Fighting terrorists, making big busts and guarding the streets at night — the average cop is a superhero, no less. At least, this is what you will believe if you have watched 'Singham Returns' or 'Mardaani', two cop films that released back-to-back. The films have a common thread: the Mumbai Police.
Ajay Devgn's portrayal of Bajirao Singham, a righteous police officer, in the film, 'Singham Returns', seems to have boosted the image of the Mumbai Police
With critics and the public appreciating the positive depiction of men in khaki, we find out if such films really help the police in brand building.
A welcome trend
Bollywood does not have a long legacy of cop films, especially in the mainstream category. In recent years, the policeman with maximum recall value is Dabangg's 'Robin Hood' Chulbul Pandey — a loveable but corrupt cop. Earlier, we had Iftekhar and Jagdish Raj Khurana cast as cops in every second film.
'Singham Returns' has DCP Bajirao Singham, played by Ajay Devgn, take on corrupt politicians
In the '80s and early '90s, there was a spate of films that showed cops as a debauched lot. Mahesh Patil, deputy commissioner of Police-Zone 5, Mumbai Police, says, “We used to feel hurt seeing the police get painted in a negative light in these films. We welcome the positive change in cop portrayals now and hope that these recent films convince people that we are their friends, and not villains.”
In 'Mardaani', Rani Mukerji plays a cop who takes on those involved in human trafficking
Himanshu Roy, chief, Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), echoed his views, "There's scope for realistic portrayal of cops in Bollywood films, which, in a way, will reinforce the efforts we undertake in our line of work."
While some might argue over the larger-than-life image of the police on screen, filmmakers feel that cinematic liberty should be allowed to some extent. Director Kabeer Kaushik, who helmed two cop films, Sehar, and Maximum, opines, "As long as the portrayal is palatable and within the script's paradigm, the public can take it in its stride. Whether they influence the public or not can be the subject of a long, open-ended debate."
— Himanshu Roy, Chief, Anti-Terrorism Squad
It is not unusual for filmmakers to take inputs from policemen for their films. Ram Gopal Varma was perhaps the first to depict cops in a realistic manner in Company. Roy, who has been credited by the makers of both films, says, "Directors do talk to us about our daily lives, the challenges we face, resources at our disposal, etc. At times, they take inputs in order to recreate a police station or perfect the lingo."
Salman Khan's Chulbul Pandey act in 'Dabangg' was all about his panache
Such interactions can enhance a film's quality, suggests Kaushik. "One cannot develop a nuanced script without having sizable interface with various contours of the subject," he says.
It may be pointed out that banners and print/TV ad campaigns highlighting achievements of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch are conspicuously absent. Patil says, "We work for the public. The police don't need advertising."
Sonu Sood (seen here with Neha Dhupia) played an encounter specialist in 'Maximum'
However, it's important to note that several police reforms have been taken up in the last 15 years in order to change the image of cops. Roy reaffirms this. "A lot of brainstorming has taken place so as to sensitise the regular police force. However, nothing succeeds like success. Right from tracking the people behind the 13/7 bomb blasts to solving the J Dey murder case, the track record of Mumbai Police Crime Branch has been good. Citizens are aware of our achievements," he says.
He further adds that the police do not need advertising because they perform a sovereign function. "We do make short films, which are shown in theatres or public places, for public awareness. You can call it indirect brand building. But what builds our brand is our results," says Roy.
Given the infinite reach of Indian cinema, can films work towards improving the image of police and other government agencies? Suhel Seth of Counselage says, "The two films worked wonders for the image of the Mumbai Police. The filmmaker (Rohit Shetty) did a great job by showing their living conditions, the sacrifices they make for a job that is neither lucrative nor filled with material benefits. Cinema has a huge reach and can surely help in building brand equity for police and other forces."