Be it 'Don' or 'Deewar', 'Suhaag' or 'Parvarish', the underworld had begun to make its presence felt in the cinema of the 70s and 80s. These urban criminals were a far cry from the rural dacoits of 'Gunga Jumna' and ‘Sholay’ and in the 1990s, underworld dramas became darker and more gritty. The trend continues to date and has brought into prominence the histrionics of actors who excel in the gangster genre. Here are some of our favourite performers in crime capers:
Manoj Bajpayee as Bhiku Mhatre in ‘Satya’
"Mumbai Ka King Kaun!," yelled Manoj Bajpayee's Bhiku Mhatre in Ram Gopal Varma’s 1998 crime thriller, ‘Satya, and a cult character was born. It would not be far-fetched to say that this was a seminal moment in Bajpayee's career whose trajectory never really reached the same peak if you discount his Sardar Khan in the 2012 hit 'Gangs of Wasseypur.' Bhiku with his mercurial mood swings, his outbursts, and his jovial generosity was a crowd favourite and even loved by critics. Bajpayee ended up winning the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor and a National Award for Best Supporting Actor. It is one of the earliest films to present a raw, unromantic view of the underbelly of urban crime and portrayed gangsters without glamorising them as larger-than-life figures. Bhiku is still one of the most distinctive figures of the gangster genre. The film produced by Varma himself also starred J D Chakravarthy, Urmila Matondkar, and Saurabh Shukla.
Sanjay Dutt as Raghu in ‘Vaastav: The Reality’
Sanjay Dutt first came to be recognized for his acting chops in Mahesh Bhatt's 1986 hit 'Naam' where he played a misguided youth who strays into a life of crime. In 1983, he gave another acclaimed performance in JP Dutta's crime drama 'Hathyar' and in 1992, played a misunderstood gangster in Feroz Khan's 'Yalgaar.' In 1993, he essayed the spectacularly melodramatic villain in Shubhash Ghai's 'Khalnayak' but it was in 1999's 'Vaastav: The Reality ', that he played a character that would be remembered the most. Dutt brought palpable angst to Raghunath Namdev Shivalkhar or Raghu, an unemployed youth who gets embroiled in crime and loses everything. The final scene of the Mahesh Manjhrekar directorial to date remains one of the most powerful moments of his career. The performance won him the Filmfare Award for Best Actor. Produced by Deepak Nikalje, 'Vaastav' also starred Namrata Shirodkar, Sanjay Narvekar and Reema Lagoo.
Ajay Devgn as ‘Malik’ in ‘Company’
Be it, Sultan Mirza, in Milan Luthria's 'Once Upon a Time in Mumbai' (2010) or Karim Lala in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Gangubai Kathiawadi' (2022). Ajay Devgn plays gangsters with a certain gravitas. But his most memorable performance was in Ram Gopal Varma's 2002 film 'Company' where he played an icy, unflappable mafia king Malik. With minimal dramatics, steady eyes, subtle mannerisms, and a contained body-language Devgn conveyed both immense power and danger. His complicated relationship with his protege Chandu is the highlight of the film that is still considered to be one of Varma's best works. The story is loosely based on the camaraderie between Chhota Rajan and Dawood Ibrahim. Ajay received the Filmfare Critic Award for Best Actor for his performance. The film jointly produced by Varma, Aswani Dutt, and Boney Kapoor also starred Vivek Oberoi, Manisha Koirala, and Mohanlal in lead roles.
Prithviraj Sukumaran as Kotta Madhu in ‘Kaapa’
This year, the most awaited film of Malayalam superstar Prithviraj Sukumaran is the Yoodlee Films crime drama, 'Kaapa' where he will be playing Kotta Madhu, a local gangster which will release on the 22nd of December 2022. The film is directed by Shaji Kailas who has made some of the best action entertainers of all time in Malayalam. Based on the rushes, the trade is abuzz with how incredible this performance is and the theme of the film is also evoking great interest. The title 'Kaapa' signifies the Kerala Anti-Social Activities Act, which is otherwise known as Goonda Act. The movie is based on G R Indugopan's story, 'Sankhumukhi', which brings forth lesser-known aspects of urban crime. The first-look poster of the film has already gone viral on social media. ‘Kaapa’ is an initiative of the Film Employees Federation of Kerala Union of writers and also stars National Award winners Aparna Balamurali, Asif Ali, and Anna Ben.
Yash as Rocky in the ‘KGF’ franchise
Yash or Naveen Kumar Gowda has been praised widely for his outstanding performance as Rocky Bhai in the pan-Indian hits 'KGF'-Chapter 1 and 2. The audience who had only seen Yash’s rise via television dramas, and later as a romantic hero, was taken by surprise by his massive makeover as a formidable gangster in this Prashanth Neel directorial. The first chapter of the film was released in 2018 and became the highest-grossing film in Kannada. The plot of the movie is set in the 1970s when the impoverished Raja Krishnappa Bairya aka Rocky arrives in Mumbai and then goes on to rule the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF). The second chapter was released in April 2022 with more characters and action sequences and became one of the highest grosser of the year. The film was released in Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Hindi and its first chapter also won a National Film Award.