher Walken were also Robert DeNiro) brings his unsettling screen presence to this flawless portrayal of Indian police detective Sadhu Agashe. Hero cop Sadhu has killed 56 mafioso in “encounters” (assassinations staged to look like self-defense killings) with the blessing of his superiors, who see extra-judicial murder as the only available means of distributing justice to the ruthless criminals who control the judiciary and local political structure through bribery. Complications ensue when Sadhu’s new superior officer aligns with one crime boss against another, and tries to prevent our hero from pursuing rough justice “honestly.” Supposedly based on real events (or at least on the real police culture in Mumbai during the period portrayed).
Khakee (The Brown Uniform, 2004) In a film loosely based on L.A. Confidential, two cops with radically different styles gradually realize they’ve been set up for failure by their superiors in their mission of transporting a notorious terrorist, who, if he arrives alive at his court date, can reveal the role of local politicians in ginning up some recent communal riots, as well as his own innocence. Starring Ajay Devgn (my Bollywood boyfriend), Aishwarya Rai, Akshay Kumar, and screen legend Amitabh Bachchan.
Maardani (Masculinity, 2014) One of my favorite romantic heroines, Rani Mukherji, delivers a riveting and physically credible performance as an aggressive policewoman on the trail of child sex traffickers. Instead of “encountering” the evil crime boss herself, Mukherji turns him over to the girls he has exploited to finish him off. Yay, feminism?
Omkara One of a series of Shakespeare adaptations by Indian director and composer Vishal Bhardwaj, this version of Othello portrays the title character, Omkara, as an enforcer for a local politician, Bhaisab, who spends part of the movie conducting business from the local jail. When his fortunes improve, Bhaisab passes over competing thug Langda in favor of Omkara for the prestigious position of Youth Director for the party, and backbiting tragedy ensues. (Omkara does not seem to be available in full online, but you may enjoy the best song from all of these movies here. (The hip necklace she’s wearing is the handkerchief, btw.)