KOLKATA: The long arm of the law in uniform - khaki or white or in a sari, often hits like a sledgehammer.

The policeman in Bollywood films is no longer a machinery for sustaining law and order, for delivering justice and fair play, or for eschewing violence in public and private life. It is no longer a State instrument.

It is a power unto itself.

The comic Sakharam designed to offer comic relief has changed to assume the role one of the most corrupt individuals in official and civic space that instills more fear than moral support to the lay man who approaches the system for action.

Chulbul Pandey of Dabangg (2010) can be marked as the turning point of the cop in uniform in Bollywood.

Dabangg bagged the National Award for the Best Popular film of the year. Chulbul Pandey in all his crude loudness, his stylized performance, his pelvis shaking dance numbers with overtly sexual innuendo, his corrupt ways has turned the celluloid policeman on its head despite the caricaturisation. Pandey is fleshed out as a larger-than-life hero who wears his uniform with his RayBan glasses in great style yet gets wobbly at the knees when he meets the beautiful Rajo.

It is still violence where the policeman hero is both perpetrator and victim. Dabangg was the highest-grossing Bollywood film of 2010. Because it was Salman Khan wearing that uniform, the audience filled the theatres with whistles and cat-calls. They still do.

But Chulbul Pander is mere kindergarten stuff compared with today’s screen policeman in uniform or out of it.

The best example is Drishyam where Tabu plays an IGP. Her uniform is a bit too tight for comfort but attractive for the audience. The woman IGP depicts a gross misuse of administrative powers. She wilfully and consciously surrenders her official duty as IGP to her maternal anxieties, abusing the power the former gives her to gain the object she wishes to. She is shown torturing an entire family of suspects whose guilt in her son’s disappearance has yet to be proved. She commands her juniors to beat up and thrash a little girl and her mother and sister without reprieve. How did the Censor Board pass the film with an “A” certificate?

In Raman Raghav 2, there is no difference between Ramanna, the psychopath serial killer and the cop Raghav vested with the responsibility of catching him and arresting him.

Raghav (Vicky Kaushal) is aware of his responsibility which is sucked into a never-ending and spiralling vortex of addiction to drugs, women and alcohol. The irreverence with which he deals both with the killer and with his responsibility as well as his uniform represents that the criminal-police binary is now equal so far as values go or crime is involved and that power struggle and the vulnerability in the killer and the cop is the same.

ACP Rane (Anurag Kashyap) and his three junior inspectors in Akira are perhaps the worst reflection of the police force in Bollywood films in recent times. He and his three goons are busy over the entire film trying to save their own skins for two murders they committed earlier on, one of a young man carrying cash from an organization for a religious function and then of a sex worker who learnt about this killing and stealing and captured it on her video cam. Later, they kill two more innocent men only on suspicion that they might have information of the first murder.

The honest female inspector Rukhsana (Konkona Sen) is no different. Her approach to her cases is filled with half-baked investigation and surrender to the system. She does not follow up the killing of the sex worker which she begins earnestly. In the end because of one phone call from her big boss, she readily hands over the victimised protagonist Akira, innocent from beginning to end, to the same system that tortured, isolated and kept her captive in a mental home run by a corrupt doctor held at ransom by the same ACP.

The police force in Bollywood films, individually and collectively, have mandatory paraphernalia that structures violence within their frame of operation – the uniform, the badges worn on the lapels to use, misuse and abuse, the holster with an armed gun to be pulled out at will, or whim or bias or hate, but rarely to defend someone in its custody.

The mandatory police station with its yellowed walls and the plaster peeling off, adorned with framed, smiling visages of national leaders – Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi known mainly for their pacifistic views are cliché. Most cops have the disgusting habit of chewing paan and spitting it out anywhere at will.

The station reflects the inefficiency of the police force whose language is violence for its own sake, violence to express power, violence as a strategy to play even and finally, violence as a shield to escape fear of reprisal and punishment for the violence it inflicts on the innocent.

Ideally, a policeman should look after just 568 people (176 policemen per lakh population) as per the Bureau of Police Research and Development under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Even this fails to meet the United Nations recommended figure of roughly 222 policemen for a lakh of population i.e. 1:450. While the common man on the street faces shortage of police personnel, our powers that be are protected by an average of three policemen at the expense of taxpayers.

Some films like Prakash Jha’s Apaharan and Gangajal and E. Niwas’s Shool have taught us, sometimes even at the suggestive level, the downside of the service such as personnel shortage, wages of policemen, corruption with the political nexus, decay in the force’s rank and file and betrayal by the upper echelons where it is either difficult or impossible for an honest policeman to survive let alone rise professionally in the force. In Mumbai alone, the ratio between police and citizens is 1:334 while it is 1:262 in Delhi, 1:474 in Kolkata and 1:614 in Chennai. (The Hindu, March 27, 2010).

The police, earlier shown as a collaborator of anti-social forces like the mafia-ruled politics of the underworld and the narrow world of gangsters, has today represented by a cop works only to line his own pocket through force, torture, blackmail and manipulation, the very evils he is paid to fight against. We had films in which the police engaged in gangster-funded violence that had nothing to do with its official functioning.

The uniform gives every cop the legal sanction to indulge in self-willed action, mostly torture, insult, humiliation and violence. The moral universe of the police is automatically designed and tailored by the so-called moral universe of the power that employs them and keeps them there.

Gone is Anant Velankar of Ardh Sathya, the celluloid policeman who carved a niche in in terms of the social comment he made on the system he belonged to, and the aesthetics of the cinematic medium devised by Govind Nihalani for his directorial debut film. This film brought across the police-criminal nexus in cinema for the first time with scathing contempt. “Anant Velankar could arguably emerge as the most significant character of ‘1980s. He symbolizes the brutalization of an essentially sensitive man.

The question is – how much is this metamorphosis a reflection of cops in real life?