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A brief history of the crime/action film

Films based on criminal-political nexus have been the staple for many years. This theme drew on the mass media coverage of its time, which critiqued this development in Indian politics with reference to the nationalist ideal and its promised utopia of a new nation. Its origins go the ascendancy of Indira Gandhi, the Navnirman movement, emergency, Sanjay Gandhi etc. The theme was presented in various film forms – popular melodrama, popular action, revenge films, parallel/realist cinema.

However, I see a big difference in the films made before and after the 90s – the pre-90s films tend to paper over the real conditions. Instead they were keener to exploit the mass-media discourse, only amplifying its myths and simplifications. Given the way films were made during the era (First a plot and starcast was agreed upon by the director, producer, distributors, and financiers. The script writers would be locked up in a hotel room alongwith the plot contours and expectations alongwith VHS tapes of films to reference, and . They would then come up with the dialogues, borrowing the overall narrative structure from the outline and other films.), it is not surprising that the narrative was based on gross generalisations and a superficial understanding of the sociology of crime and politics. In the post-90s environment, the new exhibition sector significantly diluted the monopoly of the all-India distributors allowing films to be targeted for urban areas. Thus a different system of filmmaking emerged giving opportunities to a new class of filmmakers. Films such as Shool essentially revisited the themes of these films and presented them with greater rigour.

In my meetings with the filmmakers and screenplay writers, it was obvious that these guys knew the realworld origins of their plots and themes, had intimate understanding of the gullies the criminals and policemen frequented, had access to police officers and criminals at all levels. They cared less about the “bigger picture”. Though they have the ability to make epic-level macro films, the economics does not allow it yet.

This post will be updated with list of films.


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