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Crime Pays

Friday, January 20, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

As 'Raees', Shah Rukh Khan is just one of the stars playing real-life gangsters in the movies.  Several of them have already been immortalised by Bollywood and more are on the way.  The films and the many books on crime, invariably tend to glamorise if not glorify the world of crime.

In the past, in gangster films, it was clear that the criminal was the villain and the cop who risked his (or occasionally, her) life to catch him was the hero. Once in a while the hero existed in a morally grey area and was referred to as the anti-hero. In almost every film, he died in the end or at least repented his ways. The gangster today, walks with his head held high and claims he (or she) is a product of the inequities of the system. If that were true, there would be more gangsters than honest folk in the country.

A piece written back in the day comes back to mind. Ram Gopal Varma’s 1998 film 'Satya', a film that is now a cult in the gangster genre. It wasn’t the first gangster film, not even the first realistic one, but the history of crime in Hindi cinema can be divided into pre and post 'Satya'. Varma went deep into Mumbai’s underworld, and was so enamoured of it, that he never emerged. His factory produced many number of gangster films, none as impactful as 'Satya'…And where did it all start, this fascination for the Mafia, or organised crime? With 'The Godfather' (1972), Francis Ford Coppola’s film that started off a veritable industry in crime films.

There is a startling piece of information about 'The Godfather' in a piece titled 'The Mob, The Movies and Me' by Peter Bart in which he writes, that the director Francis Ford Coppola was "totally ignorant of Mobdom", and that writer Mario Puzo wrote a book on a subject he knew nothing about. (Bart was on the production team of the film).  Don Corleone and The Family came out of their imagination, yet they created such a powerful piece of cinema, that 'The Godfather' became the standard Mafia movie for everyone to follow.

Interesting to note then, that a gangster on being asked his reaction to the Godfather movies, said they sent them "gloriously floating out of theatres." Stands to reason—very few real life heroes get biopics made on them, as compared to the glut on gangsters.

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