Veerappan, directed by Ram Gopal Varma, is a biopic based on the life of notorious Indian bandit and sandalwood smuggler Koose Muniswamy Veerappan. The movie follows the dacoit's rise as one of the most feared men in India until his death in 2004 during an encounter orchestrated by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force as part of Operation Cocoon. Veerappan stars Sandeep Bharadwaj, Sachiin Joshi, Usha Jadhav and Lisa Ray in the major roles. The movie is heavily based on Varma's Kannada docudrama Killing Veerappan.
Ram Gopal Varma's audacity as a filmmaker never ceases to amaze me. Having watched Veerappan, I can vouch that RGV still has the ability to make quotidian events look like spectacles. Veerappan can best be described as an orgy of gruesome violence. The film begins with a quote by Voltaire: "A society gets the criminal it deserves." Perhaps, it is also true of artistes. Veerappan is a story of the rise and fall of a man who went on to become a legend. Who better than RGV to narrate such a tale? And he does it with great panache but little humility.
Had it not been for the overly theatrical performances, the film could easily have passed for a documentary.
Although, a bit theatrical for today's standards, the acting performances in Veerappan are solid all around. But, that's hardly surprising -- it has always been Varma's forte to get the best out of his actors. For years, Varma has been seen as a messiah of struggling actors, having launched more newcomers than all his contemporaries in the industry taken together. Even in Veerappan, he mostly relies on relatively unknown faces. While Sandeep Bharadwaj essays the role of Veerappan with a feral intensity befitting the part, Sachiin Joshi is brilliant as the police officer who masterminds Operation Cocoon. Usha Jadhav is memorable in the role of Veerappan's wife Muthulaksmi. Lisa Ray is stunning to watch as the vengeful widow of one of Veerappan's hapless victims. The lead actors are ably supported by the rest of the cast.
After watching the carnage caused by arms and ammunition in Veerappan, one is reminded of Andrew Niccol's brilliant anti-war film Lord of War, which released about the same time as Veerappan's takedown by the Tamil Nadu STF. To quote one of the principal characters from the movie: "There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every 12 people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?" It is not simply a question of mathematics, but of the human lust for power. If carnage is what it takes, so be it. The violence depicted in Veerappan is not limited to humans -- and scenes depicting animal cruelty abound, such as the shooting of wild elephants for their tusks.
Overall, Veerappan gives the impression of an overcooked meal which despite having all the right ingredients fails to meet epicurean standards.
Overall, Veerappan serves as a strong reminder of Ram Gopal Varma's capabilities, but falls short of excellence. It gives the impression of an overcooked meal which despite having all the right ingredients fails to meet epicurean standards. Had it not been for the overly theatrical performances, the film could easily have passed for a documentary. After watching Veerappan one gets a feeling that Varma is stuck in a limbo of sorts, trying really hard to redeem himself like some great writer battling with writer's block. Perhaps, the day is not far when he finally succeeds. Until then all we can do is wait and hope.
A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.
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