Cast: Sandeep Bharadwaj, Usha Jadhav, Lisa Ray
Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Veerappan was India's original bad man. The notoriously brutal bandit and ivory smuggler killed approximately 180 people. For 20 years, he terrorized the jungles of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The manhunt for Veerappan is estimated to have cost the Indian government over 700 crore. Which makes him the perfect subject for director Ram Gopal Varma whose central obsessions include larger-than-life outlaws, guns and jungles. Thankfully, he didn't insist of featuring his other passion – thighs.
As Ramu tells it – Veerappan was a rakshasa. He could be impulsive and child-like but also capable of staggering violence – he hacks elephants and human beings with the same enthusiasm. In the first five minutes of the film, he smashes a policeman to death with a boulder. What Ramu gets absolutely right here is the casting of Veerappan.
Sandeep Bharadwaj, a theater actor from New Delhi, becomes this demonic criminal. With bulging, crazed eyes filled with an unquenchable rage, and that trademark moustache, Sandeep is entirely convincing. Usha Jadhav as his wife provides strong support. Muthulakshmi hates her life in the jungle but is clearly enamored of the murderer she married. The terrain is also a supporting character – the deceptively innocuous jungle, the waterfalls, the animals and the red earth and pouring rain that these men call their home.
It's an elaborate cat and mouse game and for stretches of it, Ramu holds your interest. But ultimately what fails him is the writing – the chase becomes repetitive. Ramu's storytelling is designed to elicit an extreme reaction. Every element is exaggerated and underlined – usually by decibel defying background music. He doesn't allow for silences or stillness.
It's exposition followed by action followed by more action. So while Veerappan is a fascinating character, we never get any real insights into his head. I would have loved to know what makes his marriage tick. Can a monster, who may have killed his infant daughter, have the capacity to love? But the film doesn't probe emotions. It's all about sensation. The one-note acting by Sachiin Joshi and a grossly miscast Lisa Ray doesn't help either. The end result is exhaustion.
So Veerappan may not match the best of Ramu – Rangeela, Satya, Sarkar, Company – but the good news is that it doesn't match his worst either – there are too many to name. It might be the curtain raiser on better films to come.