The people of India may have become cynical or apathetic to the scourge of corruption, but the film industry wakes up sporadically to berate the system that allows it to thrive. John Abraham kills corrupt cops in this week’s release 'Sataymev Jayate'. But there have been other angry vigilantes in cinema; here’s looking at one, who was different because he was an angry old man. Kamal Haasan played a senior citizen, called Senapathy in Indian (Tamil) and Hindustani (dubbed in Hindi), the 1996 film directed by Shankar.
Senapathy was a freedom fighter in Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army; his fierce patriotism is challenged in present times, when he sees corruption in every area. He starts eliminating the corrupt using a knife and an ancient form of martial arts that first paralyses his victims. He then intones “never give bribes, never take bribes,” as he walks off. The police get on the trail of the killer, but the public hails him as hero for cleaning up the system — a true Indian.
His own son, Chandru, (Haasan playing a double role), fed-up of his father’s inflexible attitude, is a bribe-seeking tout outside the regional transport office, who helps people grease palms and get their licenses. He also gets time to flirt with the leading ladies played by Manisha Koirala and Urmila Matondkar. (The funny song 'Telephone dhun mein hansnewali' can be traced to this film).
Investigator Krishnaswamy (Nedumudi Venu), manages to trace Senapathy, who escapes and goes on to carry out a killing seen live on television – a corrupt doctor, who demanded a bribe and then refused to attend to Senapathy's daughter Kasturi, suffering from burns, resulting in her death.
When Chandru takes a bribe and gives a safety certificate to a bus with faulty brakes, which eventually kills 40 school children, Senapathy decides that his wayward son deserves the same punishment – death.
Like many such vigilante films, this one too believes in getting rid of the criminal, not the crime, and propagated a dangerously populist belief, that the righteous can be allowed to kill.
Kamal Haasan’s prosthetic make-up as a seventy-year-old man was much appreciated; he and the film went onto win several awards and was also India’s entry to the Oscars that year.
It looks like Senapathy died in the explosion that killed Chandru, but he escaped, and the film ended with him calling Krishnaswamy to say that he would be back if need be. And, reports say, he will, when Indian 2 goes into production this year, supposedly to be the star’s swan song before he enters the world of politics.