A Brief History of Indian Cop Films

August 23, 2020

This morning, I tuned into Netflix to take a little break from work. A wild Bobby Deol appeared out of nowhere and took me by total surprise. Where has Bobby been all these years? He was rocking an iconic cop stache in what seemed like an Indian cop film – The Class of ’83. I didn’t imagine anybody could pull off a stache better than Anil Kapoor but I was wrong. Bollywood’s fetish with cop films is familiar to every moviegoer. It has churned out so many cop films over the decade that it’s difficult to not lose count. You will be even forgiven for forgetting more than half of them.

The idealistic Indian cop trying to battle his way through a corrupt system. One man of principles trying to bring down an entire criminal network with his two hands. The fearless cop who will fight politicians to see that the common people receive justice. They will enter the residence of ministers and bash them in their own living room. These scenes are mostly met with loud cheers and whistles in dark theater halls. We have possibly seen all iterations of cops. Apart from romantic films, cop heroism is the most common genre in Bollywood. I wonder why? That being said, knowing that The Class of ’83 was a Netflix Original was reassuring. I knew they would have to uphold a certain production value. But was I ready to commit 2 hours of watching Bobby Deol in an Indian cop film? I had my doubts as I began to watch the trailer. It didn’t come off as a typical massy film, so I decided to take a chance. If Shah Rukh Khan, who produced the film, can take a chance on Bobby, so can I.

I sat through the entire film, fixated to the screen. I can safely say that all Bobby memes must come to an end in the face of his career-high performance. Nobody could have imagined in their wildest dreams that Bobby would redeem himself in this spectacular fashion, and this late in his career. This was one of the best cop portrayals in Indian cinema. And take a second to recollect all of what we have seen so far. I will try to go as far back as my memory takes me. Amir Khan in Baazi was probably my first Indian cop film. Back in the days, the two cop films that I really enjoyed was Khakee and Shootout at Lokhandwala. The next blip in the radar was a very dark film called Raman Raghav 2.0 starring Vicky Kaushal who as a policeman was a drug addict himself. It was probably the first cop film where the cop did not try to take a moral high ground. That appealed to me.

That was followed by a long drought. Ajay Devgan & Ranveer Singh in Rohit Shetty cop universe, Akshay Kumar as Rowdy Rathore, Salman Khan in Wanted and Dabaang. All of them, horrendous! I couldn’t even bring myself to sit through the entirety of these films. John Abraham’s cop films sit somewhere between bad and worst. To be fair to him though, his movies are more army officer portrayals. But he did cop films as well. One of his films worth mentioning would be Force. It wasn’t as bad as his other cop films because the villain role was exceptionally well played by Vidyut Jamal. This points out a very interesting feature of cop films – the cop is only as good as the villain.

The next highlight for me was Saif Ali Khan featuring in Sacred Games, Ayushman in Article 15, and Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime. Shefali Shah was a pure delight, set in a very horrifyingly gripping series based on real-life events. It almost slipped from my mind that it was my first time watching a female Indian cop playing the role of a protagonist. We also see Rasika Dugal as a female cop in that show. There was another Netflix Original series called She where Aditi Pohankar really stepped up. Not as nearly good as Delhi Crime but better than a lot of aforementioned films. More recently, watched Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a cop role in Raat Akeli Hai. Terrific as usual. And saving the best for the last, Jaideep Ahlawat in the most grotesque and chilling show Paatal Lok was my most favorite portrayals of a cop. 

Back to The Batch of ’83. The best part about the film is its casting. When you have more characters, it adds multiple layers of flavor. The scene can shift towards more narratives than focus on one man’s heroism. This film had all the ingredients to spiral into a mini web series. I think they eventually decided on a one-off film because it was a sort of historical fiction. And there’s only so much you can do with historical fiction. Also, I guess everybody was a little unsure about how people would receive Bobby in this fresh role. This is unlike anything he has ever done before. It is important to acknowledge that it is difficult to give a refreshing take on the Indian cop scene because it has been covered so many times and from so many different angles. But this film was quite enjoyable because of the interesting selection of cast. There’s something about low-key casts that is really appealing. When they are really new, there are no expectations, and thereby no baggage. It disarms viewers and sells the story. Jamtara achieved a similar feat with low-key casting. Anyways, the good news is Indian cop films are getting progressively better. Welcoming Bobby Deol in the Hall of Fame of Indian cops.

© Amitabha Dey. All rights reserved.