The Hunt for Veerappan
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A four-part docuseries about the life, death, and myth of Veerappan, a ruthless and enigmatic poacher-turned-domestic terrorist whose bloody exploits gripped an entire nation and spawned the most extensive manhunt in India.
Produced by Kimberley Hassett (Nothing Lasts Forever) and Emmy award-winners Apporva Bakshi and Monisha Thyagarajan (Delhi Crime), the series is helmed by Selvamani Selvaraj, the assistant director of Oscar winner Ang Lee on Life of Pi.
Crafting a truthful story can be tricky, as different narratives can be established from each disparate viewpoint. Most often than not, the truth is relative to the storyteller. It’s even more problematic when portraying a notorious historical figure whose life and crimes are shrouded in mystery.
Such is the case with The Hunt for Veerappan, a multi-layered and masterful deconstruction of a polarizing criminal as told and sourced from several narrative voices, news clips, and archival footage. By weaving the story through several points of view, the docuseries paints a thorough yet complex portrait of Veerappan, a mustachioed gun-wielding criminal whose reign of terror sparked the biggest and costliest manhunt in India.
Veerappan was a man of contradictions. He was a forest dweller who plundered its natural resources for profit. He lived a life of crime and bloodshed but yearned for a normal life. To the authorities, he’s a ruthless cold-blooded murderer. But to his wife, gang members, and village people, he was a “forest angel,” a Robinhood-like figure who stole from the rich to feed the poor.
By showing different sides of his story and providing factual evidence, the docuseries tries to provide a fair and balanced portrayal of Veerappan’s life, death, and legacy. Whether it succeeds or not is immaterial. What’s important is that the series is not afraid to ask important questions and address controversial topics. From the plunder of nature to the countless innocent lives lost in the manhunt, police brutality to political machinations, to the questionable circumstance of his capture and ultimate demise — the creators tried to leave no stone unturned.
Lifting the veil and decoding the mystique of a criminal mastermind who evokes strong reactions can be a balancing act. On one end. it’s important to show the origin story, how he came to be, and why he chose the life of crime. On the other, it’s necessary to shed light on the trail of blood he left in his wake. It’s a delicate dance. The Hunt for Veerappan handles the weight of the subject matter with deft, heft, and fearlessness.
Though the series has received a lot of rave reviews and attention (it’s the 10th most-watched series on Netflix globally), some critics are accusing it of glorifying a criminal. Did the docuseries humanize a cold-blooded murderer and sensationalize his exploits to justify his atrocities? Somehow, the answer depends largely on the viewers’ interpretation. Undoubtedly, what the docuseries accomplishes is to spark a conversation by asking tough but important questions. What gives birth to criminal behavior? Is it nature or nurture? Does the end justify the means? Is murder a courageous act? In The Hunt for Veerappan, the questions are more important than the answers.
A nuanced and riveting portrait of one of the most polarizing criminals in India, The Hunt for Veerappan is not afraid to delve into controversial points of view and share contrarian voices. More than anything, it encourages reflection and critical thinking — the ultimate goal of filmmaking.
Family, relatives, and friends who are open-minded, are interested in true crime documentaries, and are fascinated by multifaceted storytelling.
While The Hunt for Veerappan featured a lot of diverse voices and key figures, the creators revealed in The Times of India that they initially had a hard time getting anyone to speak on camera.
“We were constantly faced with the question of why should we speak with you about something that’s guarded,” Monisha Thyagarajan recalled. “There was actually a researcher of ours who met with the officer who said ‘You are at zero percent trust right now. When you reach 100 percent is when I will consider giving you an interview.” She added that it took the team eight months to secure an interview with the officer.
Even Veerappan’s wife (Muthulakshmi) was also initially hesitant to talk according to the creators.
“It’s only after spending time, with persistence, that kind of came from all of us collectively, just meeting her and trying to tell her that there is no agenda here,” Thyagarajan recounted.