Whether it is the depiction of a real-life mobster or a fictional group of thugs in a village, the underworld never loses its charm. Films revolving around this theme have consistently found a place in the hearts of critics and fans alike. And this theme or its popularity is not just limited to one film industry alone. While the characters and the stories change, the core subject of a gangster and his/her life remains constant. But how intense is the overlap of other elements in such films produced by Bollywood and Kollywood? Here is a closer look.
The inspiration for gangster films in Bollywood has almost always been a real-life criminal- Abu Salem, Haji Mastan or Haseena Parkar to name a few. Even the exceptions like Gangs of Wasseypur(2012) and Awaarapan(2007) do not completely stray from reality. If not centered on one criminal per se, these films tend to revolve around an entire mafia ruling a certain part of the country. Besides, there is no denying the fact that Dawood Ibrahim is an all-time favorite inspiration for Bollywood gangster-films. From the D-company series that started in the 90s (Satya, Company and D) to the Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai series or even Shootout at Lokhandwala and its sequel, there are endless examples that highlight Bollywood’s obsession with Dawood and his journey!
Tamil Cinema on the other hand, tends to keep the stories fictional. The gangsters of Kollywood may reflect realistic traits but there have been comparatively fewer films that claim to be biographical accounts of real-world gangsters.
For example, GANGSTER(Hindi, 2006) vis-à-vis KABALI (Tamil, 2016).
The two films are a decade apart but equally charming in terms of the plot, the characters and the cast. Both were extremely successful at the box office and received critical acclaim and awards in equal measure. Also, both made us sympathize with a criminal, the anti-hero: Daya Shankar (Shiney Ahuja) and Kabali (Rajnikanth) respectively.
But Gangster was loosely inspired by the life of mobster/terrorist Abu Salem and his former romantic interest. On the other hand, Kabali was an intense crime-drama revolving around a fictional don named Kabaleeswaran alias Kabali.
It is absolutely obvious that Bollywood loves to base all its gangster films in Mumbai! The setting could be of the present or of a past era but Mumbai is at the heart of these films. There may be a few plot angles and even entire films that focus on the underworld at an international level but it’s very rare. Kollywood, however, maintains variety in the locations. From Kuala Lumpur in Kabali to the slums of Chennai in Pudhupettai, the location of Tamil gangster-films keeps changing.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI (Hindi, 2010) vis-à-vis PUDHUPETTAI (Tamil, 2006)
Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai was loosely based on the lives of underworld dons Haji Mastan (Ajay Devgn) and Dawood Ibrahim (Emraan Hashmi). The movie as well as its 2013 sequel were totally based in Mumbai, its history and the dons’ empire.
Pudhupettai, on the other hand, focused on the journey of Kokki Kumar (Dhanush) and his emergence as a feared gangster. The movie was set in the slums of Pudhupettai in Chennai.
The plot in gangster films of both Bollywood and Kollywood revolves around one or more of the following concepts:
- A revenge story
- Gang wars
- The journey of the protagonist/anti-hero
- The love story/tragic end of the gangster
- The transformation of the gangster from bad to good or vice-versa
For example, RAEES(Hindi, 2017) vis-à-vis VATTARAM (Tamil, 2006) vis-à-vis GANGS OF WASSEYPUR(Hindi, 2012).
Raees was loosely based on the life of criminal Abdul Latif’s life (again a real-life inspiration!). Set in Gujarat and Mumbai (note: Bollywood just can’t exclude Mumbai from gangster films!), the film followed the journey of the gangster between the years 1960s and the 1980s. It covers how Raees (Shahrukh Khan) grew up to be the good-natured criminal, the way he overtook his rival/mentor, how he fell in love, the way he helped his people and how he went on to run for the elections before the unexpected climax.
Vattaram, on the other hand, narrated the story of Burma (Arya), son of a driver in a gangster’s house. Burma grows up as a gun dealer waiting to avenge his father’s death. The way he is able to turn the tables for the powerful gangster and take over his position in the underworld forms the crux of the story.
When it comes to Gangs of Wasseypur, it is perhaps one of the rare gangster films that present a different perspective. Instead of one criminal, the story gives equal importance to the family members of those working as the coal mafia of Dhanbad. Considering the realistic portrayal of the true events that it’s based on, the film and its sequel left a hard-hitting impact on the audience.
The Directors and the Actors
It can be rightly said that Rajnikanth set the trend of gangster-films in Kollywood with the 1980 film Billa. Even though it was a remake of Bollywood’s Don, the film laid the foundation for what would become the pet genre for Tamil Cinema. Since then, an excellent mix of directors and actors have worked towards producing the finest gangster films: Selvaraghavan, Nana Patekar, Dhanush, Huma Qureshi, Radhika Apte, Saran, Napolean and Arya among others.
In case of Bollywood, crime drama driven by gangsters have remained popular since times immemorial. The trend has attracted some of the finest actors and directors of the industry: Ram Gopal Varma, Anurag Basu, Milan Luthria, Anurag Kashyap, Amitabh Bachchan, Randeep Hooda, Kangana Ranaut, Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui among many others.
For example, NAYAKAN (Tamil, 1987) vis-à-vis KAALA (Tamil, yet to release) vis-à-vis SHOOTOUT AT WADALA (Hindi, 2013)
Nayakan, starring Kamal Haasan in the lead was loosely based on the underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar. The film was directed by Mani Ratnam. On the other hand, the upcoming Kaala, starring Rajnikanth is another gangster story by Pa. Ranjith who has been constantly exploring the genre with strong new ideas. Shootout at Wadala was a multi-starrer film by Sanjay Gupta, released as a prequel to his 2007 hit Shootout at Lokhandwala.
Irrespective of the plot or the actors, there is one thing that stands out in gangster-films across both the film industries. Most of these films “humanize” these gangsters one way or the other. Whether they are inspired by real characters or not, they pull out the criminals from their fearsome images, showcasing their softer, emotional and “human” sides. Perhaps, that is one of the major reasons why the curiosity for these films keeps attracting viewers all the time.