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Bandit Queen, Sholay, Paan Singh Tomar – reliving the era of dacoit drama in the Hindi film industry

As Sonchiriya brings back the bandits to the big screen, we revisit some old favourites



Hindi film industry has been obsessed with showing strong antagonists in their films. And who would make for a stronger antagonist than a dacoit. Gabbar, Veerappan and a few more have been the epitomes of villains in the Hindi cinema. Though it was not always about adding an antagonist to the story, but it was also the dacoits around whom the films were made. Bandit Queen is one such example of a film that let us in the lives of those bandits in the most authentic way. Every director during that phase dreamt of making at least one dacoit drama, the genre was trending and was also very vast to explore. But lately the industry seemed to have forgotten the genre and dacoits or bandits suddenly disappeared from our films. Director Abhishek Chaubey known for his dark intense portrayals is back with his film Sonchiriya. The film is set in in the ravines of Chambal and features dacoits. While he has bought back our long lost characters, let’s revisit some films that revolved around the bandits and were loved by the audience.

Bandit Queen (1994)

Any filmmaker ever thinks of delving in the dacoit drama genre, Bandit Queen has to be his Bible. The film became a benchmark. There was no shortcut or subtle approach taken in making the film. It was gruesome, gut-wrenching and dark to the level that it still scars anyone who watches it. Seems Biswas as Phoolan Devi aka Bandit Queen is the most-loved bandit from the Hindi cinema till date.

Fun fact: This is a full circle for Manoj Bajpayee as he portrayed the character of a dacoit named Mann Singh and after 25 years the actor is again playing a dacoit in Sonchiriya who is named Mann Singh.

Sholay (1975)

Soja varna Gabbar aajaega has been a line that has scared the generations in India for a very long time. That was how much the character of Gabbar had created his fear. Played by Amjad Khan, Gabbar is an iconic portrayal of the dacoit and the first one to come to our minds on the mention of the word daku. Though Sholay wasn’t about the dacoit, but Gabbar Singh was the most prominent takeaway from the film.

Veerappan: (2016)

If you are a 90’s kid or born before that, the probability is that you might have heard about the operation cacoon that was conducted in 2004 to find out and kill the bandit Veerappan. Written and directed by Ram Gopal Varma, the 2016 film was a documented replication of Veerappan’s life till he was killed in an encounter. Though the film wasn’t acclaimed critically and it didn’t do great numbers, but Veerappan has been the only bandit that our generation might have seen and who has existed in our times. And well his moustache is the most famous thing and got its name after him.

Paan Singh Tomar (2012)

Based on a real life story, director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar revolved around a soldier in the Indian Army who was also an athlete. It talks about how circumstances made Paan Singh a wanted dacoit and his descend into madness. Irfaan Khan as the titular character did an excellent job and this is by far one of the best dacoit films for sure.

Dacait (1987)

Starring Sunny Deol in the lead is a film that shows the journey of a boy who turns into a dacoit after being harassed by the Zamindars. The film is a kind of a revenge drama and was also a quite loved one.

Lajja (2001)

Well, Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja starring Manisha Koirala in the lead dealt with many topics but one of the sub-stories involved a dacoit. Played by Ajay Devgn, the part of Daku Bhulwa was a Robinhood dacoit. Helping the poor, giving justice to the ones wronged, saving women from all the wrongs, but by his self-coined rules and not abiding by the law. Bhulwa was a very different vision of the bandit culture and deserves a mention.

With so many good films in the genre will Sonchiriya live up to the expectations? Plus it is also revisiting the period which means the challenge doubles up. Whether the film succeeds or not, Chambal is now a character in itself for us.