Who was bandit king Veerappan? True story behind Netflix docuseries 'The Hunt for Veerappan'

'Operation Cocoon' is one of India's most expensive manhunts


Streaming giant Netflix’s much-awaited documentary series The Hunt for Veerappan is all set for release on August 4. The release of the teaser has been instrumental in creating a wave of commotion and piquing the interest of the viewers.

Directed by Selvamani Selvaraj and produced by Apoorva Bakshi, the documentary takes its audience to the past to introduce them to one of India’s most notorious criminals— Veerappan. Known as “The Robinhood of India”, Veerappan rose to prominence by holding two states—Tamil Nadu and Karnataka— at ransom.

The docu-series delves into the activities perpetrated by Veerappan and the parallel manhunt by the police to capture him. Coupled with a hair-raising song and numerous voice overs, we learn that Veerappan was a wild animal in human form. The teaser is an assurance for director Selvaraj’s statement that the documentary unearths the untold stories and unexplored facets of Veerappan’s life.

Who is Veerappan?

Veerappan was a poacher, smuggler and bandit who carried out his activities in the forests of south India. He spent his childhood assisting his uncle Saalvai Gounder in poaching and smuggling. At the age of 18, he joined a group of poachers who introduced him to the world of heinous crime. Various reports confirm that Veerappan has killed more than 120 people, poached over 2,000 elephants and smuggled sandalwood and ivory worth millions of dollars.

Veerappan proved to be a man who lived by his own morals. Police officials, forest officials and their supporters fell in his radar and were constantly attacked by him. According to a report by The Times of India, a forest officer from Sathyamangalam was kidnapped and lynched by Veerappan in 1987. The murder of senior IFS officer Pandillapalli Srinivas in 1991 drew further attention to him.

In 2000, he again came to the limelight for abducting Kannada superstar Rajkumar. Rajkumar was held hostage for 108 days and released after multiple rounds of negotiations with the Karnataka government.  Similarly, for several years in the 1990s, Veerappan kidnapped various police officials and other personalities demanding ransom money in return for their safe release. On the other hand, he was considered a 'saviour' by the locals and tribals due to the contributions and support he provided them with. He was taken into custody in the late 1980s but escaped soon; beginning the longest manhunt in Indian history.

The manhunt for Veerappan

The pan-Indian level of fear evoked by Veerappan finds way into the teaser as we hear former Union home minister L.K. Advani mentioning that the manhunt for Veerappan is a matter of concern for the whole country. This fear and inability to catch him led to the creation of Operation Cocoon—one of India’s most expensive operations. The Karnataka police also joined the massive search operation launched by the Special Task Force (STF) of Tamil Nadu in the early 1990s.

The operation involved infiltration by the police officials into the enemy camp with the help of local tribals. Veerappan’s knowledge about the terrain of the forest provided him an edge over the police and the team later planned to bring him out of the forest. His vast information network of locals came to his rescue to evade police capture many times.

By 2004, Veerappan’s army had dwindled down from a 100 to four members due to ageing and attacks from police. Parallel to this, the police received information that Veerappan was planning to get medical treatment for his eye in South Arcot. The police took advantage of the situation to capture him. On October 18, 2004, Veerappan was escorted to a police van which was disguised as an ambulance.

Police reports say that Veerappan and his gang were first warned and then asked to surrender. They instantly took to attacking the STF personnel. The latter retaliated and opened fire, killing Veerappan on the spot. According to a Frontline report, postmortem reports confirmed that his death was caused by the two puncture wounds he received in his head during the confrontation.

The name Veerappan still evokes fear and admiration in many. The life of Veerappan and the operation have been retold through different media. In 2007, a Tamil series named Sandhanakaadu, focusing on Veerappan’s life was released. In 2016, a Hindi feature film titled Veerappan was directed by Ram Gopal Varma. Retired IPS officer Vijay Kumar who headed Operation Cocoon has published a book titled Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand. The book provides first-hand experience into the operation.

The upcoming Netflix series The Hunt for Veerappan has incited a great deal of excitement. The series is originally made in English and Tamil. It will also be available in Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam.