Simmba and the men in khaki in Hindi films 

An interesting insight into the portrayal of cops in Hindi films as another cop centric film ‘Simmba’ is ready to hit the screens

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Biswadeep Ghosh

Hindi cinema has two kinds of cops. The common sight is of the cop portrayed by an actor the viewer is unlikely to recognize. Clad in khaki and carrying a gun, he trots into the scene of action much after the hero has shown the villain his real worth. All the cop needs to do is arrest the fellow who is probably lying on the ground after having been mercilessly thrashed by the macho dispenser of justice.

The stereotype is not everything though. There have been several notable occasions when the screenwriter has taken a big step forward to create author-backed cop-protagonists.

Sangram ‘Simmba’ Bhalerao in the Rohit Shetty eponymous directorial Simmba is the latest cop-hero in town. Simmba, which will take on the Shah Rukh Khan release Zero during the holiday season, will be a major test for Ranveer at the box-office.

Shetty has used all the tropes he is known for, fights, stunts, slapstick and verbose comedy included. The masterstroke is making ‘Simmba’ a reboot of the Singham franchise with a hot new star at the centre.

Many actors have been seen as cops, none as frequently as Jagdish Raj who created a Guinness World Record by playing the character in as many as 144 films. But Raj found few roles of real substance, and certainly none remotely comparable to Sanjeev Kumar’s Thakur Baldev Singh in Ramesh Sippy’s curry western Sholay (1975).

Like Bajirao Singham, the honest Maratha cop essayed by Ajay Devgan in Singham (2011) and Singham Returns (2014), Simmba is also from Shivgarh, a nondescript place in the Goa-Maharashtra border. He idolizes Singham, but grows up to become a corrupt cop who enjoys the fruits of illegally acquired money. That goes on until certain happenings impact him severely, making him change the course of his life. One mass-friendly introduction is the appearance of Devgn as the upright cop who had challenged the might of powerful villains in the Singham films.

The two Devgn films were huge hits. But there is little doubt that the most popular cop in recent years is Chulbul Pandey, a character Salman Khan played with fine comic timing in Dabangg (2010) and Dabangg 2 (2012), the two films of a franchise that will have a third film in 2020.

Chulbul wears a khaki uniform and deals with villains, no doubt, but it is his funny gait and quirky style of talking that keeps the viewer engaged. He is an endearing character who fights and sings and has very few cop-like characteristics. Of course, the viewer also gets to see the Salman stereotype. The shirt comes off. The rippling muscles are in full view. Understandable, since each such moment is a million tickets sold.

Many actors have been seen as cops, none as frequently as Jagdish Raj who created a Guinness World Record by playing the character in as many as 144 films. But Raj found few roles of real substance, and certainly none remotely comparable to Sanjeev Kumar’s Thakur Baldev Singh in Ramesh Sippy’s curry western Sholay (1975).

The Thakur's character, as a matter of fact, makes for an interesting case study. He is, for the most part, a well-to-do civilian, who has lost everybody except his daughter-in-law. His family members had been gunned down by the notorious dacoit Gabbar Singh and his men. Flashbacks show the Thakur as an honest cop who takes on Gabbar. One of the most eventful sequences is the one in which the dacoit, in a fit of frenzy, chops the cop’s arms off.

Also released in 1975, Yash Chopra’s Deewar had Shashi Kapoor in the role of Ravi Verma, a righteous cop who must walk down the path of confrontation against his brother (Amitabh Bachchan, playing a character with grey shades). Kapoor’s Ravi is a supporting character, but he is the one who utters one of the all-time popular lines from Hindi cinema: Mere paas ma hai.

Shakti (1983), another Ramesh Sippy film, had Bachchan playing a somewhat cynical man who chooses to work for a smuggler against the wishes of his father, a principled police officer named Ashwini Kumar played by the thespian Dilip Kumar. The son resents his father because the latter had refused to compromise and seek his release from a criminal when he was a boy. The film did not rock the box-office at the time of its release. It is now a cult classic much admired for its writing, direction and towering performances by Kumar and Bachchan.

Bollywood’s writers have scripted many stories about men in khaki, few as significant as Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer (1973) in which the Big B played an honest cop who takes on the murky underworld. Unknown to him, the underworld is led by the same man who had murdered his parents during his childhood days. Zanjeer proved to be a turning point for Hindi cinema, which experienced a shift towards action-oriented films that depicted the good’s triumph’s over social evils. Today, it is the best known for being the film that led to the birth of Bachchan’s avatar as the Angry Young Man.

The nuanced character of a realistic cop, which Bachchan could not play due to a packed schedule, was essayed by Om Puri in Govind Nihalani’s realistic drama Ardh Satya (1983). A gripping film, Ardh Satya is the unsettling story of a cop who fights a lonely and frustrating war against the strong forces of evil. Puri was brilliant, as was Sadashiv Amrapurkar as the antagonist.

Aamir Khan as ACP Ajay Singh Rathod in John Matthew Mathan’s Sarfarosh (1999) is a young police officer who is hot on the heels of a terrorist racket. The honours for acting were shared by a then-young Aamir and Naseeruddin Shah, who has a second identity buried beneath that of an accomplished singer. Sarfarosh was a significant departure for Aamir, who had been mostly seen in run-of-the-mill films until then.

Real people have inspired many Bollywood films. In Shimit Amin’s cop drama Ab Tak Chhappan (2004), Nana Patekar’s character Sadhu Agashe was modelled after encounter specialist Daya Nayak. The sequel Ab Tak Chhappan 2 (2015) directed by Aejaz Gulab was far less impressive, but few would question that the first film showed Patekar at his best.

Bollywood doesn’t take too many steps towards the unusual. But when it does, the result is interesting from time to time. Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday (2008) was another film in which the cop is as one of the two central characters. The story of the cop (Anupam Kher) pursuing a faceless man, who claims that he has planted bombs in Mumbai, led to a well-acted, engaging film.

Many filmmakers have shown an inclination for making cop stories. The audiences have given their stamp of approval to several of them, turning them into hits at the box-office. Regardless of ‘Simmba’’s fate, what is for sure that cop dramas will continue to get made until films do.

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Published: 27 Dec 2018, 9:00 PM