Zee5's documentary on the slain forest brigand remains neutral, and does not glorify Veerappan. He had to pay for his crimes, but what about those who tormented innocent people during the hunt for him
The Zee5 docu-series examines Veerappan's perspective on whether he was a bandit or hero
Story: As one of five children in a family of hunters, Koose Munisamy Veerappan took to the family profession at first to alleviate hunger, and only much later to make money. Over several decades, he plundered the forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, stripping it off every sandalwood tree and tusker. He killed hundreds, including police officials who stood against him and those who ratted him out. But Veerappan also sought justice for the victims of police atrocities that unfolded during the hunt for him.
Review: There have been films and documentaries about slain forest brigand Veerappan, and Zee5’s Koose Munisamy Veerappan – Unseen Veerappan Tapes, is the latest to join this list. What makes it stand apart, though, is that it is, perhaps, one of the best to date as it based on exclusive files of Nakkheeran, the leading Tamil investigative magazine, whose founder and editor Gopal, had a long professional association with Veerappan. The show’s foundation is never-before-seen tapes of Veerappan, as Gopal and his team documented his life, on camera. This is not a documentary featuring people who directly or indirectly were involved with Veerappan. Yes, they are there too, including his daughter Vidya, but here, she and the others become supporting actors to the main lead – Veerappan.
Publicised as a 6-episode documentary on the smuggler-poacher, Koose Munisamy Veerappan – Unseen Veerappan Tapes has been presented like a web series. In the first three episodes you see and hear Veerappan talk about his childhood that was steeped in poverty, his introduction to hunting, which went from curbing hunger pangs to becoming his bread-and-butter, the first time he took a human life and the trigger points behind most of his murders. Like, for instance, the murder of DFO Srinivas, considered one of the best forest officers of the time, who was bent on getting Veerappan and his aides to reform, based on the firm belief that the official was responsible for the death of the forest brigand’s sister.
Veerappan does not deny any of his killing sprees. He admits to taking out police officials who either harmed his gang members or villagers close to the forest areas he was known to roam about. Veerappan had great compassion for villagers who came to bear the brunt of the hunt for him. But showed no mercy to those who turned police informers. Episode 4, for instance, is one of the most difficult to watch, as it focuses on the ‘alleged’ inhuman third-degree torture unleashed by the police, primarily from Karnataka, on the residents of MM Hills and surroundings, who were suspected to be aides of Veerappan or, at the least, aware of his movements. There are interviews with victims, who recount the unspeakable atrocities they were subjected to – from severe beatings to electric shocks on their genitalia and worse, sexual abuse. Men, women and children were not spared and even though the National Human Rights Commission’s Sadashiva Commission found merit in the allegations and directed the TN and Karnataka governments to pay the victims compensation, precious little has been done to date.
The alleged perpetrators of these crimes, returned like war heroes, and were awarded for their bravery, which, rights activists are appalled by. Like any other serial offender, they too ought to be brought to justice. The show also explores how much of the narrative about Veerappan was, for the longest time, the police’s version of events, much of which was allegedly fabricated. A large number of the Veerappan gang members that the special task force claims to have killed during encounters were innocent people dressed up to look like the brigand’s men. A claim that is substantiated by post-mortem reports that at least 69 people had been shot at point blank range.
By episode 5, the tone of the documentary shifts again and focuses on Veerappan’s claim that he’s only a man demanding justice for those who’ve been caught between him and the government. He was not a militant, he claimed, and yet, he was judge, jury and executioner in cases of informants who told the police about his whereabouts. He’d kill them and, at times, not even spare children – it was about nipping it in the bud, he’d said. This, in particular, rattled Nakkheeran Gopal too, who did not think that Veerappan would ever harm a child. Eventually, it was the people in those areas who suffered, as they were caught between the devil and deep sea. If they didn’t talk to the police, they’d be in trouble with the cops, and if they did, then they’d have to face Veerappan’s ire.
In the last episode, the showrunners throw in multiple arcs – from exploring how Veerappan came to be revered by a section of people, his political ideologies, especially his opposition to Jayalalitha and open support of politicians like MK Karunanidhi, the mysterious death of his brother Arjunan while in police custody, and his eventual plea for amnesty. There’s a lot to chew on, including the fact that the late J Jayalalithaa had conceded that her 1996 election defeat was a result of a much-publicised Veerappan interview. Veerappan, says Gopal, was a murderer willing to reform, but that was not an opportunity that was accorded to him, the details of which you will not see here. Koose Munisamy Veerappan – Unseen Veerappan Tapes packs a lot into its six episodes and that also means that the showrunners are left with a lot more to say. The show will be back for a second season.
Verdict: Koose Munisamy Veerappan – Unseen Veerappan Tapes is a very well-made show, blending recreated videos of events with found footage as well as interviews of people who knew Veerappan or tracked him closely, to great effect. If you have any initial misgivings about the direction of the show, rest assured, it finds its footing quickly and remains objective and balanced and is, undoubtedly, one of the best documentaries about the forest brigand. Here’s hoping that continues in Season 2, too.