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.

Highly acclaimed gangster movies of Bollywood

In India, youngsters are crazy about three things – cricket, movies and crime. Though profession of movie and cricket is about luck, sportsmanship and glamour, crime is more than that. It takes brains, brawns, luck, money and guts to rule the world. Be it Hollywood or Bollywood, movie industry has glorified crime, gangsters, smugglers, bootleggers, bandits as robin hood, messiah and savior of the poor and a ruthless vendetta who sets his own rules. From Don Vito Corleone, Tony Montana to Manya Surve, Maya Dolas, Sultan Mirza and Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, audiences has seen various faces of crime lords. There is an old saying that ‘Behind every great fortune there is a crime’. Let’s catch a glimpse at the best gangster movies that were inspired by legends of real crime lords and mafias.

1] Once upon a time in Mumbai –

Once upon a time in Mumbai highlighted the 70's crime

Once upon a time in Mumbai highlighted the 70’s crime

This gangster movie is my favourite pick as the role of Sultan Mirza played by Ajay Devgan always sent goosebumps. Inspired by a yesteryears gangster who worked in docks to later emerge as the leading icon in crime world, this crime movie focuses on the rise and fall of Sultan Mirza. Labelled as criminal in the police records but hailed as Robinhood by the poor and needy, Sultan Mirza’s name is on the lips of every citizen. Sultan’s fall begins when he takes a protégé named ‘Shoaib’ under his wings and assigns him as the caretaker of his crime business. Here Sultan’s ideals clashes with Shoaib’s recklessness and what happens later is the fall of an aging don and rise of a reckless crime prince. Both the protagonists are inspired by real gangsters. Ajay Devgan scores high as the 70’s don who once the city feared. The climax of the movie is the turning point in the story where a single bullet brings end to the rule of Sultan who was once feared and loved by the masses.

2] Daagdi Chawl –

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Those who live in Byculla, ‘Daagdi Chawl’ is not just a residential area, but a den of a most feared crime lord. The 2015 Marathi motion picture is about scuffle between an ordinary man and the crime lord of ‘Daagdi Chawl’. A small scuffle with local goons pulls an ordinary mechanic in world of crime and how he crosses path with the enigma called ‘Daddy’ is worth seeing. There is a new movie slated for release in 2017 which will trace the journey of the gangster right from his early days as a goon to his rise as a politician. The movie is titled as ‘Daddy’ and the titular role is played by actor Arjun Rampal who has worked on his physique, mannerisms to get into the skin of the role.

3) Raees –

Shahrukh stole the hearts of audience in the role of Raees Alam

Shahrukh stole the hearts of audience in the role of Raees Alam

Loosely inspired by a life of an infamous bootlegger in Gujarat, ‘Raees’ is a gangster movie which features actor Shahrukh Khan as the dreaded bootlegger who clashes with the law through his illegal liquor business. Shahrukh’s role in Raees was larger than life, similar in lines of Godfather played by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. A thorn in the flesh of law, Raees Alam is locked in a deadly battle with manipulating politicians, rival gangsters and cops. By coincidence, the story of this movie was bit similar to Net Flix TV series – Narcos which was based on real narcotic mafia – Pablo Escobar who was shot down by Colombian Police in 1993.

4) Agneepath –

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Rumoured to be based on life of a dreaded gangster – Manya Surve, Agneepath is regarded as a cult movie in history of Indian cinema. The role of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan not only fetched Amitabh Bachchan a national award, but also took his career to great heights. Though it regarded as an underrated crime movie, nevertheless it is a thrilling story about a village boy who rises to become a gangster to avenge the death of his father. Some of the scenes from the movie are inspired by Brian De Palma’s movie – Scarface. How Vijay settles score with his arch rival Kaancha Cheena (played superbly by Danny Dengzopa) is best to be seen on the silver screen.

Vijay Chauhan became an iconic character in Indian cinema and the role was again played by Hrithik Roshan in the 2012 remake. The role of Mithun as the south Indian coconut seller added a comic touch to the otherwise intense movie.

5) Satya –

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The 1998 motion picture based on clash between mafia and Mumbai police changed the definition of crime thrillers in Indian cinema. Wrongly accused in prostitution case, an innocent young man ‘Satya’ befriends a local gangster ‘Bhiku Mhatre’ (played to perfection by Manoj Vajpayee) and soon they become a crime team against the law and rival gangsters. Calm minded Satya engineers plans to take down on all the rivals and law and becomes the most wanted public enemy of Mumbai. Among all the characters, Bhiku Mhatre steals the show with his one liners and the sweet presence of Urmila Matondkar gives an emotional touch to this dark crime drama. This is one of the best directorial works of Ramu. Ramu came up with new crime movie – Company featuring Ajay Devgan and Vivek Oberoi. Though Company was a brilliant gangster flick, it was nowhere closer to Satya.

6) Shootout at Wadala –

Shootout at Wadala was based on the first police encounter in 80's

Shootout at Wadala was based on the first police encounter in 80’s

Based on the first encounter registered in the file of Mumbai Police, Shootout at Wadala is story of 1980’s feared criminal – Manya Surve who became the first local goon to be shot down by Mumbai Cops in 1982. Wrongly framed guilty in a murder case, the honest Manohar Surve turns into a brutal gangster ‘Manya’ who dares to shake the empire of most dreaded kingpin of Mumbai. Similar to the plot of Hollywood movie – Public Enemies, Shootout at Wadala sees the rise and fall of Manya Surve. The 1990 movie ‘Agneepath’ is rumoured to be based on Manya Surve. Shootout at Lokhandwala was the first movie in ‘Shoot out series’ which was based on the dreaded gangster ‘Maya’ who was shot down by Mumbai Police in Swati building at Lokhandwala.

6) Parinda – Earlier titled as ‘Kabootarkhana’ Parinda changed the definition of movie making in history of Indian cinema with its gripping story line and changed the conventions of Bollywood drama with the disturbing climax where the lead protagonist is gunned down miserably by the antagonist. The 70’s and 80’s movie used to be formulaic based on pick pockets, robbery, love triangle and all the masala entertaining stuff the audiences loved to watch. Sadly, the directors of that era were never innovative in their approach.
The dynamics of storytelling changed with Parinda. After witnessing the gruesome murder of his friend, an honest man decides to take down on a crime empire to such an extent that he himself gets sucked in the world of crime. Parinda is said to be based on life of a real life gangster who was unknowingly dragged in world of crime. Parinda is counted as a milestone in history of Indian cinema and took director Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s career to great heights.

7) Rakhtcharitra – Based on life of Andhra’s famous personality – Paritala Ravi, Rakhtcharitra is a vengeance drama full of gruesome violent scenes. A dangerous game of politics and crime happens in this vengeance saga where the family of an ordinary man is wiped down by his enemies. How the ordinary man starts a vendetta of hatred against his enemies and rises as a politician is best to be seen in the movie – Rakhtcharitra directed by Ram Gopal Verma. The story is split in two parts. The sequel is continuation of the vengeance drama where Pratap Ravi the lead protagonist comes face to face with his most sworn enemy.

8) Dharmatma – Actor Feroz Khan’s ambitious directorial venture – Dharmatma was a rip off of Hollywood’s magnum opus gangster flick – The Godfather. Loosely inspired by life of a ‘Matka King’, Dharmatma is saga of an ageing gangster and his refusal to alliance with narcotic dealers costs his life. Feroz Khan stepped in the shoes of Al Pacino while Hema Malini played role of Afghan girl who gets accidentally killed in a bomb blast. All the sequences in this movie were heavily inspired by Godfather. This movie was a huge hit and later several filmmakers made unofficial remakes of Godfather which included Aatank hi aatank, Zulm ki Hukumat and Sarkar.

9) Sarkar – Rumoured to be based on life of a great political supremo, Sarkar is a dark, menacing movie which focuses on ups and downs in life of an ageing patriarch Subhash Nagre and his son Shankar Nagre. Shankar Nagre takes the reins of family business in his hand when Subhash Nagre is falsely accused in a political conspiracy and is mortally wounded by a hitman of one of his enemies. What follows is Shankar’s pursuit for vengeance against the enemies of Nagre family. Similar in lines of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Sarkar is one of the best works of Ram Gopal Verma. He later made the sequel ‘Sarkar Raj’ in 2008 where Shankar Nagre becomes a pawn in hands of cunning politicians. Sarkar 3 will be the continuation in the trilogy and is set for a 2017 release.

Apart from Dharmatma, Sarkar, Shootout movie Series, there are countless gangster movies based on life of real kingpins and smugglers. In 2017, Arjun Rampal will be seen as a local gangster in movie ‘Daddy’ while Shraddha Kapoor will portray the role of a mafia queen in new crime biopic – Haseena. No wonder, movies have always glorified crime and gangsters and continue to entertain viewers who have affinity for such crime stories.