With Singham (2011), Simmba (2018) and his soon-to-be-released, Sooryavanshi (2020), filmmaker Rohit Shetty has turned the cop-drama into a successful franchise. Shetty has hit all the right buttons in these ventures, with his heroes partaking in high-octane action sequences as they bring the bad guys to justice. His cop characters, dressed in immaculate police uniforms, have swag, deliver punch lines with bluster, but are ultimately all about good triumphing over evil.
The cop-as-protagonist theme itself is a relatively new genre in Hindi cinema. Although Hindi cinema had seen films like V. Shantaram's Aadmi (1939) and Do Aankhen Baarah Haath (1957) or Sohrab Modi's Jailor (1938, remade in 1958) where the central character was seen in uniform, these films were more social dramas than they were about crime and criminals. Then you had the fantastic Raj Khosla-directed CID (1956) where a rather suave and debonair Dev Anand looks to find the mastermind behind a dangerous crime syndicate. But as good as CID was, Dev Anand was hardly seen in uniform in the film. He had more time to romance his love interest than indulge in any of the action-packed sequences that have come-to-be-expected in contemporary cop dramas.
Hindi cinema in the 1960s flirted with the cop theme too. Nitin Bose's Gunga Jamuna (1961), a definite inspiration behind Deewar (1975), had one of the key characters playing a police officer. Films such as Johny Mera Naam (1967) and The Train (1970) also had their lead characters working on the right side of the law. But in none of these films was the hero seen in uniform, the kind we see in Rohit Shetty's current potboilers.
It wasn't until the dawn of the 1970s, and the coming of Salim-Javed, that Hindi cinema finally got a sharply etched cop character, whose only focus was dismantling the underworld and landing the corrupt behind bars. There was no looking back thereafter. As vendetta films proliferated, the cop character became a staple theme in our films. As a result, there have been a number of memorable characters that have stood out in this sub-category of films over the last five decades. We take a quick look at ten such unforgettable police characters.
A landmark film for more reasons than one. In essaying the role of Inspector Vijay Khanna, Bachchan didn't just don the hat of the 'Angry Young Man' as Salim-Javed scripted it, but this was possibly the first mainstream Hindi film where the hero was seen in khaaki vardi. As Bachchan raged, he brought a great degree of respectability to the uniform. There was a distinct sense of uprightness and courage that the character displayed against Seth Dharam Dayal Teja (Ajit) and his band of crooks. It is the genesis for all subsequent cop-based characters in Hindi cinema, something that has now continued for close to five decades.
Govind Nihalani's film is a cult classic. Instead of merely presenting his protagonist as either a black or white character, Nihalani layers Sub Inspector Anant Velankar (Om Puri) with enough shades of grey. He carries the scars of a tortured childhood, what with an overbearing, abusive father. At the same time, he has a clear contempt for crime and criminals and is unwilling to compromise on his principles. Puri delivers the performance of a lifetime as he bursts into a violent rage in one second, but is shown to be stunningly vulnerable and helpless in another moment. This is the definitive psychological examination of the cop character in Hindi cinema if ever there was one.
Two Akshay Kumar films that released in the same year. Both had the Khiladi (1992) star donning the police uniform. But Kumar introduced a novelty to the character. Carrying on with the action star persona that he was developing, Kumar brought out his martial arts repertoire to deal with gang lords and hoodlums. He leaped high and kicked even higher as he set out to smash the nefarious workings of the underworld. Between all this he also found time to groove, partake in some steamy song sequences and memorable romantic numbers, but never at the cost of getting the job done.
Although Andha Kanoon (1983) and Phool Baney Angaarey (1991) saw women playing pivotal cop roles, it was N Chandra's film which signaled the arrival of the badass female cop in Hindi cinema. Unlike the women cop characters before her, Tejasvini's titular character (Vijayshanti) does not become a police officer because she wants revenge. She is out to bring an end to injustice and crime. With that guiding motto, Tejasvini barges into gambling dens, makes massive arms seizures, nabs serial rapists and ultimately ensures that the antagonist, Lala Khurana (Amrish Puri), gets comeuppance for his evil deeds.
This is a departure from the other films mentioned on this list since Aamir Khan's ACP Ajay Singh Rathod is hardly seen in uniform. But he is as committed to doing his duty as any of the other memorable cop characters. The bad guy here is not a local gangster or a corrupt politician. Instead, Rathod's mission is to save the nation from the very people out to sell it. Although Khan had played a cop earlier in the rather disappointing Baazi (1995), Sarfarosh has a tighter narrative. It allows Khan to show his acting chops. His confrontation with Gulfam Hassan (Naseeruddin Shah) at the film's climax provides much food for thought, but is also very inspiring.
Possibly the closest recreation of Inspector Vijay Khanna from Zanjeer. Just like Bachchan's character in the Prakash Mehra film, Inspector Samar Pratap Singh (essayed brilliantly by Manoj Bajpayee) is hot-headed, but epitomizes righteousness. He is unafraid of the local MLA (Sayaji Shinde) and his goons. His only mission is to enforce the rule of law, even if he has to disobey his superior officer. Bajpayee gives the audience several gooseflesh moments through his nuanced performance, but none more effective than when he tells his wife (Raveena Tandon) "Agar aap humaari zindagi mein nahin hoti na Manjiri ji, toh woh saala, bh**va Bachchu Yadav aaj das foot zameen ke neeche gada hua hota."
Sanjay Dutt has donned the khaakee uniform in a number of films such as Ilaaka (1989), Kurukshetra (2000), Dus (2005), Eklavya: The Royal Guard (2007) and Zila Ghaziabad (2013). But the film where Dutt's character as a cop really stood out was in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Mission Kashmir (2000). Torn between guilt and serving the nation, Dutt, as Inayat Khan, served up a wonderfully delicate act. He is a cop who has to foil the plans of terrorists working against the state, but when one of those extremists is his own adopted son, Inayat Khan walks the tightrope between emotion and dharma with perfection.
A few films that released in close proximity to each other and possibly drew from real life events and characters were Gangaajal (2003), Dev (2004) and Ab Tak Chhappan (2004). But the film that really merged real and reel was Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday (2007). Based on Hussain Zaidi's book, the film was a retelling of the Bombay blasts of 1993. Kay Kay Menon, supposedly playing the real-life Rakesh Maria, delivers a compelling performance as the man tasked with finding the perpetrators. The interrogation scene where he tells Badshah Khan (Aditya Srivastava), "Dharam ke naam par ch****e bann gaye tum log aur banntey rahoge," hits home and how.
There have been a number of films where the hero wears a police uniform, but is actually up to no good. He then has an epiphany, which leads to a character makeover for the better. Shahenshah (1988), Ram Lakhan (1989) and Thaanedaar (1990) are some ready examples. However, the film that absolutely defines this sub category is Dabangg. Salman Khan as Chulbul Pandey epitomizes fun and action. The film is a must-watch not just for Pandey's dialogues ('Varna Chhedi Singh, hum tum mein itnye chhed karengey, ki confuse ho jaaogey ki saans kahaan se le aur p*****y kahaan se'), but also for his mast dance moves and jhakaas jhatkaas.
Like Aamir's Sarfarosh outing, we don't see the main protagonist in uniform for much of this YRF production. But DCP Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukerji) is a one hell of a tough cookie. She lets her fists do the talking while navigating the murky world of child trafficking. She chases down goons, beats up the bad guys and does not let a few personal setbacks get in the way of her quest to nab the main villain in the piece. The movie and her character was another small step by Hindi cinema towards more female centric stories. A validation of the film's success was that a sequel to the film (Mardaani 2, 2019) was also released recently.