Gangsters, dons, mob bosses: What makes Bollywood fall for such themes
For years, the underworld has been fascinating to Bollywood. With Arjun Rampal’s Daddy’s release, we ask some of the industry’s top talents about the love for gangsters, guns and mob bosses.Updated: Sep 07, 2017 15:48 IST
The underworld is a recurring theme in Bollywood. Screenwriters Salim-Javed made the gangster genre popular in the Hindi film industry through films like Deewar and Don. It was then the filmmakers realised the value and pull of such characters at the box office.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda and Mahesh Manjrekar’s Vaastav showed the real potential of gangster films. Later, Ram Gopal Varma established the underworld/gangster genre as one of the prominent ones in Bollywood. In fact, Satya and Company disrupted all the existing norms and theories around anti-heroes/villains. The camera in these films manoeuvred through dark alleys and even darker gangsters.
Now, Ashim Ahluwalia has placed his bets on Arjun Rampal for Daddy, a film on Mumbai don and the King of Dagdi Chawl, Arun Gawli. Once again, we are going to witness a ruthless mob boss who later turned into a politician and even got elected as an MLA from Mumbai’s Chinchpokli area.
But why are filmmakers so fascinated with these people? Kushan Nandy, the director of the most recent Hindi gangster film Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, reveals what goes inside a filmmaker’s head. He says, “These are the people who are on the wrong side. There is a thin line driven by people’s morality. What is right for A might not be right for B. They tread on that morally ambiguous line. These are the people with more colour.”
He continues, “Somewhere deep down they’re human. They are like you and me. They get scared, fall in love, like everything we do. These so-called powerful people become very vulnerable in different situation. That makes it really interesting.”
There’s a chance of appearing sympathetic towards these criminals though. Nandy elaborates, “Even in my film, a gruesome killer does silly things in love. Or two killers discuss about the rate of their crime and inflation. How basic is this!”
Isn’t showing gangsters as normal people a kind of acceptance? Nandy defends the idea, “In Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, we say that if you do wrong then the same will happen to you as well. But there is some good even in a criminal, so we try to explore that.”
S Hussain Zaidi, the author of bestsellers like Black Friday, Dongri To Dubai and Byculla To Bangkok, says the reality is usually far from what we see in films.
He blames the star system for such discrepancies, “A unique situation arises when a Bollywood filmmaker decides to make a film on underworld. They take stars and then try to not hurt their ego, so they end up moulding their characters as per the star’s wish. Eventually they end up glorifying the gangsters. Otherwise they’ll have to show a very cruel, manipulative character that these gangsters are in reality.”
Mainstream filmmakers mostly refrain from a realistic portrayal. Zaidi further says, “There is a dearth of original scripts. There are some genuine filmmakers who consult the experts for their subject, but some of them have stolen from my books. They don’t research properly for their films.”
Gangsters and mob bosses live a life of power and extra influence. They get beaten up by the system but only in the end. Till then, their ‘power trip’ intrigues the common people who haven’t met many of them in real life.
Pankaj Tripathi, Sultan of Gangs Of Wasseypur, goes deep into human psychology. He says, “See, crime is directly related to layered human behaviour. Most of us don’t know about the exact situation or the person. We read about a crime in the newspapers. Be it a gang war or a murder, there’s a build up to such things, and it’s very mysterious. People want to decipher this mystery.”
Tripathi dwells more on the mystery part. “When you’re writing a criminal’s character then you also try to see it from a different perspective. The psychology of such characters inspires the writers to come up with new twists and plots.”
This makes sense because sometimes many TV shows and films show the same gangster, but they still get takers as they focus on different aspects of the same person’s personality. Columbian drug-lord Pablo Escobar and Mumbai don Dawood Ibrahim are such characters that have been portrayed differently in different films. Similar is the case with the Italian mafia families in America and Indian gangsters like Chota Rajan and Abu Salem.
These characters are presented as the kings of their fate. Doesn’t glorification of law-breakers create a spot of doubt in the minds of the filmmakers? Tripathi says, “Sometimes films and media do glorify the criminals. We make heroes out of the gangsters. That’s why I try to keep my villainous characters very human, some actors and filmmakers forget it. Even in Gangs Of Wasseypur, Sultan sits on the ground in front of Ramadhir Singh that shows how the power structure works in real life.”
Then he arrives at an important conclusion that is a heavy impact of market forces on the development of criminal characters on-screen. He says, “After working for so many years, I get to understand that capturing the market is the prime motive behind making a film. Now, it’s up to us to see whether you can also fit in good content in it or not?”
Kushan Nandy, however, says there isn’t any set pattern. He says, “The kind of acceptance (for Babumoshai Bandookbaaz) I got was overwhelming, but I don’t think it’s a sure shot formula. It’s a popular genre because we have grown up watching films by Scorsese and other directors.”
It seems glorification is always a problem with the depiction of such characters, but filmmakers can minimise its impact on the audiences. But are filmmakers ready to see their characters in a separate light than just another product out there to win more claps and hence more money?
Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha