The Pulitzer prize-winning late American film critic Roger Ebert observes in his 1971 review of Don Siegel’s groundbreaking cop thriller Dirty Harry, “Eastwood (Inspector Harry Callahan) doesn’t care; he says to hell with the Bill of Rights and stalks out of the district attorney’s office… The movie clearly and unmistakably gives us a character who understands the Bill of Rights, understands his legal responsibility as a police officer, and nevertheless takes retribution into his own hands.” Ebert is evidently a little taken aback by the unapologetic belligerence of Siegel’s San Francisco Police Department cop. Remember, it’s the early 1970s and the idea of a cop who takes the law in his own hand is not commonplace yet.
Fast forward to the early 1980s and we get a glimpse of the same mean streak in Bombay Police’s encounter specialists who have been credited with bringing back the rule of law in Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) at a time when the city was plagued by underworld gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim, Iqbal Kaskar and Chhota Rajan. These daredevils were handpicked from the batch of 1983 from the Police Training School in Nashik by former Maharashtra DGP Arvind Inamdar who trained them to tackle underworld in any way they deemed fit. Inamdar, who would have spent a lot of time on the streets during the ‘70s, was perhaps taking a leaf out of Inspector Harry Callahan’s unapologetic belligerence when he briefed the young trainees to kill and wiped out the gangsters from the city. A print journalist in the film aptly addresses the encounter special specialists as the ‘Dirty Harries of Bombay’.
S. Hussain Zaidi’s 2019 nonfiction book ‘The Class of 83: The Punishers of Mumbai Police’ documents their heroics and follies. Now, Atul Sabharwal’s Netflix film Class of ’83 is widely seen as an adaptation of Zaidi’s book. But the fact of the matter is that the book did not exist at the time when screenwriter Abhijeet Shirish Deshpande started writing the screenplay. All the creative team had at their disposal was a three-page synopsis of Zaidi’s in-progress book and lots of research material like newspaper clippings collected by Zaidi. But textual material wasn’t enough for Sabharwal and so he had to access all the available visual material from the 1980s from the Films Division repository, including documentaries on the National Police Academy, Datta Samant’s Bombay mill strike, and Charles Correa, who served as the Chief Architect for New Bombay from 1970–75.
Now, Atul Sabharwal, with a series like ‘Powder’ and a movie like ‘Aurangzeb’ under his belt, would have been the ideal choice to direct a film like Class of ’83. And he doesn’t disappoint. He exercises complete control from the first scene to the last. Right from the inspired casting of Bobby Deol is the role of Dean Vijay Singh (a fictitious character based on DGP Arvind Inamdar) to the immaculate period detail to the choice of newcomers Hitesh Bhojraj, Bhupendra Jadawat, Ninad Mahajani, Sameer Paranjape, and Prithvik Pratap as the five trainees, Sabharwal doesn’t miss a single note. The end result is a gritty cop thriller that emphatically announces the arrival of the Dirty Harries of Bombay. Also, do watch out for a very interesting turn from Anup Soni.