'Veerappan' review: Flashes of the old RGV peep out despite the loudness

Anna MM Vetticad

May,27 2016 13:04 09 IST

Ram Gopal Varma’s new Hindi film Veerappan would have been better served by the title Killing Veerappan that he gave to his Kannada film on the late forest bandit that was released earlier this year.

The name might suggest otherwise but Veerappan is not a biopic of the notorious sandalwood and ivory smuggler who eluded the police of two states for over two decades. It is, instead, a documentary-style portrait of Veerappan as seen through the eyes of the Special Task Force set up to capture him, while they work towards achieving their goal.

One of the most notorious criminals in recent Indian history, Veerappan’s life no doubt is rich fodder for a filmmaker. And R.D. Tailang’s script has all the ingredients that could make for a great film. That it is not is a result of three factors: the overly loud background music that overpowers everything else in the film, the casting of Sachiin Joshi as the policeman who led the operation to nab Veerappan and Lisa Ray playing the wife of a slain policeman.

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Sandeep Bhardwaj as Veerapan. Image from Facebook.

The decision to keep the score at a screeching level is inexplicable since the story itself does not scream. Besides, Sandeep Bharadwaj playing Veerappan does a very convincing job and does not for a moment raise the decibel levels of the film, although it might have been tempting to caricature a criminal who was famous for his massive handlebar moustache.

Bharadwaj does his version of a Kannada/Tamil accent in Veerappan’s Hindi, but he does not let that overshadow the rest of his performance. His styling as Veerappan too is very very impressive.

The music might still have been forgivable, but Joshi’s expressionlessness and Ray’s excessive expressions are too much to take. Joshi of course is the film’s producer (his wife Raina’s name appears in the credits though), so RGV most probably did not have a choice with him. But what accounts for the casting of Ray? Her limitations are further underlined by the fact that in many scenes she is placed opposite the very natural Usha Jadhav playing Veerappan’s wife Muthulakshmi.

The film’s deficiencies are most unfortunate because in its pluses we get a glimpse of the old Ramu that we all once knew and loved, the man who gave us pathbreaking gangster and crime flicks such as Shiva, Satya and Company.

For instance in Veerappan, it is interesting to see the subtle ways in which RGV plants seeds of doubt in viewers’ minds about the ‘truth’ as it is recounted by the police. The God complex of the lead policemen too is unbridled and not softened up for the viewers’ palate or in the interests of political correctness. The action is well-handled, completely not Singham-style, formulaic, over-the-top Bollywood but realistic and believable as it might have happened in real life (barring a hilarious overhead shot of Joshi on elevated ground scanning the surrounding area for Veerappan – the man is such a bad actor that he cannot even stand correctly).

That being said, the difficult terrain in which Veerappan operated is remarkably captured by Aniket Khandagale’s camera in a way that is intended to overwhelm us, to remind us of how challenging it would have been for the police.

In certain aspects of storytelling then, this is a film that cannot be ignored. It is however hard to get past the poor acting by Joshi and Ray and that overly loud background score. I kept imagining this film in my head with the same director, but with music at a lower volume, starring Adil Hussain or Kay Kay Menon and Tabu in the roles played by Joshi and Ray.

What excellent co-stars they could have made to the very talented Sandeep Bharadwaj. Too late for that of course.