The Indian docu-series The Hunt for Veerappan is directed by Selvamani Selvaraj.

Where can you watch The Hunt for Veerappan in the UAE?

The Hunt for Veerappan is currently streaming on Netflix in the UAE and the Middle East.

The Hunt for Veerappan review

One of the extraneously interesting things about the 4-part docu-series The Hunt For Veerappan is the director’s name. The name Selvamani Selvaraj is bound to ring a bell in Tamil viewers about the film director R K Selvamani, whose famous film is Captain Prabhakaran, a fictional account of the capture of forest brigand Veerappan (even though on the screen his name is shown as Veerbhadran).  The 1991 film, a super hit, gave its hero Vijayakanth, who played the valorous cop on the deadly sandalwood smuggler, the now most popular moniker ‘Captain’.

Veerappan and his violent ways have been subjects from time to time. Before Captain Prabhakaran, there was this popular 1985 Hindi film Sarfarosh (headlined by Aamir Khan) with a small character named Veeran, played by Govind Namdeo, loosely based on the real-life brigand.  The 2001 Malayalam film Korappan The Great made an almost comical movie with a bunch of friends looking for financial reward, trying to capture a Veerappan-like bandit in the forests. There was Ram Gopal Varma’s Jungle (2000), which is a survival drama, having a brigand like character holding a bunch of tourists as a hostage. Mani Ratnam’s 2010 bi-lingual movie Raavan had a tribal leader character named Veeriah whose operations triggered memories of the sandalwood smuggler. However, the film was based on the mythological hero Raavan. Later, the Tamil TV channel Makkal TV presented a serial, Santhanakadu, exploring the life and times of the brigand.

The Hunt for Veerappan

Except for Santhanakadu, all the other offerings mentioned above were works of fiction, and a lot of creative liberty was used. Santhanakadu, aired on a channel holding allegiance to the Tamil Nadu political party Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), was almost sympathetic to the bloody criminal. The PMK had a hand in building up a narrative of Veerappan as a ‘Tamil nationalist’ in the State. While Veerappan is a downright criminal in Karnataka, in Tamil Nadu, his image is not so much in such clear black-and-white shades. He is seen as a Robin Hood messiah, and this streak comes across in the new docu-series.

In a docu-series, it is only fair that both sides of the story must be articulated, but here the director Selvamani Selvaraj does some unconvincing tightrope walk. Muthulakshmi, the slain brigand’s wife, gets a lot of footage as she speaks about the torture the police from both States put her family and the villagers through. The entire operation to capture him, in total, cost the two States close to a whopping Rs 100 crore.

Of course, nobody can outright deny there were police excesses in the way they set out to nail the elusive forest bandit, who dealt with poaching elephant tusks and sandalwood smuggling in the woods of Sathyamangalam that nestles between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. His menace became unbearable when he kidnapped Karnataka matinee idol Rajkumar in July 2000.

It set off a flurry of activities, and there was plenty of bad blood between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. While police could not know his whereabouts, some individuals (dodgy journalists) were able to meet him and do interviews that were telecast on TV channels. It was a period that the TN government, led by M Karunanidhi, seemed not so above board. 

Those three months were tumultuous, and this sensational incident gets major treatment in the new doc su series. But the fact that none from the actor’s family has appeared in the series makes it less convincing. The heinous killing of the honest forest officer Srinivas, who tried his best to help rehabilitate the brigand and his family — the Veerappan gang eventually took him out — is also dealt with in the series. The challenges that the terrain posed in the combing operations are also made evident through top-angle drone shots.

The brigand’s killing in an ‘encounter’ with the special task force in October 2004 created a furore among human rights activists. There are doubts that he was killed from point-blank range and not taken out in an encounter. This forms another segment of the series.  The interviews of all those involved are in detail and interesting.

On the whole, the series is interesting. For Veerappan was no ordinary criminal. He was wanted for killing approximately 184 people, about half of whom were police officers and forest officials. He is said to have poached over 2000 elephants and smuggled ivory worth several crores of rupee. He is also reportedly smuggled 65 tons of sandalwood worth close to Rs 150 crore.  How such a notorious man could be a hero to some villagers and also foisted as some kind of Tamil nationalist fighter is a question that needs answers. Alas, this series does not look in that direction.

Balakumar Kuppuswamy
Balakumar Kuppuswamy

An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.

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