‘Veerappan: Hunger for Killing’ by AMR Ramesh is likely to be released on OTT by the end of this year

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Even after 19 years since his death, the notorious forest brigand Koose Munisamy Veerappan remains an enigma to the outside world, particularly to the people of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Several thriller writers and filmmakers with some expertise have continuously been trying to document and portray the mysterious life of the elusive forest lord.

Even as Selvamani Selvaraj’s four-episode documentary, The Hunt for Veerappan, currently streaming continues to be binge-watched, AMR Ramesh, known for his realistic films like Cyanide (2006) and Attahasa (2013), is adding the finishing touches to his multi-lingual 20-episode web series, Veerappan: Hunger for Killing.

His end: Still a mystery

The end of Veerappan, a backward Tamil Padiyachi who became a sandalwood smuggler, ivory poacher, killer, and sadist, is still a mystery to the outside world. The kidnapping of Kannada icon Dr Rajkumar and Veerappan’s subsequent killing by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force (STF) is an unsolved puzzle till date, with crime/thriller writers and filmmakers offering their own theories, fed by police and the STF. This is precisely why audiences watch every film on Veerappan with curiosity.

AMR Ramesh during shooting of Veerappan: Hunger for Killing

In non-fiction filmmaking, the toughest challenge is to avoid misrepresenting reality. Equally difficult is the task of fictionalizing Veerappan, who, in his later years, assumed an Osama-like persona — devilish in his daring, feared for his chilling acts of terror, a Robin Hood to a select few, politically manipulated by various factions, and almost impossible to catch. Many find it hard to believe that he was actually shot dead. Several theories and speculations around him still float around. During a conversation with this writer, Muthulakshmi, Veerappan’s widow, remarked that only a Hollywood director, impartial in his approach and free from social or political bias, could portray her husband accurately, in flesh and blood.

Films and web series on Veerappan

In 1991, it was Kannada filmmaker Ravindranath, who attempted a film about Veerappan when the bandit was still alive. Later reports suggested that Veerappan had a hearty laugh after watching the film about himself. Surprisingly, he grew to appreciate the performance of Devaraj, who portrayed his character.

In 2007, Makkal TV, a Tamil channel, aired Santhanakadu as a series. However, it was AMR Ramesh who claimed to offer a ‘near-authentic’ portrayal in the Kannada film Attahasa, which was subsequently dubbed in Malayalam, Telugu, and Tamil. In Tamil, it was titled Vana Yuddham (Forest War). Renowned filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma also produced Killing Veerappan in 2016, based on Operation Cocoon devised by the STF to eliminate Veerappan.

A still from the web series

The most recent addition is The Hunt for Veerappan, a docuseries by Selvamani Selvaraj, which premiered on Netflix on August 4. AMR Ramesh’s Veerappan: Hunger for Killing is set for release by the end of this year.

A docudrama

In an exclusive interview to The Federal, Ramesh said that while Selvaraj’s The Hunt for Veerappan is a documentary, Veerappan: Hunger for Killing is a docudrama. “A documentary is a non-fiction based on true historical events, which are re-enacted. In docudrama, events that have happened are taken as content. While documentaries are the formation of perceptual beliefs, docudramas are the formation of non-perceptual beliefs.”

Ramesh says he has worked as an independent journalist while sourcing material and interviewing people connected to the Veerappan period. “I've shot the series in real locations and referred to characters with their real names. I have canned a staggering five hours of content, which is sufficient for six episodes with a run time of 4 hours and 30 minutes. I am leaving for Mumbai to discuss with major OTT platforms and expect things to fall in place by mid-October. I am hoping to stream the web series by December end,” Ramesh informed.

The legal hurdles

Asked about the ten-year gap between the release of Attahasa and the creation of the web series, he says: “There were legal hurdles when I made Attahasa, initiated by Muthulakshmi and Nakkheeran Gopal. Both of them filed lawsuits against me over the portrayal of characters. Nakkheeran withdrew his case after viewing Attahasa. It involved a protracted legal battle in local courts in Chennai, then the Madras High Court, and finally, the Supreme Court. Finally, we compromised with Muthulakshmi by paying her Rs 25 lakh in compensation,” he shared, showing supporting documents to substantiate his statement.

“At the same time, I faced criticism for not giving prominence to operations conducted by Karnataka police in capturing Veerappan. But the fact is senior police officers, including Shankar Bidari, Kempaiah and B G Jyothi Prakash Mirji, appealed against projecting them, following an ongoing inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into alleged atrocities committed by STF Karnataka. Now, with the completion of the enquiry and NHRC ordering Rs 2.80-crore interim relief to 89 affected men and women, Karnataka police officers agreed to be referred to in the web series. In the 20-episode series, I am going to narrate untold truths about the operation launched to nab Veerappan,” Ramesh added.

Kishore Kumar to reprise the role of Veerappan

The director is planning to split the whole narrative of 18 hours into three seasons, with two of six episodes each and the last with 8 episodes. “My plan is to portray stories from the point of view of police officers, including Shankar Bidari, Kempaiah, Harshavardhan Raju, Jyothi Prakash Mirji, Madhukar Shetty. As the series is multilingual, I am looking for pan-Indian actors such as Madhavan and Randeep Hooda. I have approached Manoj Bajpayee, too,” Ramesh said.

Kishore Kumar G., who essayed the role of Veerappan, will reprise it. Suresh Oberoi, who played Dr Rajkumar (the actor who was abducted by Veerappan), will be playing the Kannada icon’s role in the web series. Ramesh’s daughter Vijeta, a product of the theatre school Rangayana, will narrate the story to the audience. He has roped in music director Raghav Sharma and cinematographer Vijay Milton; Llewellyn Anthony Gonsalvez will take care of editing work.

“The first episode will open with the abduction of Dr Rajkumar from his farmhouse in his ancestral village, Gajanur, bordering Tamil Nadu, and then will go into flashback to Veerappan’s childhood and adulthood days, before he embarked on his journey to becoming one of the most dreaded criminals,” Ramesh said.

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