Will Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar's Sonchiriya revive forgotten Bollywood genre of dacoit films?

Abhishek Srivastava

Feb,03 2018 09:55:53 IST

The unkempt scruffy bearded appearance coupled with red tilak on the forehead, a 303 resting on arms and cartridges adorning the Khaki attire will be actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s look in his upcoming film Sonchiriya.

Guess his three week stay in the ravines, before the shoot, has worked magic in acing the look. The description defines the look of dreaded dacoits who once roamed the Chambal ravines and their very name spelled terror in the '70s and the '80s.

Sushant Singh Rajput in a still from Sonchiriya. Twitter@ItsSSR

Sushant Singh Rajput in a still from Sonchiriya. Twitter@ItsSSR

Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya, which will feature Sushant in the role of a dreaded dacoit, will also be a tryst with the past. It would be after a gap of six years when Bollywood will step forward again to narrate the fictional story of a dacoit rooted in the Chambal of the '70s. The film becomes significant not for Sushant’s transformation but for a wholly another reason. Sonchiriya also brings back a genre of film that have always been admired but somewhere got lost and deviated when Manmohan Singh unleashed his own ‘Perestroika and Glasnost’ in the form of liberalization in the early 90s.

It is peculiar to know that Bollywood’s previous rendezvous with the life of a dacoit was six years ago when Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar in 2012 hit theatres after a long wait. It might come as a surprise to many that the film which went on to garner both the Filmfare and the National Award spent sizeable years cooling its heels in cans on account of no buyers before UTV Motion Pictures rescued it. The story of an athlete-turned-dreaded Chambal dacoit was arresting from the word go and audiences reciprocated their love by flocking to theatres.

One reason which could also be attributed for Bollywood distancing itself from such stories could be the disappearance of dacoits themselves from the ravines. When their terror peaked in the '70s and the '80s, the government had no option save curbing their activities. With the surrender of dreaded dacoits like Mohar Singh, Malkhan Singh and Phoolan Devi, the ravines were not the same again. Consequently, news of their activities too took a hit in terms of reportage giving no fodder to writers. By the mid '90s, the bloody history of Chambal had become a footnote in the annals of modern Indian history. For Bollywood, with the emergence of a new world order, such stories were relegated to the background and entered villains who looked sophisticated with their impeccable clothing style.

The opening of the country or the liberalization unleashed by the then-government also saw the demise of this beloved genre. It is astonishing to know that the last great film that hit silver screens was way back in 1994 when Shekhar Kapur, with his film on Phoolan Devi, turned around the way with which films were viewed. The uncompromising attitude in its making and the undiluted portrayal of the stark reality of lives in ravines became the benchmark of films to come. Bandit Queen, based on author Mala Sen’s acclaimed book, paved a way and defined a grammar sheet for future films.

In the '60s, '70s and '80s, this was one genre that guaranteed and spelled sure shot success. While the '60s was defined by Pran’s unforgettable performance as Raka in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Bahti Hai, the following year it was the turn of tragedy king Dilip Kumar to redefine the genre once again with his stunning portrayal of Gunga in the evergreen Gunga Jumna. No one had a clue that a gun-totting Dilip Kumar would be as effective as a jilted lover.

With the advent of filmmakers like Raj Khosla and Sultan Ahmad, the dacoit genre truly garnered respect and standing. Films like Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Kuchhe Dhaage brought forward stories of dacoits that were rooted in the rural India and gave a sense to Indians that they were familiar with the milieu. The legacy of Raj Khosla was taken forward by Sultan Ahmad. Though his repertoire is made of just six films, most of them told saga of dacoits. It was Sultan Ahmad who first saw Amitabh Bachchan as a dacoit in Ganga Ki Saugandh.

With the mega success of Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay, the wheel seemed to complete its circle. The story of two goons hired by a retired and handicapped police officer to catch a dacoit responsible for his family’s death still remains the best this country has ever seen. It is also interesting to note that the superstars form the '60s and the '70s at least had one dacoit role that propelled them to dizzy stardom.

It was only in the '80s that the response towards films that had dacoits as the backdrop become delicate. It was also the era when parallel films had pulled people towards a different sort of reality and the VHS impact helped them expose an environment which was in tune with the changing world. The number of dacoit films drastically fell in the '80s. The old order was making way for the new order and new kids on the block were interested in telling stories that they themselves related to.

After the release of Bandit Queen, the number of such films that hit theatres can be counted on fingertips. In the new millennium, it was Rajkumar Santoshi who thought of putting life back into dacoits after the '90s was captured entirely by urban crooks in suave clothing. He brought back the element through China Gate and Lajja.

Abhishek Chaubey and Ronnie Screwvala, through Son Chiriya, have only made a feeble attempt to revive a genre which can only be considered as moribund. Success in Bollywood spawns many things, one only hopes Sushant and Bhumi Pednekar are able to pump life into the otherwise silent celluloid ravines.

Updated Date: Feb 03, 2018 09:55 AM