Over the years, Kannada filmmakers have developed expertise in making gangster dramas.
The year was 1995, and Upendra was a rising star director. He was years away from giving up direction in favour of becoming a movie star. Then the ambitious young filmmaker made everyone sit up and take note of him with cult classic Om starring Shiva Rajkumar in the lead. Upendra’s move to rope in real-life gangsters to play the supporting roles in the movie raised eyebrows across the country. And he forever changed the way mob movies were made in Kannada cinema.
The realism that he introduced in portraying the operations of the underworld became a cornerstone for future filmmakers, who aspired to make realistic mob movies.
Here are the cult Kannada gangster movies you can stream right now:
Upendra’s Om revolved around a formidable rowdy, Satya, who mercilessly stalks the girl of his desire. He is violent and ostentatious when it comes to expressing his feelings. Arguably, this movie is the single most reason behind Kannada film industry’s fascination with gangster movies and its endless romanticization of ‘maccu’ (machete). (Om is available on MX Player)
Director Prem further explored the realistic style of storytelling that was pioneered by Upendra. Prem’s debut movie Kariya became a game-changer for Darshan and catapulted the actor to superstardom. The movie about a stoic gangster falling in love with an upper-class girl and struggling to express his feelings to her has developed a cult following since its release in 2003. The realistic fight sequences were the major highlight of the movie. However, Prem’s best in the genre was yet to come. (Kariya is streaming on Amazon Prime)
After Om, it was Prem’s Jogi that shook the Kannada film industry. The 2005 gangster drama tells the tale of a village simpleton, who takes over the Bengaluru’s underworld scene by storm almost overnight. The heart-warming portrayal of a mother-son relationship produces military-grade feel-good and later overwhelms you with great sadness. Jogi is a milestone in Kannada cinema and in the careers of Prem and Shiva Rajkumar. Also, Arundathi Nag deserves a lion’s share in making this movie a masterpiece by channelling her innate maternal instincts in a deeply moving narrative. (Jogi is available on YouTube)
Filmmaker KM Chaitanya added another gem to the gangster genre with his directorial debut Aa Dinagalu in 2007. The title literally translates to ‘Those Days.’ The movie is a nostalgic account of real-life incidents set in the 1980s Bengaluru. The period gangster drama is based on a non-fiction novel, Daadaagiriya Dinagalu, which translates to ‘the days of anarchy.’ The novel was written by former gangster Agni Shridhar. The movie was vivid as it unfolds at a steady pace with some memorable performances from Sharath Lohitashwa, Ashish Vidhyarthi and Atul Kulkarni. (Aa Dinagalu is streaming on Zee5)
In 2007, came another highly-sentimental street movie, Duniya, which marked the directorial debut of Suri. The movie feels like a variation of Jogi as it revolves around a simpleton, who takes to violence as a means to survive and protect the dignity of his mother’s grave. Suri’s realistic portrayal of the dark underbelly of Bengaluru city pushed the envelope for the gangster genre. It gave a major break to Vijay, who was until then making ends meet by playing stunt extras in movies. Vijay went on to make a fortune and established himself as an “action hero” with his well-sculpted physique thereafter. The movie became the identity of the director and the actor as they are to date recognized as ‘Duniya’ Suri and ‘Duniya’ Vijay, respectively. (Duniya is streaming on MX Player)
Suri went on to develop his own unique style in narrating stories from the streets with noteworthy movies like Jackie (MX Player), Anna Bond (Disney+ Hotstar) and Kaddipudi (Sun NXT, MX Player).
In 2018, Suri made another gangster movie but with a small twist. In Tagaru, the protagonist is not a wayward hippie or a mob member. ‘Tagaru’ Shiva (played by Shiva Rajkumar) is a no-nonsense, merciless, nonconformist cop, who uses illegal means to exact revenge. The movie itself wasn’t path-breaking, but still, Suri’s non-linear narration and his trademark storytelling techniques catered to the expectations of his fan base. (Tagaru is available on Sun NXT).
Lastly, Popcorn Monkey Tiger, which dolls out a complex portrait of gangster who is torn between family, love and violence, is a clear sign that the next great gangster drama in Kannada will come from Suri. Because nobody is experimenting with the mob genre like him. Suri has perfected the art of mixing realism with mainstream commercial elements and emerged as an auteur in his own right.