A society may or may not get the criminal it deserves, but with Ram Gopal Varma's Veerappan, what audience gets is just a glimpse of an ace-filmmaker's sharp eye for details, gritty realism, taut script, interesting camera work and an excellent actor who is also a Veerappan lookalike, of course, after make-up, essaying the role. However, none of these sustains itself through the 125-minute film.
High expectations are set in the first scene itself as Veerappan (Sandeep Bharadwaj) and his gang attacks a police check-post on the edge of Sathyamangalam forests, shooting many policemen and brutally murdering a Special Task Force (STF) officer. Cut. Cops at the STF camp are demotivated. They wonder what gives Veerappan an edge over the massive force that uses latest ammunition and has support from governments of two states and they keep wondering till the end, even after they kill the brigand.
The film takes us through Veerappan's reign of terror when he ruled the jungles bordering Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In the film, he kills elephants for their tusks, cuts and smuggles sandalwood trees, kidnaps people for ransom and murders whoever he feels like, sometimes to just stay in news, with equal ease. We are told that forest guards taught a young Veerappan the art of precise shooting so that he could kill elephants and bring them tusks for smuggling. By the time they tried to stop him, he had become confident enough to attack them instead. This not only gained him reputation but got him a following as well, thus triggering the rise of one of India's most notorious criminals.
Sadly, this is the closest you get to Veerappan, the man who inspired the film. RGV was right when he said in an interview that this film does not glorify Veerappan. Actually, it is not even a biopic. While you keep wishing that the film would tell you more about the man behind that famous moustache, the film proceeds to explore STF's struggle and strategies aimed at either capturing or killing Veerappan. Although a little disappointed but far from giving up on RGV, you focus on no-nonsense STF officer (Sachiin Joshi) who leads the project and others who would eventually cause Veerappan's fall. This is where the script starts faltering. Joshi ropes in slain STF officer's widow Shreya (Lisa Ray) in a highly-confidential plan as a spy to gather information from Veerappan's wife Muthulakshmi (Usha Jadhav). Why Shreya and not a trained cop? No clue. The next few attempts at getting to Veerappan look more like mindless plans of a man who holds a certain grudge against the bandit, and not like a chalked-out strategy by the best ones in the task force.
Joshi lacks any strength, punch or aggression you expect from a cop executing the plan to kill the man who killed 97 policemen, 184 people and 900 elephants—or, so RGV claims. Rather, he seems completely disinterested. On the other hand, Ray is so enthusiastic that she steps over the blurry line that differentiates acting from over-acting. Interestingly, post interval, she is everywhere—at home with Muthulakshmi, in police torture room with the top-cop (Joshi), on the encounter spot where Veerappan is shot dead. Also, she is not only there but is out-of-place, too. How much ever the make-up artist and stylist tried, Ray stands out in the film with her light eyes and heavily-accented Hindi. Jadhav did manage to put up a show, but is far from making an impact. However, one person who deserves standing ovation for his performance is Bharadwaj. He not only nails the look, but gives you goosebumps with his impressive portrayal of the bandit. The fiery eyes, violent attitude, rough mannerisms, rude comebacks, rising pride with increasing popularity—Bharadwaj brings everything together in his version of Veerappan. Still, that doesn't stop you from wishing, if only a bit more effort was put in bringing out the nuances of the man that Veerappan was.
The background score based on famous children song, Lalla Lalla Lori Doodh Ki Katori, is too loud and fails to connect with the theme on the screen. Camera work looks good, with the kind of shots and angles you expect from a RGV film.
The film is nowhere close to what you expect from the maker of Satya, Shool, Sarkar and Company. Veerappan does have the pace and some shades of the genius but fails to have a grip on the characters.
Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Cast: Sandeep Bharadwaj, Sachiin Joshi, Lisa Ray, Usha Jadhav