Inspired by Chambal’s outlaws: Films that have defined the dacoit for us

The dakus of Chambal have inspired many Bollywood films, mainly in the 1960s and 70s . Here are some of them.
Sanjeev Kumar and Amjad Khan in Sholay.
Sanjeev Kumar and Amjad Khan in Sholay.
Updated on Nov 26, 2017 12:10 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

Once upon a time, the Chambal ravines were notorious for its gangs of armed dacoits. The bandits of Chambal – the river flows through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and the ravines are spread across the three states - were as feared as they were well known. Tales of their exploits circulated not just in the region in which they operated, but spread as far as Mumbai, where they inspired many Bollywood daku films, mainly in the 1960s and 70s . Who doesn’t remember Sholay and Ramgarh’s Gabbar Singh. It’s been 10 years since the last big dacoit police encounter - that of Rambabu Gadariya in 2007, which resulted in the death of this dreaded outlaw. Many dacoits have also surrendered to the police, and after serving prison time, now lead quiet lives as farmer or village elders. These reformed dacoits may scoff at Bollywood’s representation of them - and the police may say that according to the Indian Penal Code any robbery committed by more than five people is robbery - but in popular psyche, it is this image of a dacoit that survives - living in jungles, armed with rifles and riding horses. Doesn’t matter if the former dacoits insist that they travelled on foot.

A look at a few films that have defined the dacoit for us:

A still from Sholay.
A still from Sholay.

1. Sholay: The 1975 film starring Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri, and of course Amjad Khan as the dacoit Gabbar Singh is a screen legend. Gabbar Singh was not only feared in the village of Ramgarh - the village which he terrorises in the film - but continues to send a chill down the spine of movie buffs down the years.

2. Mera Gaon Mera Desh: Dharmendra plays Ajit, a reformed thief who stands up against the dacoit Jabbar Singh (Vinod Khanna), in this 1971 film. The film also starred Asha Parekh as Dharmendra’s love interest.

A still from the film Gunga Jumna
A still from the film Gunga Jumna

3. Gunga Jumna: Starring Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala and Nasir Khan, this is the story of two brothers - Gunga played by Dilip Kumar and Jumna played by Nasir Khan. While Gunga is hot-headed , Jumna is calmer. After Jumna becomes a police officer, he has to confront Gunga, who has become the leader of a dacoit gang. The film released in 1961.

4. Daku Hasina: A 1987 film with Zeenat Aman and Rakesh Roshan in lead roles. Roopa Saxena (Zeenat Aman) becomes a dacoit to avenge the killing of her parents. Rajnikanth had a special appearance in the film.

5. Mujhe Jeene Do: This 1963 film was shot in the Chambal area and had a different perspective on the life of a dacoit. Starring Sunil Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Rajendranath and Mumtaz, the film looked at how love changed the dacoit Thakur Jernail Singh.

Seema Biswas in Bandit Queen.
Seema Biswas in Bandit Queen.

6. Bandit Queen: The 1994 biographical film was based on the life of Phoolan Devi and starred Seema Biswas in the title role. It was directed by Shekhar Kapur.

7. Dacait: Directed by Rahul Rawail and released in 1987, the film starred Sunny Deol, Meenakshi Sheshadri, Rakhee and Raza Murad. Based in the Chambal area, the story revolved around the life of a man who turns into a dacoit after being oppressed by the zamindars of the area.

9. Patthar Aur Payal: The 1974 film starring Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna and Hema Malini is the story of two brothers who become dacoits after their parents are hanged, when someone gives a false statement against them in court.

Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar
Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar

10. Paan Singh Tomar: Based on the life of soldier and athlete-turned dacoit, Paan Singh Tomar, this critically acclaimed 2012 biopic, had Irrfan Khan in the role of the bandit who was finally killed in a police encounter in 1981.

Special mention: Mother India: No this is not really a dacoit film. But Birju, Sunil Dutt’s character, does become a bandit in this 1957 mega hit, unable to bear the oppression heaped on his family by the rich moneylender Sukhilal.

A still from Mother India.
A still from Mother India.

    Poulomi Banerjee is assistant editor at Hindustan Times.A journalist with over a decade’s experience, Poulomi has reported on varied subject, but human rights and gender issues are her preferred areas of work

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