Mangal Singh was a dreaded dacoit in the Chambal ravines before he surrendered to the police. He was jailed during his trial, but then returned to his village after his sentence was pardoned to settle down to a life of farming and even serve as the ‘pradhan’ (headman). He even went on to be the source of information for director Krishna Mishra whose film, Behaad — The Ravines, revolves around the massacre at Maiaasta village by Kusuma Nian and her dacoit gang.
“As an eight-year- old, Mangal had seen 15 people butchered, his mother paraded naked and his village set on fire. Four years later, he fled to the forest to join the Sriram Lalaram gang of dacoits. For the next 10 years, he waged terror through extortion and abduction, murder and mayhem, before he surrendered,” says Mishra.
The director couldn’t incorporate much of Mangal’s story into his film as he had already locked his script based on anecdotes heard from other dacoits like Nirbhay Singh Gujjar, Maan Singh and lady dacoit Kusama, who has 150 cases against her and a death sentence. “But I sought Mangal’s help in recreating the village. He offered to build it for me,” reminisces Mishra.
It took Mangal around four months to design the set and it cost Mishra Rs 7 lakh. “Had I hired an established art director, it would have cost me Rs 20 lakh, but Mangal, being from the village, was not just familiar with the layout but also helped us get cheaper labour,” says the director, adding that when a farmer refused to harvest his crop of mustard so they could build the set on the land, holding out for money, Mangal got his cronies to do the job at night. “He then threatened to beat and kill the guy before fleeing to the jungles. With the help of the local inspector and the Border Security Force, who provided us with security, we were able to resolve the issue. When the village was set on fire, Mangal had tears in his eyes as he recalled the real ‘kaand’ (massacre)”
Mishra remembers Mangal as a hot-headed man but committed to a task. He ended up with the short role of a doctor in his film. He says, “He had just four scenes and a few lines that caused him a lot of stress. But he got a chance to be an actor and an art director. Another dacoit, Maan Singh, also acts in my film, that also features theatre actors Vikas Srivastav and Sunil Sawara.”