The trope of a saviour who attacks the rich and the privileged to help the poor and the downtrodden is as old as time. And yet, the done-to-death, Robin Hood-esque theme seems to work in the context of a mass entertainer every time a filmmaker chooses to do it. There is just something very metal about a hero warring against the system and taking the law into their hands to help the oppressed. We saw it work in the recently released blockbuster Jawan starring Shah Rukh Khan, and we will see it in Ravi Teja’s upcoming period action film Tiger Nageswara Rao. Here are other films from the Southern states that portray the Robin Hood trope in wild and creative ways.
The first time we see Kichcha in Shankar's Gentleman is in a blood-soaked old man's disguise with a severed arm. His truck has been overturned and he pretends to ask the police's help so that he can steal the crores of cash from their jeep. It takes Shankar just a small scene to depict our Tamil Robin Hood's intentions. The sheer disgust on the cops' faces is enough to convey how the entitled rich look down upon the poor. Kichcha is a small business owner selling appalams by day and resorts to robbing the rich and powerful a little later that day. His double identity is explored through various action sequences in the film - whether he is robbing a jeweller at a mall in broad daylight or the government. But we see his purpose much later. Kichcha's purpose is not to end poverty, but to ensure education for all. "This is my temple," he points to the college he's building as he explains his past to Susheela. In an ironic twist of fate, this Robin Hood's ruse is exposed when a piece of jewellery close to him is stolen from him.
Focusing on the legitimacy and safety concerns of using ATM cards for our day-to-day transactions, Robin Hood (2009) starring Prithviraj Sukumaran in the titular role explored the themes of a great robber. It had a damning vision of a possible void in the safety of banking business that rings true in today’s world of digital money overkill. Contrary to the famous mythology that drives the Robin Hood figure in media and films, this Malayalam language iteration is about a vengeful hero who takes away money from the common man as part of a technology-backed superheist that is aimed at making life a living hell for his arch-nemesis.
The film directed by veteran director Joshiy, subverts the template of typical Robin Hood narratives by eschewing conventional saviour beats for the hero and placing him as just a revengeful figure. The now jaded neo-noir framework goes a long way with the trappings of a private detective figure and femme fatale conventions in a modern-day setting, exploring the concept of a Robin Hood archetype, with much fun to be had in the self-conscious genre exercise.
For a storyteller looking to ground the myth of the Robin Hood character in the Indian tradition, there is no other historical figure that quite matches the bill as Kayamkulam Kochunni who lived in the 19th century in British-ruled Central Travancore. This local legend from Kerala’s historical and literary traditions was the basis for the Nivin Pauly starrer Kayamkulam Kochunni (2018), which saw him play the real-life hero who took away from the rich and gave to the poor. The big-budget period film dealt with the social realities of the times he was living in and shed light on what prompted him to stand up for his convictions at a time when personal freedom and social security were at an all-time low.
Ravi Teja’s most popular role as a thief might still be Attili Sattibabu from SS Rajamouli’s Vikramkarkadu (2005) but he was no Robin Hood, let’s admit it. Sattibabu was a funny and selfish thief who wouldn’t even share his loot with his uncle and partner-in-crime, Duvva Abbulu (Brahmanandam). But it’s in Surender Reddy’s Kick that Ravi Teja took the Robin Hood route and the reason why he ends up as a thief is pretty interesting. In Kick, his character, Kalyan, is searching for joy and thrill in everything he does, and even after trying his hand at a myriad of professions, he can’t seem to find the kick he is perennially craving. Eventually, after a bitter incident, he learns that helping others gives him unparalleled joy, and he sets out to commit robberies to improve the lives of orphaned children. The film entwines Kalyan’s characterisation with the Robin Hood angle with such coolness that it never feels preachy.
Kanthaswamy and his Merry Men are CBI officers by day and good-hearted thieves by night. This Kollywood Robin Hood is so rooted that he is a mix of your typical action hero, a God-sent saviour, and a masked superhero. So nothing is impossible for the rooster vigilante, played by Vikram. There is a Muruga temple crammed with devotees who write their problems on paper and tie them to a tree. And our human Kanthaswamy (which is another name for the god Muruga) resolves their issues, sometimes by just leaving anonymous money bags outside people's houses (A classic Robin Hood move). With his dual jobs, he nicks and blackmails the rich unofficially and mostly ensures the money reaches the poor legally. Suppose the official rules restrict him, he puts on his superhero mask and restores people’s belief in God by saving the day.
Chiranjeevi’s Kondaveeti Donga is the closest Robin Hood film we’ve ever gotten in Telugu. In this Kodandarami Reddy directorial, a young Raja, an orphan who was raised by good-hearted tribal villagers, returns from the city to become an IAS officer. Raja hopes to take up an administrative position and develop his village, Konda Veedu, but his hopes vanish after witnessing the harsh reality. When he realises that he cannot bring change through the system, which is already compromised and controlled by the bad guys, he decides to go rogue. In one scene, he is told by his elated guardian that he has cracked the IAS examination but an angry and dejected Raja tears the letter, having decided to become an outlaw and adopt the identity of Kondaveeti Donga. He rides a horse, dressed in black, and wears a cool hat. After many cool chases, action sequences, and robberies, Raja helps his villagers and rides his horse into the sunset in the film’s final shot. Classic Robin Hood.
While we have explored protagonists taking the law into their own hands and waging a war against the privileged, in Bell Bottom, we see the antagonist do the same. Packaged as a detective thriller, Bell Bottom is set in the 1970s and stars Rishab Shetty as a police constable who is tasked with finding the dacoits behind a series of heists that have occurred at various police stations. Rishab Shetty’s Divakara investigates the case only to find his own father running a syndicate that is behind these heists. The intention, however, is to stop a corruption scandal where the police are in cahoots with a businessman, who is illegally taking over orphanages that house the blind. The lead-up to the twist is brilliant, with every action and interaction of the protagonist coming into question as he has to make the decision to choose the lesser evil.
Puri Jagannadh's 2016 action film, ISM revolves around the story of Sathya, a journalist turning into a cybercriminal who forms The Grand Leakage Company, a team of hackers all over the country. He hacks all the accounts of the Bank of Paradise, run by Javed Bhai where he secures all the black money of Indian Politicians. Sathya and his team of 'hacktivists' hack all the accounts and ensure the money is transferred to accounts of especially Indian farmers and poor people, who are the victims of Black money corruption. This tale of a young man’s pursuit of stealing from the corrupt has the biggest Robin Hood stamp ever.
B Vittalacharya’s swashbuckler film Veera Kesari is a classic adaptation of the Robin Hood legend and puts it in a royal setting. In the film, Dr Rajkumar’s Narasimha assumes the role of a Musuku Veera, a masked vigilante, who leads a rebellion against the dictatorial ruler of the land, Shoora Sena. Musuku Veera is treated as a symbol in the film, with the mask being passed on to Narasimha from his uncle played by KS Ashwath. The vigilante goes as far as kidnapping the princess and wins her support, showing the atrocities done by the King. Narasimha also undergoes a change in ideals, coming from a place of innocence where he believes in non-violence. He assumes the role of the Musuku Veera after those ideals are tested by the evil Shoora Sena.