The Rise and Fall of Dacoit Tales in Bollywood
By Priyaankaa Mathur
The immortal role of Amzad Khan as Gabbar Singh is synonymous with the film genre which needs no introduction. Filmifiles takes you through the journey of the rise and fall of the ‘Dacoit Tales’ in Bollywood giving you a peep into the life’s of the Dacoits and what made them take up the path to crime.
The Dacoits attracted the imagination of the Indian filmmakers to take up the subject in the 60s when Vinoba Bhave urged the Dacoits of the Chambal River Valley in Madhya Pradesh to surrender. Then began an era of Dacoit films from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960), Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), Sholay (1975), Dacait (1987), Bandit Queen (1994), Paan Singh Tomar (2012) Phamous (2018), Sonchiriya ( 2019). Be it, Gabbar Singh, in Sholay, or Daku Maan Singh in Mujhe Jeene do or Daku Jagga in Aawara, the Dacoit heroes created a long-lasting impression on the Indian audiences creating an awe factor about them.
The real-life characters were dramatised on the reel with galloping horses in the Chambal valley although the real Dakus never used the horses and walked miles in a Jatha ( group of armed bandits) to loot the wealthy. As per a legend when Dakus arrived in a wealthy merchants house the women in the house would feed them with Pakoras, so that although they would take the wealth but won’t kill the male family members, as Dakus believed in Namak ka Farz (code of honour and loyalty to the salt). While some real-life Dakus were the Robinhood’s of the poor with the golden hearts who distributed this wealth to the poor and needy in paying medical bills and funding weddings. The others were out and out cruel and horrendous villains similar to Gabbar, Rakka and Jagga in their reel versions.
The Indian cinema portrayed the real-life in rural India, wherein feudal exploitation, traditional honour codes and blood feuds provoked many people in the region of Chambal to take up arms and resort to criminality. The dacoity regularly targeted local wealthy merchants, while they kidnapped their children or family members demanded ransom, from them sometimes also cutting off their body parts( fingers, ears) to pressurise them into paying high ransoms. While some Dacoit gangs were also composed of higher castes and we’re wealthy, who were highway robbers in the countryside and later chose to join crime gangs, which led to the fading of the Dacoity in Chambal.
Eventually, in the Chambal Valley, the crime was controlled by the Indian police by offering high rewards for the most notorious Bandit Chiefs from the time of the British to the early 2000s. Thus, the Indian filmmakers got a lot of arsenal to create Dacoit characters inspired from information which they collected from the real-life encounters between the Dacoits and the Police, making a boom at the Box office with these Blockbusters.
‘Gabbar Singh’ in Sholay, was one such character, based on a real-life character ‘Gabbar Singh Gujjar’ (Gabra) who was an active Dacoit in between 1955-1960s, belonging to the Bhind District of Madhya Pradesh. It was his real-life encounters with Gabra which the Deputy Inspector General of Police at Indore who narrated the incidents to his son Director Salim Khan to create the character of Gabbar, which was immortalised by Amzad Khan in Sholay.
Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen was based on a true story of a women Phulan Devi, who took the law in her hands and became a Dacoit, after facing sexual abuse and discrimination in society due to castism. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar brought to light the plight of a national gold medal champion, an athlete and an army man, who becomes a Rebel (Baghi) when his cruel cousins, murdered his mother after snatching his land and devastating his crops. He receives no help from the local police in his area and thus took to revenge.
Over the last decade, many Dacoits have surrendered to the police, and are leading a quiet family life as farmers or village elders after serving their penalties under the Indian penal code. It’s been a decade that the last police Dacoit encounter happened to kill Rambabu Gadariya in 2007, which eventually brought this genre to a fall due to lack of new stories and incidents. The genre can be only renewed by bringing novelty into the art of storytelling and depiction, which is a challenge for the new generation of filmmakers, since the subject has been already vastly exploited in the Indian cinema.