From the days of Jagdish Raj and Iftikhar running late to the climax party to Ranveer Singh and Ajay Devgan jumping out of speeding SUVs all guns blazing, the Hindi movie cop has gone through multiple transformations. From barely competent uniformed men to chiselled sculptures with muscles itching to break out of the uniform: they have moved from one stereotype to other. What we seldom see on screen is a police officer whom you encounter in your daily life. A human being like any of us dealing with the problem life throws at him, tilting between the impotency brought on by his circumstances and the masculinity/valour seething inside.
Anant Welankar (Om Puri) from Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya is that cop character who hangs at the balance of these extreme stances. On the surface there is a simple principle that he brings to his work: earn an honest day’s living. His job places him in confrontation with outlaws and politicians, a fight where the odds are already stacked against him. The nexus between the law makers and law breakers is a behemoth beyond the reach of this sub-inspector of police. Let down by his own department and beaten down by the system, his helplessness in the present takes him back to his past where he was a mute witness to the domestic abuse meted out by his father. As a child he was powerless then, but the passing years and a seemingly powerful job hardly seem to bring about a change in the status quo.
When he lands the death blow on a transistor thief in the lock-up, the blow carries with it the cumulative force of all the indignations of his own life. The phrase he uses as he gives him the lock-up thrashing, “Doosron ka haq churata hai saala” (you steal the rights of others), is an allegation levelled also against his father for stealing his right to a normal childhood, at his department for stealing his right to a honest living and at gangster Rama Shetty (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) for stealing his right to live with his self-respect intact.
Anant Welankar and Inspector Vijay Khanna (from Zanjeer) are doppelgängers in the multiverse of cinema. Anant Welankar’s rage is on the same plane as Inspector Vijay’s, but its physical manifestation is bound by the zanjeer (shackles) of the universe he inhabits. He does get to break out of the shackles but only after a prolonged conflict (both internal and external), and even then, only momentarily. Staying true to the rules of the universe, what follows is not some gallantry award for eradication of crime but a probable future behind bars.
Om Puri personifies Anant Welankar as very few actors can: his reticent smile in his conversations with Smita Patil, his expressive face that shakes at the moments where his self-respect is thrashed by the harsh waves of the system, and his eyes that provide brief shelters to a myriad passing emotions as he confronts Rama Shetty. Anant Welankar is that relatable cop we do not get to see often on the silver screen.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.