Within two decades of Independence, however, established movie-criminals figured out that the best place to camouflage their crime was under the seat of a public office. Arguably, the first of this tribe was the adulterator – as opposed to adulterer – and racketeer Jung ‘JB’ Bahadur (played by Jayant, the stage name of Zakaria Khan, who was incidentally Amjad Khan’s father) in Mehboob Khan’s last directorial venture, Son of India (1962), who runs for elections.
Soon, many like ‘JB’ followed. Dharamdas (Om Prakash) in Jambu’s 1972 film Apna Desh, an embezzler of public money, runs for the post of municipal chairman. So does smuggler and hoarder Dharam Kohli (Utpal Dutt) in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Kotwal Saab (1977). Black money was one of the immediate benefits that the corrupt movie-politician earned. Obviously, it had to be hidden away, as unaccounted money cannot be deposited in bank accounts. In a story set in 1981, member of Parliament Rameshwar Singh of Lucknow, played by Saurabh Shukla in Raj Kumar Gupta’s 2018 film Raid, gets done in by someone in his own household who tips off the income-tax department. The I-T department uncovers truckloads of unaccounted gold, currency and valuables in his mansion, and Rameshwar ends up in jail. Shukla shared deeper insights: ‘Raid was not based on a real incident. Bits of pieces were taken from some case and then some other case and then they [added up to] make a story of one guy. In some case of an IT raid somewhere, somebody must have reached the capital and made way to the prime minister… In the film, ‘Indira Gandhi’ is never mentioned. But subconsciously it makes you believe.’
But this was kids’ stuff. Far more serious offences by a ‘Bollywood politician’ were around the corner. The Amrit Nahata-directed 1977 Kissaa Kursee Kaa, with Gangaram (Manohar Singh) as the president of a fictitious country called Jan Gan Desh, is a thinly disguised account of the Allahabad High Court’s June 12, 1975 annulment of Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election victory and her subsequent ban from contesting elections for six years. The Emergency that Gandhi imposed as a result of the verdict in June 1975, and the political murders, the overnight flattening of the Turkman Gate slums and Sanjay Gandhi’s ‘small car’ Maruti programme that followed were all fictionalised in Kissaa Kursee Kaa.
In the movie, President Gangaram of Jan Gan Desh nakedly abuses and misuses the government machinery. The film also laid bare organised bribery at official counters of government offices. A mute, helpless young lady by the name of Junta (Shabana Azmi) serves as an allegory for the public at large. Driven by frustration, Junta commits suicide outside Parliament. Kissaa Kursee Ka was not a one-off. It was only a curtain-raiser.
Interestingly, in both Son of India and Kotwal Sahab, the villain did not actually win the election, he was only an aspirant. But it gave their successors like Rama Shetty in Govind Nihalani’s 1983 film Ardh Satya and Kali Prasad in N Chandra’s 1987 movie Pratighat a good career option. In addition to the safety net that a political office provided them, the criminal-politician in the movies could not have hoped for a better shield than the police force. No wonder criminals-turned-politicians like Rama Shetty and Kali Prasad sniggered with glee. The very police who should have locked them up were now duty-bound to protect them during their political campaigns.
This is an edited extract from the author’s forthcoming book, Pure Evil: The Bad Men of Bollywood