Cast: Sandeep Bharadwaj, Sachiin J. Joshi, Usha Jadhav, Lisa Ray
Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Once upon a time director Ram Gopal Varma never allowed something as tiresomely one dimensional as his latest film’s narrative to get in the way of his storytelling. Two of his classics — easily ranked as among Bollywood’s best too — Satya and Company, redefined the gritty hard-hitting oeuvre that focused on the badlands of Mumbai, and gave us a good yarn that we still recall. In between, he also came up with Bhoot and Sarkar — or an occasional flash in the pan that kept the RGV banner aloft, and, of course, our hopes alive. But that was then.
Cut to 2016, and what we have is a half-baked saga; a half-hearted effort. After some disastrous duds (Department, The Attacks of 26/11, Rakta Charitra, Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag) that would make some hardcore cinema buffs stay miles away from his films, he is back with Veerappan — No Villain Like Him Ever Existed, a biopic that ostensibly sets out to explore the life of Indian bandit Veerappan, and the events leading to Operation Cocoon to capture and kill him. Yet despite its bracing anger, ambitious plot and flashes of visual panache, it remains several notches below any film that stakes a claim to be authentic. Or even a taut screenplay to engage viewers.
After watching its 125-minute runtime, one gets time to explore a larger-than-life figure that isn’t completely accurate. Understandably, some freedom was exercised while portraying the situation in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at that time, but the inaccuracies stem not so much from any want of information or political interference: it’s simply to showcase actor-producer Sachiin J. Joshi’s character — a master-strategist — walk away with all the accolades.
To be fair, Sandeep Bharadwaj does look like bandit gangster Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, according to the filmmaker was “the most dangerous man who ever lived”. We do get an insight into Veerappan’s childhood when he worked at a tea stall, and while serving tea to gangsters picked up their skills too that further led to his joining them, and eventually helped him have his own gang. We also get to know that after killing 184 people, including police officials and forest officers, as well as almost a thousand elephants, he foiled all attempts at arresting him by misleading Special Task Force (STF) personnel in their covert operations.
Many years later, as all efforts to nab him fail, a STF operation named Operation Cocoon also fails, and the local population continue to live in fear of the sandalwood and ivory smuggler. An STF chief (Sachiin J. Joshi) decides to use the widow (Lisa Ray) of a slain officer who befriends and rents out house to Muthulakshmi — the wife of Veerappan (Usha Jadhav).
The plot concerns a struggle for power over which the sandalwood smuggler holds sway in the face of constant fight for supremacy and power. Any attempts and any kind of help from any source leads to either Veerappan alienating himself or killing ruthlessly. The ensuing retaliation triggers an orgy of killings, invasions and score-settling while law enforcement officers are too powerless to intervene.
The problem with RGV’s version of narrating a tale of the Indian brigand is that Veerappan’s story being hardly more than 20 years old, there’s information available on him as newspaper reportage that’s just a click away. Beyond what we already know about him, is not even mentioned in the entire narrative. Therefore, we don’t really get to know his background, what all he went through, how he got married, et al. Instead what Varma concentrates on is merely the superficial aspects of the controversial dacoit who remained active for nearly 30 years in the scrublands.
What also is most jarring is the background score by John Stewart Eduri that takes you back to ’70s masala films when the viewers had to be forewarned about any impending disaster or triumph. Here, so deafeningly earsplitting is the score at times that one doesn’t even get to enjoy a few scenic delights that come as occasional treats.
Among the cast, Sandeep Bharadwaj as Veerappan tries hard to look menacing throughout, and never looks human ever. His demonising looks notwithstanding, he also fails to evoke any terror with his badly-written role. Lisa Ray is a complete miscast and doesn’t convey the right emotions even fleetingly. On the other hand, Usha Jadhav as Muthulakshmi is good, while Sachiin J. Joshi may have to produce several films to launch himself as an actor.
Indeed, the numerous, unflinchingly filmed scenes of several killings make this a visceral, if gruelling experience, especially when juxtaposed with vistas of the Indian deserts and mountain ranges. But overall it isn’t impactful. RGV… We are waiting for sequels to Satya. Or Company!