Ruthless thakurs and underworld gangsters can go take a walk. The coal mafia of the east is the villain of the moment in Bollywood, with many films being made around the subject.
More than 30 years after Yash Chopra made the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer, Kaala Patthar, around coal trafficking in Dhanbad, the coal belt seems to be back in fashion. While Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) I and II opened doors to an all-new cinematic canvas, Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday earlier this year saw coal bandits Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor aka Bikram and Bala fight it out in the dark-and-dusty mines of Jharkhand.
And now, with Ashu Trikha’s recently-released Koyelaanchal, it looks like the exploration has gone deeper.
“Coal mining is one of the oldest occupations in our country, but not many new filmmakers have explored this zone so far. I thought it was about time I told this story on the local issues, the environmental hazards that people living in the colliery belt face. Besides, it was a fresh new terrain in terms of the look and feel,” says Trikha.
Zeishan Quadri, who co-wrote and acted in GoW, finds the larger-than-life ways of the coal mafia “amazing”. “People probably read one-off incidents about coal mafia, but no one really knows the actual life they lead ... so there’s a lot of curiosity around them, and you can weave stories around their lives,” says Quadri, adding, “I am now conceptualising a film around coal king Suresh Singh, who was shot dead a couple of years ago.”
Actor-director Tigmanshu Dhulia says that playing a coal don in GoW was one of his best experiences. “Underworld dons and terrorists are done to death ... so coal mafia as a baddie was a new concept in a new world. The life and the politics that revolves around their lives is completely different from any other subject,” says Dhulia.
Koyelaanchal unveils itself through Saryu Bhan Singh, an ex-owner turned mafioso of the region, who through his sheer brutality and defiance of the laws of the land, forces the people and the authorities to acknowledge him as their ‘maalik’.