Having finally scraped into hit status with Sarkar Raj, his Bachchan-based near-the-knuckle overview of the political-underworld nexus of Mumbai, Ram Gopal Verma will be turning his attention to another blockbuster investigation of crime with a biopic of notorious smuggler Veerappan, provisionally titled Let’s Kill Veerappan.
Gunned down by officers of the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force in 2004 when he was 52 years old. Veerappan was implicated in 184 murders, including several senior police and forestry officers, during his career as he roamed through the verdant rainforests and hills of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He could command an army of hundreds and smuggled elephants valued at over $2 million and sandalwood valued at $22 million. Huge sums of money were also raised through kidnapping. In a career that lasted more than 20 years, he took revenge on the police and forestry officials whom he blamed for atrocious behaviour towards the villagers who lived on the edge of the great forests, behaviour that he claimed led to the suicide of his sister Mala and brother Arjunan.
He had a Robin Hood image – stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Local villagers helped to protect him and his gang, though whether this was from admiration or from fear is arguable. He was certainly a violent man and is rumoured to have killed one of his own daughters through strangulation in order to prevent her from crying and giving away his position whilst in hiding from the police.
In July 2000, he kidnapped popular Kannada film star Rajkumar. The star was released three months later unharmed, having paid – it is rumoured – a large ransom.
Controversy surrounds his death in 2004. It appears he was shot dead by police near the village of Papparapatti after a gun battle. However, it is suggested that he had previously stated that if he were ever arrested he would name every politician and police official he had ever bribed to ensure his freedom over twenty years. The implication is that the police to prevent him from talking executed him.
The film script has received valuable input from Veerappan’s widow Muthulakshmi, showing the human side of the man she loved. Clearly Veerappan’s story has all the makings of a Bollywood classic, but controversy is sure to surround a film, which runs the risk of glorifying a criminal and murderer.