The Thug Life – Bollywood gangsters we love

In Bollywood, movies based on gangsters never get old. With time, this tried and tested formula has always managed to leave a lasting impression on us, as every director provides a new perception of the underworld and its machinations. Where there is bad, there is also good, and in this eternal war of good versus evil, we all root for the good guys. But sometimes, a few bad guys make sure that we love to hate them. Hard-hearted and callous, the portrayals of some gangsters are made believable by the actors who get into the skin of the character. Here are five actors who got so immersed in their gangster roles that it becomes difficult to tell the actor and the character apart:

5. Rishi Kapoor as Rauf Lala and Iqbal Seth – Agneepath and D-Day

Always the heartthrob chocolate boy of Bollywood, who would’ve thought that Rishi Kapoor would find his niche as a baddie later in his career! This veteran actor played Rauf Lala in Agneepath with vehemence and was a sheer delight to watch on-screen. He also played the calculated, manipulative underworld don Iqbal Seth – a role which was inspired by Dawood Ibrahim – in D-Day with such panache, that it makes a strong statement about the actor’s acting prowess.

4. Seema Biswas as Phoolan Devi – Bandit Queen



Accepting the role of Phoolan Devi in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen was a career-defining move on Seema Biswas’ part. The actress embodied the persona of the famous female dacoit and even got the accent right, earning her the National Film Award for Best Actress in 1996. From then on, the veteran actress has been cast for powerful roles, and has always made an impact in several other films like Khamoshi and Water, though nothing compares to her Phoolan Devi portrayal.

3. Vivek Oberoi as Maya Dolas – Shootout at Lokhandwala



Playing a real-life gangster can be a risky manoeuvre for an actor, but it payed off for Vivek Oberoi, who played Mahindra Dolas aka Maya Dolas. The gangster was a fearless member of the Mumbai underworld in the late 80s and was shot down in a police shootout in 1991. Vivek Oberoi made Dolas his own by bulking up and shedding his romantic hero personality. Despite the ruthless aura that the character had, Oberoi added more depth to Maya Dolas and looked oh-so-cool playing the formidable Gunda.

2. Manoj Bajpai as Bhiku Mhatre and Sardar Khan – Satya and Gangs of Wasseypur



Manoj Bajpai could play any given role and shine through. But this method actor has given us some splendid performances when he took on the roles of gangsters. In Ram Gopal Verma’s Satya, Bajpai stood apart with his maniacal laughter and angry outbursts, which showcases the character’s bipolarity. On the other hand, in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, he played Sardar Khan perfectly, depicting the character’s angst, and being equally comfortable killing a man as while flirting with a woman. Though he takes the cake in Gangs of Wasseypur with his dialogue, "Goli nahi maarenge saale ko, keh ke lenge uski," nothing beats his most quotable line, "Mumbai ka king kaun? Bhiku Mhatre!"

1. Sanjay Dutt as Raghunath Namdev Shivalkar – Vaastav: The Reality



With his evil grin and convoluted personality, Raghunath Namdev Shivalkar or Raghu forever became one of the most-interesting gangsters in the history of Indian cinema. Written and directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, Vaastav sheds light on the brutal reality of the underworld, where no man is really safe, irrespective of his standing. And in the midst of it all was Sanjay Dutt’s Raghu – a school dropout-turned Pav Bhaaji seller-turned gangster. Raghu’s decline into the abyss of Mumbai’s underworld is showcased brilliantly by Sanjay Dutt, who won several awards for this role. Who else would teach his own mother how to fire a gun, only to be killed by her own hand? Vaastav was a high-point in Dutt’s career and he became the go-to bad guy post the film’s success.


Menacing gangsters on film make a statement because it is close to reality, and go on to show that crime does not really pay off. Yet nothing’s stopping us from falling in love with the actors who play the bad guys/gals so perfectly! Who is your favorite on-screen gangster of all time?

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