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Publication Date : 01-09-2013
There is an ongoing fascination with gangster movies in Indian cinema
There is an ongoing fascination with gangster movies in Indian cinema. If you look back at the past few decades of Indian movies, many of the biggest hits have revolved around the theme of criminal gangs.
What’s more, almost every major star of recent times in Indian cinema would count playing a gang-related character as one of their biggest successes, whether it is Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar (1975), Kamal Hassan in Nayagan (1987), Rajnikanth in Baasha (1995), Ajay Devgan in Company (2002) or Vijay in Pokkiri (2007).
It is no coincidence that storylines related to street crime and gangsters started becoming more prominent in Indian cinema sometime in the early 1970s, a period of increased industrialisation in India, which saw mass migrations of people from rural areas to the cities.
This also marked a time of economic, political and social crises in India, where the rise of poverty and corruption caused the public to lose faith in the government and the police force.
And so, alongside the growth of gangs, came the belief that justice was far more easily sought outside of the legal system, particularly among the downtrodden and disenfranchised members of society. It is this sentiment that is most often reflected, even today, in Indian gangster movies.
Yes, Hindi and Tamil movies (as well as those in other regional languages) do have a tendency to idolise and glamourise portrayals of gangsters, but the plots typically also feature a strong sense of morality and justice.
There is usually a clear distinction made between the “noble” gangster – who turns to a life of crime out of necessity but retains a strong moral code – and the “villainous” gangster, who is usually the personification of evil. Moreover, most big-name actors usually only take on the role of the “good” gangster, a character that is likely to go down better with the audience.
From the late 1990s onwards, however, Indian movies have seen a change in the way gangsterism is portrayed, particularly with the influence of Hollywood and the rise of filmmakers who are more willing to examine complex themes in their works. Movies like Company, Vaastav (1999) and Shootout At Lokhandwala (2007) not only portrayed the gritty realities of the underworld, but are even loosely based on Mumbai’s actual criminal gangs and dons.
Since the early 2000s there has also been an increased willingness by big stars to tackle out-and-out negative roles, thereby showing the realities of the gangster life, such as Madhavan in Tamil film Ayutha Ezhuthu (2004) and Abhishek Bachchan in its Hindi remake Yuva, or Saif Ali Khan in Omkara (2006).
Alongside these more realisitic portrayals, however, the “masala” gangster film continues to thrive, and influences from global popular culture such as Hollywood films and hip-hop are clearly seen.
The violence portrayed onscreen increasingly stylised, and life as a gangster often comes with a heavy dose of cool, not to mention the requisite cash, booze and women – such as Don (2006) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Mankatha (2011) with Ajith Kumar.
If this year’s Indian movie releases are any indication, there is still no shortage of stories revolving around gangsters. In Hindi, we’ve thus far seen D-Day, based on former Mumbai don Dawood Ibrahim, Once Upon A Time in Mumbai Dobara (a sequel) and Shootout At Wadala, based on another 1970s Mumbai gangster. In Tamil, Thalaivaa – which stars Vijay as the son of a gangster – is currently doing well in cinemas.