How the depiction of Mumbai police has changed in Bollywood

The honest cop, the corrupt cop and even the implausible officer, the depiction of the Mumbai police in movies has changed through the years

mid-day 36th anniversary special

Picture this: The film scene is set sometime in the '60s. A high-octane face-off between the hero and the villain is in progress. The police van arrives with its siren screaming after the hero has fought it out all by himself and managed to save the victims, one of whom is unarguably the heroine. Cut to 2015, the film will probably have a different ending.

Talaash had Aamir Khan play inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat
Talaash had Aamir Khan play inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat 

For decades, Mumbai police and the police in general have been showcased as lacklustre, pot-bellied, corrupt men in khaki who always miss the mark. Entering a police station was considered a harrowing experience for all. However, with filmmakers forgoing stereotypes and concentrating on the cops' limitations and thus showing them in a somewhat positive light, the cops' image has undergone a sea change.

It was probably Amitabh Bachchan's portrayal of Vijay, the angry, proactive cop in Zanjeer (1973) that set the trend of an 'ideal' cop who doesn't mind fighting the goons while maintaining his morals at the same time. Actors such as Rani Mukerji in Mardaani, Aamir Khan in Sarfarosh and Talaash, Akshay Kumar in Khakee, Nana Patekar in Ab Tak Chappan, Anupam Kher in A Wednesday, Kay Kay Menon in Black Friday among others portrayed the Mumbai police in the most realistic way possible.

Rani Mukerji's Mardaani dealt with the subject of child trafficking
Rani Mukerji's Mardaani dealt with the subject of child trafficking 

In addition to the above, films such as 'Ardh Satya' (1983) have also successfully portrayed a section of police officials who are tired of the system and are eager to do something about the situation. All in all, it can be said that films have played a significant role in highlighting the 'humane' aspect of cops.

A positive change
It isn't that all cops today are shown in a positive light, but exploring every aspect of the present-day bureaucratic system has helped make a positive impact. Says DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni, "The realistic portrayal of Mumbai police in Bollywood has helped us in our day-to-day activities to a large extent.

Kay Kay Menon in a still from Black Friday
Kay Kay Menon in a still from Black Friday 

Earlier, people were reluctant to come forward and discuss their problems, as they thought of us as corrupt and brutal. However, that notion is slowly changing. Now the citizens realise that they can make a huge difference by cooperating with the police. I wouldn't say that Bollywood is entirely responsible for the change but yes, it has been a catalyst for change," he adds.

Filmmaker Sanjay Gupta who has made films such as Shootout at Lokhandwala and Shootout at Wadala says that the police force has a tough job at hand and stereotyping them is incorrect. "As far as my films are concerned, a lot of research went into them and I hope they have managed to make a positive impact on the audience as far
as the image of the cops is concerned since filmmakers are known to make caricatures."

The flip side
There is no denying that Bollywood has immense reach. However, this very fact has become the bone of contention for a segment of the police department that feels that films such as Ajay Devgn-starrer Singham and Salman Khan's Dabangg are portraying the unreal and are only increasing the expectations of the people.

A still from A Wednesday in which Anupam Kher essayed the role of a police commissioner
A still from A Wednesday in which Anupam Kher essayed the role of a police commissioner 

Deven Bharti, Joint Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, says, "The protagonists of these films are only completing extra judicial work. Can you imagine policemen in real life going and beating people on the road just because they want to? Try coming to our office one day and decide. Policing is a serious job and a lot of planning goes into it unlike what you see on screen. All that is pure sham."

"If the filmmakers begin showing what is real, no one will be entertained and their film will not earn money at the box-office. The only film, in my opinion, that came close to portraying reality was Om Puri's Ardh Satya (1983)," he adds.

Director Pradeep Sarkar, who made Mardaani, begs to differ. "It's incorrect to say that films glamourise cops' work. It's all the demand of the script. Ajay Devgn's character in a film like Singham is no less than that of a superhero. Hence, the makers need to add that over-the-top element to it.

Can you imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator not pulling off those unbelievable stunts? Would you still go and watch it? In a film like Mardaani, there is no scope for glamourisation because we are dealing with a subject of child trafficking. So, it's all in the script."

Top cops
Five films that portrayed police officials realistically:

Zanjeer (1973)

Director: Prakash Mehra
Vijay, an honest police officer, spends six months in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Once released, his only motive is revenge from the real culprit, Teja (Ajit). This film paved the way for action in Hindi cinema with Amitabh Bachchan coming to be known as the ‘angry young man’.

Ardh Satya (1983)
Director: Govind Nihalani
The film revolves around the trial and tribulations of sub-inspector Anant Velankar (Om Puri). Frustrated with the system, he vents his anger on inmates and suspects. The film is considered to be one of Puri’s finest performances and among Bollywood’s most iconic films on the police force.

Sarfarosh (1999)
Director: John Matthew Matthan
Ajay (Aamir Khan), a police officer is out there on a mission to curb cross-border terrorism. The film grabbed many eyeballs as it released in the year of the Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan.

Shool (1999)

Director: E Nivas
The National Award-winning film showcases crime and corruption in Bihar. Samar Pratap Singh (Manoj Bajpayee), an idealistic police officer, struggles to fight the system which has become a part and parcel of his life now.

Ab Tak Chappan (2004)
Director: Shimit Amin
Said to be loosely based on the life of Mumbai police inspector Pradeep Sharma, it told the story of Mumbai Encounter Squad’s inspector Sadhu Agashe (Nana Patekar) known for 56 killings during police encounters.

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