Bollywood has made many biopics on the life of famous dacoits but the best biopic on dacoits has been Bandit Queen (1994) made by Shekhar Kapur. The biopic on the life of terror queen of the Chambal valley Phoolan Devi, starring Seema Biswas was so powerful and hard-hitting that the film won international acclaims. Truly lady dacoit queen Phoolan Devi’s story has been interesting because after creating havoc with her terror she surrendered. After surrender when she returned she joined politics and became Member of Parliament from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh!!
Talking of biopics on dacoits, in the year 1966 filmmaker Chand made the first biopic on the dreaded dacoit of the ‘50s Daku Mangal Singh starring action hero Dara Singh. Daku Mangal Singh was a true story of Mangal Singh who at the age of 8 witnessed the villagers parading her mother nude and then setting her on fire. To seek revenge, he turned dacoit and became the most popular dacoits of India. He surrendered in the ’60s. After that in 1971, Dara Singh appeared in another biopic made on the life of yet another famous dacoit of the ’60s called Daku Man Singh. Interestingly film director Abhishek Chaubey, Sonchiriya (2019) starring Manoj Bajpayee and Sushant Singh Rajput is also a biopic of Daku Man Singh’s life. Readers would be surprised to know that Daku Singh was so popular that even Amitabh Bachchan as a child was in awe of the dacoit. Man Singh was killed in 1955 during a clash with police.
In 1972, filmmaker B.K. Adarsh, father of film critic Taran Adarsh, made Putlibai, a biopic on the life of India’s First Lady Dacoit. Though the film was B-Grade but the famous qawwali in the film – Aiseh Besharam Ashiq Hain Yeh Aaj Ke… inko apna banaana ghazab ho gaya …. Created ripples and the movie was a huge hit. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia in 2012 made a biopic of the cruel dacoit Paan Singh Tomar, played superbly by Irrfan Khan. The emotional tale of a soldier in the Indian Army and a Gold Medal winner in Indian National Games take to gun due to circumstance was quite poignant.
Few are aware the famous Daku of Bollywood Gabbar Singh in Sholay (1975) was actually a real-life dacoit by the same name in the ravines of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. His terror was so horrifying that he had once captured a policeman and butchered his ears and nose as a warning for other policemen to remain aloof from him. The writer Javed Akhtar, who hailed from Gwalior, had heard many chilling stories of Gabbar Singh in his childhood hence when he was writing Sholay he decided to name his villain Gabbar Singh.
Brilliant actress Shabana Azmi portrayed the role of a brutal village landlady in the film Godmother (1999). The film was a biographical account of a real-life lady Mafia called Santokben Jadeja, she ruled the village and did organized crime at Porbandar, Gujarat, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and later turned politician.