‘Koose Munisamy Veerappan’ Recap & Review: An Explicit Tale Of India’s Most Wanted Man

For many of our generation and before, the name Veerappan was synonymous with terror and fear. It would remind cinemagoers of Gabbar Singh in the cult classic film Sholay, who rolled out intimidation tactics through his actions. The difference would be that Veerappan existed in flesh and blood. He created a sense of fear in the Andhra-Karnataka-Kerala-Tamil Nadu region from the late 1980s until the 2000s, and no government could find a way to make him abandon his life of crime. Directed by Sharath Jothi, Koose Munisamy Veerappan, the Zee5 documentary chronicles the life of the dreaded sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, from being a mere thief to living the life of a criminal in the deep forests of South India.

Recap: What Happens In the Documentary?

This is a six-part documentary series based on the footage captured by the veteran journalist Nakkheeran Gopal, who extensively interviewed the smuggler and eventually acted as a mediator between the state governments and Veerappan. The timeline for the show spans between 1993 and early 2000, which in detail discusses the kind of massacres carried out by Veerappan and the police force. The episode itself began with a van full of police officers killed in a landmine blast.

The footage shows Veerappan speaking to Nakkheeran Gopal in depth during his visit to the forest to understand how the man became one of the most dreaded criminals in the country. Veerappan, in detail, speaks about his poverty-ridden childhood, and he developed an interest in guns only because his father hunted animals because of their easy access to the forest. His tracking and hunting skills were polished by his father. The documentary also spoke about how the government took control of the forest lands, which restricted the villagers from utilizing the trees or killing animals for survival. There was a lot of friction between the seemingly inconsiderate politicians and the people in the village, who were desperate for food and shelter. There were many speakers in the documentary who were part of the village, lived during the peak of Veerappan’s terror, and survived to tell the tale of the vicious man. There are detailed stories of how, at the beginning of his life as a criminal, he managed to get into the bad books of many high-ranking officials. There were DFO Srinivas and police officers Shakeel Ahmed and Harikrishnan; all of them were brutally murdered for being tyrants to the villagers, as per the smuggler’s account. There are journalists and retired police officers who were singing praises of the deceased police officers, who claimed to have done a lot of reformation work for the village to make sure Veerappan did not thrive. The deaths of these officers, along with the attack on the new law enforcement officer, Gopalkrishnan, sent shockwaves through both states, which forced Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to take extreme steps against the man, who considered himself ruthless and invincible.

The highlight of the documentary has to be Veerappan’s accounts of his life, which he explains in detail animatedly to Nakkheeran Gopal. There is no sense of remorse or regret in his words and body language as he describes the deaths of the people he claims to have wronged him. Veerappan was proud of the gang he created and the life he chose for himself. His family’s need to survive forced him to move to ivory trading, which was later banned. He shifted to sandalwood, smuggling to sustain himself, and the speakers in the documentary were vague about who purchased these goods, which were worth crores. There was also a question of why to chase the seller if the police and forest officials could have pursued the buyers as well. The accounts of Veerappan about wanting to survive are believable, but it is also hard to ignore the fact that the man has also killed a lot of animals and people to demonstrate his power and influence.

The saddest part of the documentary has to be the plight of the villagers who became collateral damage in the cat-and-mouse chase between Veerappan and the police officers who joined the STF. In the pursuit of extracting intel and nabbing possible informers working for the smuggler, the police officers indulged in many inhuman torture techniques on men, women, and children. There was no end to the ordeal every single villager who had little to no connection with Veerappan went through. The speakers in the documentary included N. Ram of the newspaper The Hindu, actor and activist Rohini, Nakkheeran Gopal, and several high-ranking retired police officials who were ashamed of the actions of STF officers. There was no end to the crimes committed by Veerappan to safeguard himself, but there were also the atrocities committed by the police in a rage that traumatized a generation of kids and adults alike, many of whom did not survive to tell their stories. The tragedy of the entire ordeal was that none of the police officers were put under investigation or fired from their jobs. A human rights panel was established to look into the crimes committed by the police, but the tribunal did not benefit the people who were deeply affected by the crackdown. 

Another episode was dedicated to the people who chose to inform the police about the smuggler and his gang and how most of them were branded traitors by Veerappan and eventually killed for snitching. It was horrifying to comprehend the state of the villagers, who were essentially stuck between bad and worse and were not given enough of a stage to voice their trauma.

The last episode of the show is dedicated to Veerappan entertaining the idea of maybe surrendering, but negotiating with the government would have to benefit him before he chooses to give up the life of a criminal. This episode also covered the tale of his brother Arjunan and the methods utilized by Veerappan to keep his sibling safe and alive. His plans to surrender depended on how his brother would be treated. The surrender plan was thrown out of the window when his brother and other associates allegedly consumed cyanide pills and committed suicide. Veerappan refused to believe the story shared by the officials and abandoned his plans to surrender. The negotiations were off the table. The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments were out of options on how to deal with the criminals at large.

Veerappan also spoke in the footage about his plans to foray into politics and the ideologies he intends to bring to the forefront if he is given a chance to reform. Veerappan seemed like an intelligent man who was aware of world politics and happenings. He was critical of the gullible nature of Tamilians, and their tendency to vote for actors turned politicians and not question their authority. Season one of the documentary ended with the infamous kidnapping of Kannada superstar Rajkumar, followed by the list of demands made by Veerappan. A lot is yet to be uncovered about Veerappan, and season two will further cover the infamous kidnapping of the actor Rajkumar, followed by a manhunt to neutralize Veerappan.

Review: Is It The Documentary Worth Watching?

Koose Munisamy Veerappan begins in a rather somber manner as the makers share endless footage of Veerappan speaking in detail about his life. The documentary quite aptly establishes the fact that the smuggler was indeed a great storyteller. He painted scary pictures just with his words. Unlike the Netflix documentary The Hunt for Veerappan, which was based on the large hunt carried out to capture the man. This Zee5 documentary chronicles the life story of a smuggler from his point of view, as well as other witnesses’ description of the events and killings that were carried out by Veerappan. The footage was provided by Nakheeran Gopal, the veteran journalist who rose to fame when he interviewed the smuggler.

The entire documentary is recreated based on the tales shared through the footage of Veerappan and the other speakers, who were describing the nightmare they lived through for the past two decades in the mountain and forest regions of the four key states of south India. Each episode unfolds events of the 1990s surrounding the hunt to capture Veerappan. The horror the viewer experiences hearing these events described intensifies as the show goes on, and most of them are bone-chilling. The composed demeanor showcased by Veerappan in the footage from the journalist is petrifying, and his borderline glorifies his crimes.

The beauty of this documentary series lies in the fact that there are several opinions about the smuggler. There was a faction that considered him to be a hero, including the man himself in the footage, but there was also a faction that proclaimed him to be a villain. Veerappan claimed to have championed the cause of his people, but he also killed many who snitched on him. There were thankfully no two opinions on how the police treated the villagers in their rage to find information on the smuggler, and many in the documentary questioned the role of the government in saving the image of the state police by declaring compensation for the victims, but there was nothing much done on the ground level for their rehabilitation.

The documentary also questioned the buyers who purchased crores worth of ivory and sandalwood from Veerappan. The man was thriving because ultra-rich customers were willing to buy illegal goods from him. It was implied that there were several forest officials and local MLAs involved in his smuggling racket, but beyond that, there isn’t much discussion on how he sustained himself in the forest with advanced weaponry for almost two decades. The director made sure to keep the tone of the documentary consistent.

There was an atmosphere of disturbance and trauma created by the director. The police officials, journalists, activists, and villagers speaking in the documentary did not sugarcoat any aspect of the smugglers’ reign of terror or the crackdown carried out by the police. The moment to empathize with the villagers was long gone. If only they had received justice on time.

The editing takes a backseat because there were scores of incidents and accidents involving officials and villagers that occurred in this region of south India. The network of informers that worked for both the police and Veerappan is a well-explored subject that sadly ends in tragedy.

Only a few survived to discuss the horrors inflicted upon them. This documentary could need a trigger warning for those who are generally disturbed by violent imagery and videos. There are words used to describe the miseries people went through that are distressing to the point that they could make people weep out of sympathy. Thankfully, the makers of the show did not glorify anyone in the documentary. The facts were presented as they were, and the tales described by the smuggler himself were documented for people to watch decades later. No one is a hero at this juncture of the documentary, which is slated to release season two.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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