It was in the ’70s that a lanky Amitabh Bachchan, wearing a starched police uniform, snarled at a Pathan gangster, yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahi in Zanjeer, eliciting whoops and whistles from countless Bachchan fans who had thronged theatres to watch their favourite ‘angry young man’ in action. Before making a name for himself as the anti-establishment rebel in movies like Deewaar, Trishul and Kaalia, Bachchan had won the hearts of many with his portrayal of the upright Inspector Vijay Khanna.
Apart from the talented Om Puri, who played Inspector Anant Velankar in Govind Nihalani‘s Ardh Satya, Bachchan’s Vijay was probably the most admired cop on the silver screen in the 70s-80s era.
A couple of decades later, Jackie Shroff with his trademark handlebar moustache, continued the tradition. Shroff was B-Town’s favourite on-screen police officer, playing the khakhi clad law–enforcer in many movies like Ram Lakhan, Izzat, Vardi, Khalnayak, Ram Shastra and Kartoos. His gravelly voice and macho looks aptly complemented the police uniform he wore with righteousness in many of his flicks.
Today, after many years, the trend of male leads playing dashing police officers seems to have made a comeback as sorts. Cops probably made a comeback with Manoj Bajpai‘s portrayal of upright cop Samar Pratap Singh in the 1999 movie Shool, where he played a role quite similar in some aspects to Puri’s Velankar of Ardh Satya– a lone ethical policeman battling a corrupt system and finally snapping under the strain. The talented Aamir Khan, after playing the quintessential chocolate boy too turned ‘khakhi’ for the 1999 thriller Sarfarosh, playing an ace Crime Branch officer with much aplomb, despite his boyish features.
Bajpai and Khan were followed by Ajay Devgn as SP Amit Kumar in Prakash Jha‘s hard-hitting drama Gangaajal, a 2003 movie based on a real-life incident in Bhagalpur, Bihar, where a posse of village vigilantes blinded anti-social elements.
Another movie in the early 2000s was Khakee, comprising an ensemble cast of Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. This cop drama, directed by Rajkumar Santoshi was a commercial hit and was also lauded for the performances, especially of Bachchan, who played an aging cop refusing to let go of his principles and Devgn, who played Angre, a corrupt cop-turned-mercenary with an old ax to grind.
Another surprise package was Arshad Warsi playing a serious cop in the 2005 Sehar and we must say that despite carving a niche for himself as a funnyman, Warsi managed to hold his own quite impressively in the cop drama about a group of tight knit cops from the Special Task Force striving to break the backbone of the UP underworld.
Recently, directors have found an unlikely candidate to assume the cop avatar in Salman Khan. Many a real life cop would have smirked ironically on knowing that the bratty Sallu, infamous for his brushes with the law, be it the black buck hunting case of the drunken driving case has reinvented himself as the new cop on the block. Starting with the Puneet Issar-directed Garv, Salman has gone to play a police officer is some of his latest hits viz.Wanted and Dabangg.
Though in the former, Salman, who played an undercover cop was seen sporting the khakhi uniform in a few ‘blink and you miss it’ scenes at the end of the movie, in Dabangg, Salman swaggered throughout the movie in his uniform with his aviator sunglasses perched on his nose or hanging stylishly from the back of his shirt collar, eliciting the same kind of whistles and whoops with his one-liners that had made Zanjeer famous in its day.
Salman is again set to play a cop in the sequel to Dabangg and he is not alone. The recent success of police dramas seems to have sent actors lining up to play law enforcement officials. Abhishek Bachchan tried the khakhi uniform in Dum Maaro Dum, playing a cynical Goa cop roped in on a special assignment to curb the drug menace and Ajay Devgn too flexed his muscles to rid Goa of criminal elements as the tough talking Bajirao Singham in Singham.
Aamir Khan is another star who will play a police officer in Reema Kagti‘s thriller Talaash. Though Khan played a cop impressively in Sarfarosh, this time the actor will also be seen in a different avatar, complete with a cop-like moustache. The Khiladi Akshay Kumar is also planning to follow suit with his upcoming Rowdy Rathore, in which Akki will be playing a double role-that of a cop and a lookalike conman.
So is Anil Kapoor about to transform himself from the lovable rogue that he has been playing for so many years into an aggressive encounter cop based on real-life police officer Isaque Bagwan with Sanjay Gupta‘s Shootout At Wadala.
All we can say is…silver screen damsels in distress can heave a sigh of relief…the policeman is making a comeback!
(A weekly feature by Jaidev Hemmady on the various trends showing up in Bollywood)