Are crime biopics overrated?

‘Baniye ka dimag aur miyan bhai ki daring’ – lines from movie Raees

The movie audiences were literally emotional when Shahrukh Khan is shot down in a police encounter in movie ‘Raees’. Raees was inspired by an infamous bootlegger in Gujarat who was shot down by cops in 90’s. For the poor, Raees is no less than Robinhood. Ironically in the police files, he is the most dreaded public enemy. Audience whistle, cheer and applaud on the dialogue delivery for the hero even though he is a law breaker.

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What we see in the movies is different from grit reality. After seeing crime biopics, people are inspired in a wrong way. They think it is easy to break law and turn into an outlaw or a hero who lives life on his sleeve. The destiny of a criminal is either life imprisonment or death through encounter or gang rivalry. Mario Puzo’s novel – The Godfather was a sensation in both literature and movies. It took Al Pacino’s career to great heights. Al Pacino again reprised role of a crime lord in Brian de Palma’s movie – Scarface where he played the role of Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant. Scarface is story of rise and fall of a gangster who ultimately seeks redemption by getting killed by rival gangsters. Movies like ‘Once upon a time in America’, ‘Goodfellas’ showed the dark side of crime and how the street kids rise on to become the happening gangsters of their time.

Brian De Palma's movie - Scarface was a critically acclaimed gangster flick

Brian De Palma’s movie – Scarface was a critically acclaimed gangster flick

Especially Bollywood glorified crime through masala flicks in 70’s which showed the lead heroes as pick pockets, kidnappers, thieves or dacoits. Doesn’t it make a bad influence on the young minds? Movies like ‘Deewar’, ‘Agneepath’ were based on life of real life criminals. There was a huge craze for Amitabh in 70’s and 80’s as he represented angry young man’s image. Actor Ajay Devgan reprised the role of a gangster from 70’s era whose empire comes crushing down when his protégé makes the business ugly with his reckless decisions. Here the ideals of a mentor and protégé clash. To rule Mumbai, either one of them must survive. The gripping climax changes the flow of story and the reckless protégé rises to top in world of crime. What fascinated me the most was the portrayal of Ajay Devgan as Sultan Mirza, the infamous don of 70’s Mumbai who struggle story as a helper in dockyards to becoming the kingpin of Mumbai is really intriguing. His fondness for a Bollywood actress highlighted the connections of movie world with crime. Crime biopics are reflection of grit truth happening in the crime world and the crime lords in the cinema are shown larger than life.

The 1987 movie - Naayakan was a cult classic showcasing Kamal Haasan as a rebel who rises to become a Godfather

The 1987 movie – Naayakan was a cult classic showcasing Kamal Haasan as a rebel who rises to become a Godfather

Director Mani Ratnam’s ambitious movie – Naayakan starring Kamal Haasan as Velu Naayakan was a cult classic in 80’s. Inspired by a true story of gangster in 70’s Mumbai, Naayakan is a heart breaking story of a kid whose father is murdered in broad day light by a corrupted cop. The little Velu kills the corrupt cop and flees to Mumbai and here begins the journey of Velu as the leader, benefactor for the poor but a dreaded gangster of his own league. But in this journey, Velu’s wife is brutally murdered by his rivals. Thus begins Velu’s vendetta against his rivals. The turning point in the movie is the court scene where Velu is shot down by his protégé whom he raised as his own son. The scene had shown the mass hysteria and the craze of public who hailed Velu as demi god.

Critics had compared this movie to Godfather. Though Godfather was a source of inspiration for several gangster flicks, it was a bit over rated. There are several other gangster flicks in Hollywood which were much better than Godfather in terms of storytelling.

Ram Gopal Verma’s Company was based on gang wars between two mafia bosses. Inspired by real life gang wars in Mumbai, Company is story of Chandu who joins Malik’s gang and they together come to make it big in world of crime. A bad stroke of destiny separates them and later begins the deadly gang war which claims the lives of several innocent people. This movie is one of the best movies directed by Ramu apart from Satya and Sarkar.

The 2010 Hollywood movie – Public Enemies was based on the infamous criminal John Dillinger. The titular role was played by the versatile Johnny Depp. The movie resembled closely to the 2013 crime thriller – Shootout at Wadala based on the first police encounter in 1980. In Public enemies the criminal ‘John Dillinger’ is shot down by one of his rivals while Manya Surve is shot down by Mumbai cops in broad daylight in 1982, marking the first recorded encounter of a dreaded criminal. The role of Manya Surve was played by John Abraham. No matter how glamorous, happening the life of a gangster may be, he has to die the death of a filthy dog either at the hands of law or rival gang.

Legend was based real life gangsters – Kray Brothers (twins) who created havoc through their violent actions. ‘Legend’ is based on their rise and fall. Even the 2013 movie – Shoot out at Wadala had a subplot similar to Legend where two brothers – Zubeir and Dilawar rise from the streets of Dongri to clash with Manya Surve, an emerging criminal. The characters – Zubeir and Dilawar were based on real life brothers who resided in Dongri.

‘Once upon a time in America’ is a cult classic in crime genre. Directed by Sergio Leone, the movie featured Robert De Niro as an ageing Don who witnesses the changes in the city and the story moves in flashback where a group of four boys decide to make it big in world of crime. Born on the streets of New York, the young lads grow up to gain their glory as gangsters. This movie is one of my best pick in list of top 10 crime movies. Even Ridley Scott’s movie – American Gangster is a must watch movie.

‘Behind every great fortune, there is a crime’ – Quote

Dharmatma, Vaastav, Gangs of Wasseypur, Zulm ki Hukumat and Aatank Hi Aatank are some of the entertaining gangster movies worth watching. The most noteworthy movie in 90’s was ‘Shiva’ introducing South Star Nagarjun in Bollywood.

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Inspired by corruption in college and cruel ragging, Shiva is rise of a common man into an inspiring leader who dares to protest against the criminal activities happening in campus. The use of cycle chain and soda bottle in violent fights became a cult among the youngsters of 90’s.

Movies should be seen as source of entertainment, not as a means of learning. Unfortunately young minds get attracted to the bad things shown in the movies. Gangster biopics should be made, but not glorified. No wonder, there will be more gangster flicks made in future.

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One thought on “Are crime biopics overrated?

  1. A very engaging topic again, Prashant and I admire again the kind of research that has went into this. Also, it was very interesting to read about the lesser known gangster classics like ‘Naayakan’ and the recent ones like ‘Public Enemies’ and ‘Legend’. These are all fine gangster films and I liked it that you referenced how they also mirrored real-life and famous gangster stories as well.

    While gangster films can represent a nihilistic and illegitimate lifestyle, they are also thrilling because of their portrayal of crime and their objective study of the central character who is far from being a hero and yet is worth rooting for. Of all these films, ‘Goodfellas’ depicted the world of crime most realistically. It showed a young man’s rise in the ranks inside the Mob- from a young boy carrying out some menial tasks and small favors for the gang to a full-fledged wiseguy who also stumbles through a failed marriage, troublesome company of violent friends and even certain death or arrest at times. It makes for one hell of a cinematic trip and comes fully recommended by me.

    Amazing work, Prashant.

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