'KGF' and rowdy Thangam: How influenced by real life is the series?

According to many, the character of Rocky, played by Yash, is inspired by Thangam.
Actor Yash
Actor Yash
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KGF: Chapter 2, the sequel of the blockbuster Kannada film KGF: Chapter 1, is expected to release later this year though there's uncertainty about the date due to the coronavirus pandemic. The film, which traces the story of Rocky (Yash), a young orphan who grows up to become a gangster in Mumbai, takes us to the Kolar Gold Fields in Karnataka. And according to many, the character of Rocky is based on rowdy Thangam, a notorious criminal who was shot dead in a police encounter in 1997.

In fact, Paulina or Pouli, Thangam's mother, had filed a petition seeking a stay on the shooting of KGF: Chapter 2 because she felt the first film had portrayed her son in a negative light. Subsequently, the court issued summons to the makers. According to Pouli, the team had promised her that the character would be depicted in a positive manner.

However, director Prashanth Neel denied in interviews that the film was based on Thangam. In an interview to TNIE, he said, "In fact, the makers of Kolar, a film based on Thangam, had even questioned this and told me that they have rights on Thangam’s story, and that I should not be making anything related to him. I had promised them that there is nothing based on Thangam in my film, and that I don’t even know what his real life story is."

The poster for KGF though, claimed that the film was 'based on a true story'. It isn't clear which true story it's based on if not Thangam's.

According to media reports from that time, Thangam was considered to be second only to the infamous sandalwood smuggler Veerappan and was dubbed 'Veerappan Junior'. An India Today report from 1997, dated just a few days before he was shot dead, says that he had 42 offences to his name in the past four years and he had stolen jewellery worth Rs 1.5 lakh from a store on December 2.

Thangam reportedly enjoyed the support of the locals because he was something of a 'Robin Hood', just like Veerappan.

Shoot at sight orders were issued on Thangam after his last daring robbery which proved to be an embarrassment for the police force. At the time of his death, Thangam was only 25 years old. He was killed by the KGF police on December 27, 1997, in Kuppam of Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh.

The police later killed three of Thangam's brothers in encounters - Sagayam, Gopi and Jayakumar. While Gopi and Jayakumar were shot dead in July 2003, Sagayam was killed in October that year. Their mother, Pouli, filed a petition seeking a CBI inquiry on the encounters and in 2012, decorated police officer Ramesh Kumar was charged by the CBI for staging the encounter of Sagayam along with six others.

The film

KGF directed by Prashanth Neel has some similarities to Thangam's story but otherwise seems to be a largely fictional account. For instance, Rocky is clearly inspired by his mother, just as Pouli was a strong figure in Thangam's life. In fact, some reports suggest that Thangam's gang was called 'Pouli gang' and they would go around robbing gold shops in and around the Kolar Gold Fields.

Screenshot from YouTube

In the film, Rocky's mother, who is fed up of poverty, makes her son promise that he would die a rich and powerful man. Driven by her words, Rocky becomes a ruthless criminal who only thinks about how he can fulfil her wishes. However, while Rocky's mother dies in the film, Pouli is still alive.

There's also no mention of Rocky's siblings in the film. He's shown to be a lone operator, and he joins a criminal gang in Mumbai to further his ambitions.

While the first half of the film takes us through his childhood and his desire to control the Mumbai underworld, the second half takes us to the Kolar Gold Fields where he goes in disguise to carry out an assassination.

Rocky's birth in the film happens parallely with the discovery of gold in the mines. However, the history of the mines is more complicated than that. You can read about it here.

Just as shoot at sight orders were issued on Thangam, in the film, the Prime Minister asks for Rocky to be put to death. The other players in the film, like Adheera (played by Sanjay Dutt in the sequel), Garuda, Suryavardhan and so on may have been inspired by gangs who ruled KGF in those days but no direct comparisons have been made so far.

In the film, Rocky enters the mines for an assassination that will grant him control over Mumbai city but ends up empathising with the workers in the mines who live under inhuman conditions. In real life too, the labourers in KGF lived pathetic lives, in makeshift homes that were rat infested. They reportedly worked in tunnels where the temperatures would shoot up to 55 degree Celsius and accidents were frequent. Thangam, too, is said to have enjoyed the support of the people because he shared his loot with them although he had serious charges against him.

Some say that Thangam's family had migrated from Tamil Nadu to work in the mines. In those days, many of the labourers who worked in the mines were indeed Tamil migrants. The resemblance between the real life story of Thangam and KGF might be slim, but since Thangam's story has not been told before on screen, there is great interest in the comparisons. In fact, the first KGF ran into trouble right before its release because another production house claimed that they'd obtained rights to make a film on Thangam. 

KGF: Chapter 2 is expected to continue the story of Rocky and how he leads the workers in the mines to emancipation. How closely this will follow the real life story of Thangam is anyone's guess at this point. 

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