When was the last time you saw Rajinikanth in the role of a cop? With the recently-launched Darbar, we will see Superstar don the Khaki, once again, after 25 years. In Tamil cinema, cop-based outings have always proved to be a winning formula at the box office. From Sivaji Ganesan, Kamal Haasan, Vikram to Ajith, Suriya, Karthi and Vijay Sethupathi, almost every actor worth his salt has played the cop. However, till date, Thanga Pathakkam (1974), starring Sivaji Ganesan, remains one of the biggest family cop stories followed by Rajinikanth’s iconic Moondru Mugam (1982). Then came Chatriyan, Captain Prabhakaran, Kaakha Kaakha, Saamy, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, and the popular Singam franchise, among others.
Moondru Mugam was a phenomenon during the early 80s, which saw Superstar in three characters (Arun, John and Alex Pandian), and interestingly Rajinikanth showed variations in these three roles. After all, who can forget Alex Pandian’s confrontations with Ekambaram (Senthamarai)? Even today, it evokes a sense of nostalgia when you listen to Rajinikanth introduce himself as Alex Pandian. Sample this: “A matchstick catches fire if you rub on two sides. But rub against Alex Pandiyan on any side, he will catch fire.” Undoubtedly, the film took Rajinikanth to a new level of stardom.
Gautham Menon, in an interview, had told how this A Jagannathan directorial inspired him to write a scene in Yennai Arindhal where Ashish Vidyarthi takes on Ajith Kumar.
What explains the success of such stories? There is certainly something about the uniform that has been a big draw to actors as they elevate their “mass fan base” and “commercial viability”. In addition, they seem the safest bet as it provides the minimum guarantee to producers. Also, in a way, it is seen as an image-building exercise.
What’s interesting is that Rajinikanth has done only a handful of Tamil films as a cop—Anbukku Naan Adimai, Nattukku Oru Nallavan (Shanti Kranti in Hindi), Kodi Parakkudhu and Pandian. However, in Bollywood, he was seen wearing the police uniform in Moondru Mugam’s Hindi remake John Jaani Janardhan, Geraftaar (1985), Dosti Dushmani (1986), Farishtay (1991), Hum (1991) and Phool Bane Angaray (1991).
Cop stories are of two types—no brainer entertainers that cater to the general audience and the realistic ones, that is accepted more by the niche crowd. While films like Saamy and Singam fall under the first category, Vikram Vedha, Sethupathi, Kuttram 23, Theeran Adhigaram Ondru and Adangamaru belong to the second. Now the industry is more open to exploring the same genre avoiding cliched storylines.
Fans take their favourite actors’ image too seriously. Hence, plots, scripts, dialogues, looks have become custom-made for ‘stars’. Though cop stories are often mere star vehicles, they don’t delve deep into the lives of policemen. Their persona either is blown out of proportion or vilified as corrupt.
A trade analyst says Suriya has the biggest market as far as cop stories are concerned after the Singam franchise that has been a goldmine for the makers.
Around the late 70s, most of the cop stories were high on drama and emotional elements. But now, we see more of ‘loud heroism’, bloodshed and action. Tamil cinema has shown police officers as extreme characters. Either, they would be superheroes—taking on a bunch of bad guys single-handedly or evil cops. Very rarely they present the true picture of a police officer.
Talking about perception, a policeman is usually shown as intimidating, unfriendly and corrupt, besides getting perceived as someone who one can’t rely upon. There is actually no middle ground. Often, the execution is shoddy, garish and unsubtle.
Nevertheless, over the years, Khaki-clad hero-driven scripts have worked big time, especially in B and C markets, says a popular director.
The 1980s saw the beginning of his trend, and there is no one type of cop trope. “First, cop stories never go out of fashion because they are high in suspense. Second, police officers are the face of the public, and actors are unapologetic about showing their heroism. Third, even an average script sounds good when actors play cops. The hyper-reality always entertains the audience, and an average cinema-goer likes such films despite knowing there are no ‘real’ people in the commercial cinema,” he says.
So, what can we expect from Darbar? From the poster, we know the film is set in Mumbai with the Gateway of India on the top of Superstar’s head. You could see Mumbai’s map with a few blood stains on it. Since there is red, we can safely assume it deals with communism. Given that AR Murugadoss is known for making fearlessly political films, we need to wait and watch what he has in store for the audience.