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Bollywood outlaws: 10 most memorable cinematic dacoits

Amjad Khan as Gabbar Singh in Sholay
Amjad Khan as Gabbar Singh in Sholay


Brand new Bollywood film Sonchiriya is a 1970s-set dacoit drama, which stars Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar and Manoj Bajpayee.

The Abhishek Chaubey-directed crime drama, set in the badlands of Chambal, central India, isn’t the first time Hindi cinema has offered up gun-toting outlaws in the rural heartlands.

Eastern Eye presents the 10 most memorable dacoits in chronological order.

Jagga: The first Bollywood dacoit who became famous globally was the outlaw played by KN Singh in the record-breaking 1951 film Awara. In a devious plan to destroy a judge and his family as revenge for convicting him for a crime on little evidence ignited the story starring Raj Kapoor. There would later be a number of low-key movies among them was one titled Jagga Daku inspired by his character’s name.

Birju: Sunil Dutt plays the rebellious son in the 1957 classic Mother India, who becomes a bandit. Although this wasn’t the central premise in the Oscar-nominated film, the theme of a good and bad son became massively influential in Hindi cinema, as did someone killing a loved one who has done wrong.

Pran as Raka in movie Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai

Raka: There was no denying that Pran was the greatest villain of the golden era of Bollywood and his stunning portrayal of an evil dacoit in the award-winning 1960 drama Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai was a stand-out moment. He transformed his entire look and got under the skin of the menacing role that became legendary. It would raise the bar for others who would play a similar role.

Gangaram: Dilip Kumar produced and played the lead role in the legendary 1961 classic Ganga Jumna, about two brothers brought up on the opposite sides of the law. He plays a villager framed for a crime he didn’t commit and forced to become a dacoit, who eventually clashes with his police officer brother. This theme of brothers on opposite sides of the law would be copied a number of times, including in the 1975 crime drama Deewar.

Thakur Jarnail Singh: Sunil Dutt played the dacoit in the 1963 film Mujhe Jeene Do shot in the badlands of the Chambal Valley. The smash-hit film explored how love can redeem a hardened outlaw and earned the actor a Filmfare Best Actor award. The movie was also an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival. Lead star Sunil would go onto play a bandit in a number of subsequent films.

Jabbar Singh: The 1971 dacoit drama Mera Gaon Mera Desh influenced the legendary 1975 film Sholay, which included the outlaw with a similar sounding name. Vinod Khanna was so good as the dacoit and had such a striking presence that it launched a massively successful career as a leading man for him.

Gabbar Singh: The greatest villain in Bollywood history lit up 1975 curry western Sholay with his explosive presence. He helped elevate the record-breaking film to greatness and remains its most memorable character. The menacing scenes and unforgettable dialogues remain iconic more than 40 years later and no bad guys have come close to reaching the greatness Amjad Khan showed in his career-defining role.

Paan Singh Tomar: The award-winning 2012 drama based on true-life events revolved around a gold medal-winning athlete, who was forced to become a bandit. Irrfan Khan was so good in the title role of the reluctant dacoit that he won multiple accolades, including National and Filmfare Best Actor awards for his stunning performance.

Jeeva: Amitabh Bachchan, at the height of his fame, played the dacoit in the 1978 drama Ganga Ki Saugandh, which perhaps doesn’t get the credit it fully deserves. He portrays a young man forced onto the wrong side of the law, who becomes a dacoit to take revenge. In 1978, Bachchan would have five films in the top 10 grossers and this was one of them.

Seema Biswas as Phoolan Devi in movie Bandit Queen

Phoolan Devi: Seema Biswas played a career-defining role in the 1994 drama Bandit Queen, which was based on a true story of a woman forced by circumstance to become a fearsome outlaw. This film would become a massive success globally and gave Indian cinema its most memorable female dacoit.