"His mere presence in a frame is kinetic enough"
Over several decades, many famous Bollywood police characters have been portrayed by some of the biggest names in the business.
Bollywood police characters have delivered unforgettable one-liners. They certainly pack a punch and they decorate the filmography of many stars.
Sometimes, these characters have audiences rooting for them. At other times, they make viewers hate them, as they are sucked into a dangerous world of corruption.
But love them or hate them, such characters are iconic. They have gone down in the history of Bollywood movies.
We look deeper into 20 famous Bollywood police characters that have left an indelible mark in the industry.
Inspector Vijay Khanna – Zanjeer (1973)
Amitabh Bachchan stars as Inspector Vijay Khanna in Zanjeer (1973). He is the embodiment of angst and bitterness in the film.
When Vijay’s parents are murdered, he goes on a journey of honesty, tragedy and revenge. This includes him falsely getting imprisoned for bribery and losing his respectable job.
There is a scene when Vijay reprimands the gangster, Sher Khan (Pran) in his police station. He utters the famous line:
“Yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahin!” (“This is a police station, not your father’s house!”).
This line became stuck in minds of people all over the world. As a result, Vijay became one of the most legendary Bollywood police characters.
Khan befriends Vijay and they go up against the villain, Seth Dharam Dayal Teja (Ajit Khan).
Vijay entices a once antagonistic Khan to fight for righteousness. This appealed to many.
None of the leading actors of that time were willing to perform in the film.
Zanjeer was rejected by many, including Raaj Kumar, Dev Anand, Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna.
The role was finally won by Amitabh. Although this was one of his early roles, this is still a very iconic character.
Zanjeer also marked the beginning of his ‘Angry Young Man’ persona.
Police Inspector – Roti (1974)
Credited simply as ‘Police Inspector’, Jagdish Raj stars in the Rajesh Khanna film, Roti (1974).
In this romance-action drama, Jagdish plays the role, with complexity and depth.
There is a scene when he delivers news to a blind couple, Lalaji (Om Prakash) and Malti (Nirupa Roy).
He tells them that their son’s death is due to Mangal Singh (Rajesh Khanna).
He does so with compassion, but then powerfully promises them that he will catch Mangal. This proves his bravery.
In another scene, Mangal disguises himself as a police officer. Jagdish’s character tells the imposter that you had killed Lalaji and Malti’s son.
Mangal shakes his head and squirms. This not only indicates Mangal’s predicament but also secretly displays Jagdish’s intellect in the film.
In 2014, reviewing the film on IMDb, Sanjay praised the cast, commenting:
“All the artists have done their roles well.”
In his career, Jagdish played the role of a police character in 144 films. This achievement earned him a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Sadly, he passed away in 2013, leaving behind many famous Bollywood police characters.
Ravi Verma – Deewaar (1975)
Deewaar (1975) showcases a story of two brothers on opposing sides of the law.
Ravi Verma (Shashi Kapoor) is an honest police officer, while Vijay Verma (Amitabh Bachchan) is a gangster.
Although Shashi was senior to Amitabh, he plays the second lead to the latter.
The character that Ravi plays is tender and calm. Audiences go through a wave of empathy when devastatingly, he shoots Vijay in the climax.
Vijay’s relationship with his mother Sumitra Devi (Nirupa Roy) is fractured. In a tense scene with Ravi, Vijay attempts to undermine him.
He shouts that despite having the same street upbringing, he has more than his brother. In response, Ravi says:
“Mere paas maa hai!” (“I have a mother!”)
This line became a rage and was remembered immensely when Shashi passed away in 2017.
There is no denying that Vijay shone in Deewaar. But Ravi too was magnificent. The character earned Shashi a Filmfare Award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ in 1976.
Thakur Baldev Singh – Sholay (1975)
Many Indian film buffs will know Sholay (1975). Several decades after its release, Sholay is still regarded as a classic.
The film boasts of a unique premise, good music and extraordinary performances. One of the most enduring character’s is that of Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar).
For the majority of the film, Baldev is an armless landowner. He enlists the help of two rogue convicts, Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra).
But Baldev is also a former police officer, who is immensely respected by his community. In the police scenes, he is ruthless, yet compassionate.
In a train scene, while talking to Jai and Veeru, whom he has arrested, Baldev says:
“I don’t work as police for money. Maybe I’m fond of playing with danger.”
This shows his steely grit. He then frees Jai and Veeru from handcuffs, knowing that their strength will help them get out of danger.
This is the same attitude Baldev adopts when he enlists their help. He comments that even though they are criminals, they are brave.
He wants their help to get revenge against a bandit called Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan). When Baldev arrests him, Gabbar murders the former’s family.
After seeing their dead bodies, Baldev’s natural human behaviour betrays him. Unarmed, he angrily and instinctively goes to confront Gabbar and ends up losing his arms.
Baldev is a layered character. Baldev is a sensible, proactive officer but like anyone else, he is also triggered and impacted by the tragedy.
In 2017, Free Press Journal listed Baldev as one of Sanjeev’s finest performances. They described it as “memorable.”
Inspector Davinder Singh/Ajit D. Singh – Pratigya (1975)
In Pratigya (1975), Dharmendra stars in a dual role. He plays Inspector Davinder Singh as well as Ajit D Singh.
Ajit also goes by the alias Thanedaar Inderjit Singh.
What is interesting about this movie is that Ajit pretends to be an inspector but is actually a villager. He goes on a quest for revenge against a bandit called Bharat Thakur (Ajit Khan).
Pratigya, for the most part, is a comedy. In his police uniform, Ajit excels in the action scenes.
He is witty in the comedic scenes and makes a mark in the minds of the audience.
The climax when Ajit tries to fulfil his vow amongst a blazing fire is impressive. His chemistry with Radha Lachman Thakur (Hema Malini) is equally infectious.
Ajit becomes a real policeman at the end, thus showing the everlasting impact law and order has on an individual.
In a 2008 review article, MemsaabStory describes the film, stating:
“An opportunity to see some legendary comedians in Hindi cinema at work.”
The film was one of the highest-grossing Indian films of 1975.
It was refreshing to see Dharmendra as a likeable Bollywood police character after an anti-hero in his previous films.
DSP D’Silva – Don (1978)
In Don (1978), Iftekhar plays the chief of police, DSP D’Silva. He is on a mission to capture the underworld criminal Don (Amitabh Bachchan).
There is a scene when the DSP is driving and a wounded Don has a gun aimed at his head. The DSP remains level-headed and tells him:
“Just surrender yourself to me and I will take you to hospital.”
Although Don dies, this dialogue is an indication of the supportive side of the DSP. Hence, he was a Bollywood police character audiences admired.
In the film, the DSP later employs Don’s lookalike Vijay (also Amitabh Bachchan) to impersonate the criminal.
There’s a scene when he promises Vijay to look after the education of his adopted children. He is understanding of Vijay’s dilemma too.
When the DSP dies, it is emotional and heart-wrenching.
In The Making of Don (2013), Krishna Gopalan writes about a significant point in the film’s plot. It involves the DSP. Gopalan wrote:
“Iftekhar’s death in the crucial sequence changes everything.”
This was perhaps alluding to the importance of the character he played as his death creates big problems for Vijay.
Despite having other such powerful characters, DSP D’Silva is at the heart of the film.
Iftekhar was an actor who was known for his Bollywood police characters. But one of his most famous ones is in Don.
Inspector Girdharilal – Mr Natwarlal (1979)
Ajit Khan plays Inspector Girdharilal in Mr Natwarlal (1979). The film also features Mr ‘Natwar’ Natwarlal (Amitabh Bachchan).
Girdharilal is framed by the villain Vikram Singh (Amjad Khan). This causes Natwar to take up the identity of ‘Mr Natwarlal’ to avenge his brother’s treatment.
When Girdharilal meets Natwar in a house, he reprimands his brother. In the film, he misunderstands his brother’s actions.
Rather than seeing that Natwar is trying to defend his honour, Girdharilal thinks he is behaving in a wayward manner. He says:
“If you keep dropping your handkerchief like this, you’ll fall with it one day.”
Girdharilal strikes an inimitable balance between comedy and humour. His chemistry with Natwar is one to witness.
Vijay Lokapally wrote a review of the film for The Hindu in 2016. Talking about Natwar’s mission to expose Vikram and defend Girdharlilal, Vijay wrote:
“A thief puts [Natwar] on the trail of Vikram and the rest is the hero’s journey to avenge his elder brother’s ignominy with a gallantry medal, awarded to Girdharilal…”
Vijay describes that medal as “the inspiring object for Natwar.”
The inspiration factor accurately describes the value of Girdharilal. He is a character that has his own position in a 70s film, that boasts of Amitabh as a USP.
Speaking in his famous tone of voice, Girdharilal makes for one of the most entertaining Bollywood police characters.
DCP Ashwini Kumar – Shakti (1982)
In Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti (1982), Dilip Kumar plays DCP Ashwini Kumar. Ashwini is a relentless, yet dutiful police chief.
However, his profession comes with deep costs. Ashwini’s son Vijay Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) is kidnapped.
The kidnappers, led by JK Varma (Amrish Puri), demand that Ashwini release their companion from jail. This is in exchange for his son’s life.
Having said that, Ashwini refuses to back down. He tells his son’s kidnappers:
“I know that right now, my son’s life is in your hands. Kill him, but I won’t betray my duty!”
Vijay overhears this. Although he escapes, this leads to a fraught and fractured father-son relationship. Vijay fails to understand his father’s duty.
In the climax, Ashwini makes a gut-wrenching move as he shoots Vijay. Whilst it is sad, the audience understands his reasons for shooting his son.
This follows with an iconic father-son dialogue, which is both moving and caring.
Vijay tells his father he loves him, despite trying really hard to hate him. Ashwini replies:
“I love you too, son.”
The audience can see the pain underneath the tough cop exterior.
Ramesh Sippy wrote an afterword in Dilip Sahab’s 2014 autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow. Discussing Dilip Sahab’s acting, Ramesh wrote:
“Dilip Sahab does not need the spoken word to act. His mere presence in a frame is kinetic enough to make the scene come alive.”
Dilip Sahab’s talent was evident in Shakti. He won the ‘Best Actor’ Filmfare Award for Shakti in 1983.
Ashwini is not only one of Dilip Sahab’s finest performances but also a most relatable police character.
Inspector Durga Devi Singh – Andhaa Kaanoon (1983)
Hema Malini stars as the headstrong Durga Devi Singh in Andhaa Kaanoon (1983). As the name suggests, the movie is a take on the gaps within the Indian law system.
Durga is a sister to Vijay Kumar Singh (Rajnikant). Durga becomes a police officer, so she can take revenge against three criminals – be it within the law.
At a time when Indian police films were dominated by men, Durga was delivering entertaining punches.
She strides into scenes. When she shoots a gun into the air, demanding to see the master of a den, her aura is impressive.
In a shocking scene when she discovers a suicide, Durga remains cool and calm. She is professional in all predicaments.
Hema Ji reminisces about Andhaa Kanoon with Subhash K Jha Khan from the Asian Age. Describing the plot and her character, she said:
“It was a very strong brother-sister story. I played a cop and Rajini Ji was cast as my brother. We both wanted to take revenge against the villains.”
“But my brother wanted to break the law, whereas I wanted to seek justice within the framework of the law.”
Hema was hinting at the sincerity and dedication of the character she played.
In Andhaa Kanoon, Durga is funny and warm. At the same time, she is brave and loyal.
Inspector Arjun Singh – Satyamev Jayate (1987)
Satyamev Jayate (1987) marked the comeback of actor Vinod Khanna as Arjun Singh.
There are many Bollywood police characters known for their loyalty and patriotism. But Arjun is known for his methods of torture and brutality.
This is evident when Arjun attacks a prisoner, trying to force him to tell the truth about a case. He then has to be pulled off the writhing criminal by another officer.
When a family member of his neighbours dies in his trust, Arjun must clear his name. In the midst of all this, he also finds comfort with prostitute Seema (Meenakshi Seshadri).
Arjun is unyielding and strong-willed. Early on in the film, at the police station, he says to his colleague:
“Usne meri collar pakad ke meri khud-dari ko ladkara tha!” (“He challenged my self-respect when he grabbed my collar.”)
This indicates the fierceness of the character. Even though Vinod was much older than Meenakshi, their chemistry together was appreciated.
After Vinod Khanna passed away in 2017, News18 listed this police character as one that celebrates his legacy.
Ram Singh – Ram Lakhan (1989)
Ram Singh (Jackie Shroff) is a hard-working police officer in Ram Lakhan (1989). He is tested when his younger brother Lakhan Singh (Anil Kapoor) joins the immoral side of the law.
Ram is an honest police officer. Meanwhile, Lakhan has only joined the police force because he thinks it’s easy.
After a quarrel between the brothers, Lakhan is tricked by Bhishambar Nath (Amrish Puri). Bhishambar is a villain that Lakhan joins forces with.
It’s now up to the collective and brave Ram to save his brother. His family is most important to him.
The pain he goes through when he sees Lakhan go on the wrong path drips with emotion and rage.
In a confrontational scene between the brothers, Ram fumes to Lakhan:
“Kanoon ka rakhwala jo ek din khud kanoon ke girf mein hoga!” (“You are a protector of the law who, one day will be arrested by the law”).
However, when Ram and Lakhan beat Bhishambar up during the climax, the brotherly bond powerfully reestablishes. The audience can resonate with Ram’s character.
Ram Lakhan was inspired by classics such as Gunga Jumna (1961) and Deewaar (1975).
Ram is the quintessential Bollywood police character. He is Romantic, brave and headstrong.
This movie was a huge success in 1989. Ram Singh added huge credentials to the glistening career of Jackie Shroff.
Inspector Samar Pratap Singh – Shool (1999)
It’s difficult to imagine a loyal police officer when he goes against his own system.
However, in Shool (1999), Samar Pratap Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) not only does that but justifies it as well.
Samar goes through many upheavals, including losing his daughter. He also finds himself alone with no support from his department.
Manoj portrays a classic police character. Samar is firm and fierce. There is a scene when he beats up three men for harassing women. He also stands his ground against his own senior officer.
Samar kills his adversary Lajlee Yadav (Nandu Madhav), shouting “Jai Hind” (“Hail India”). This echoes with bravery and patriotism.
There are scenes when Lajlee frees Samar from prison, seeing an advantage to get away with his crimes. Though, sensing his motives, Samar insults him. This displays his cleverness and wit.
Samar forms one of the best Bollywood police characters ever seen on celluloid.
In 1999, Anil Nair reviewed Shool on Rediff. Talking about Manoj’s performance, Anil wrote:
“Bajpai’s acting is controlled and commendable.”
It was a great character and was listed by Filmfare as one of ten iconic cop characters in Bollywood.
Sadhu Agashe – Ab Tak Chappan (2004)
Inspector Sadhu Agashe (Nana Patekar) in Ab Tak Chappan (2004) is a stern police officer. He is also immensely envied.
Sadhu is a dutiful husband and is generous to his staff. Even the don, Zameer (Prasad Purandare) respects Sadhu for his attitude.
It is not often that viewers get to see an amicable relationship forming between a police officer and a villain. Having said that, Sadhu has also killed many people.
In one such encounter, he dismantles a gun and places it on a table. During the climax, he jokes and laughs with Zameer, but then insults him.
Sadhu tells his sub-inspector Jatin Shukla (Nakul Vaid):
“Nice meeting you.”
He hurts his hand in the process. He is not willing to get complacent with anyone.
He is charismatic, confident and yet dangerous.
In Ab Tak Chappan, this is a different type of police character. There are no songs or shirtless scenes. It is all about the duty.
Rediff includes this movie in ‘The Top 25 Hindi Action Films of all Time.’ They describe it as “a solid firecracker of a film.
Prakash Rathod – A Wednesday (2008)
Prakash Rathod (Anupam Kher) goes head-to-head with The Common Man (Naseeruddin Shah) in A Wednesday (2008).
Prakash narrates a complicated case he was involved in.
On this occasion, he is called by The Common Man who does not reveal his name. But he warns him about his bombing schemes.
The character of Prakash is brave and loyal. He has the trust of his staff. In one scene, he asks his staff if they want to warn their families.
They all reply “No sir”, showing the extent of their faith in Prakash. As a police commissioner, Prakash does not wear the usual ‘vardi’ (uniform).
There is a scene in the film where he beats up a prisoner with the same aura and strength as other Bollywood police characters.
His power and authority are quite evident from this.
Prakash is asked by The Common Man to release criminals or risk bombs engulfing Mumbai. Prakash is stern and calm.
Sonia Chopra from sify.com talks about the head-to-head scenes of Prakash and The Common Man in a 2008 review.
She calls their face-off, “the film’s central soaring point.”
Prakash Rathod holds his own against The Common Man and emerges as one of the most engaging Bollywood police characters.
Chulbul Pandey – Dabangg (2010)
Dabangg (2010) contains one of Salman Khan’s most famous and loved characters. He plays Inspector Chulbul Pandey.
Chulbul is a corrupt police officer who can floor multiple goons with one punch.
The audience can see a softer side to him during his romantic scenes with Rajjo Pandey (Sonakshi Sinha).
The character famously delivers one-liners, with one reading:
“Hum yahan ke Robin Hood hai!” (“I am the Robin Hood of this place”).
This line particularly became popular with his fans.
It is interesting to see Salman as a police character. Dabangg completely focuses on him and is entertaining all the way.
The audience went crazy as Chulbul shook his belt in songs and after tucking his sunglasses behind his collar.
He also has a compassionate side. He grows up with animosity towards his half-brother Makkhanchand ‘Makkhi’ Pandey (Arbaaz Khan).
But when Makkhi is almost killed in the climax, Chulbul rushes to save him. This proves his humanity.
In a 2010 official review, The Times of India shed light on Salman’s police portrayal:
” [It is] so engaging, you are willing to forgive and forget everything else.”
They added that the “actor is completely in command.”
Chulbul Pandey is a great Bollywood police character no doubt. He is presented differently as the police officer veers towards corruption.
Bajirao Singham – Singham (2011)
Ajay Devgn stars as Bajirao Singham in Rohit Shetty’s action flick, Singham (2011).
He must deal with the corruption and cruelty of crooked politician Jaikant Shikire (Prakash Raj). He also wants to clear the name of Rakesh Kadam (Sudhanshu Pandey).
Rakesh was a police officer who committed suicide due to false corruption accusations.
Singham, as his name suggests, shouts and growls like a lion. Some of the action sequences even mirror a lion’s pounce.
But there are some important scenes too. This includes a scene when Singham verbally attacks his senior officer over his corruption.
There is also a scene when he openly questions the dishonesty in his profession in front of the police force.
Many of Singham’s reactions do not positively represent Indian police. A police officer removing his belt and whipping goons is not painting the police in bright colours.
But Singham is unrelenting and fearless. He wants to protect the people and do his duty. He receives love from his village and ultimate faith from colleagues.
His line, “I have lost my mind” is famous within Ajay’s career.
Saibal Chatterjee from NDTV Movies reviewed the movie in 2011. He wrote that Singham “restores one’s faith in this often-maligned brand of cinema.”
Bajirao Singham is a character that audiences both feared and admired.
Inspector Eknath Gaitonde – Agneepath (2012)
Agneepath (2012) is a remake of the 1990 Amitabh Bachchan and Danny Denzongpa classic.
In this new version, Om Puri stars as a brutally honest and responsible police officer.
The movie features Kancha Cheena (Sanjay Dutt), Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor) and Kaali Gawde (Priyanka Chopra). The main protagonist is Vijay Deenanath Chauhan (Hrithik Roshan).
Amongst these giant names, the veteran Om Puri holds his own as Inspector Eknath Gaitonde.
He provides the correct catharsis for the audience as they watch the corrupt Borkar (Sachin Khedekar) at the same time.
Borkar is on the payroll of the villainous Kancha. Gaitonde also develops a close bond with Vijay. He utters the line about Vijay’s personality :
“Vijay Chauhan – seems straightforward, but he is the most complicated.”
This displays Gaitonde’s wisdom and instinct. These traits made the character stand out and appear pivotal.
In a 2012 review for koimoi.com, Komal Nahta reflects on the character of Gaitonde:
“Om Puri is good in the role of the understanding police officer.”
Puri definitely played this role very well. Thus, he gave birth to a wonderfully intense character.
Surjan ‘Suri’ Singh Shekawat – Talaash (2012)
Aamir Khan had previously played a police character in Sarfarosh (1999). But that was not as detailed as in Talaash.
Aamir stars as Inspector Surjan ‘Suri’ Singh Shekawat. He is a strict police officer who barely smiles.
However, he has to also deal with the personal loss of his son in the film.
The film explores Suri as he investigates a car accident. The movie deals with themes of coming to terms with loss and how Indian police generally function.
As Suri deals with his son’s death, an interesting and complicated police character manifests. Suri’s character shows how Indian police also have personal tragedies that can affect their duty.
Suri has chemistry with his wife Roshni Shekawat (Rani Mukherji) and Rosie/Simran (Kareena Kapoor Khan) too. This shows a police character through an emotional arc.
In the final scene, Suri breaks down after reading a letter from his demised son. This is tremendously poignant and rich with cathartic emotion.
Writing for Hindustan Times in 2012, Anupama Chopra was critical of Talaash. However, she praised the actors and the characters they portrayed. Anupama said:
“Each one creates such a palpable sense of ache and damage.”
Anupama also continued:
“I enjoyed these characters so much that I demand another film for Shekhawat, Roshni and Rosie.”
Suri was perhaps one of the few Bollywood police characters who show vulnerability in a resilient uniform.
Shivani Shivaji Roy – Mardaani (2014)
Actress Rani Mukerji dons the police ‘vardi’ for the first time in Mardaani (2014).
She plays Shivani Shivaji Roy and goes up against child trafficker Karan ‘Walt’ Rastogi (Tahir Raj Basin).
Her main goal is to free a teenager called Pyaari (Priyanka Sharma).
Like the aforementioned Andhaa Kaanoon, Mardaani also presents a strong, independent female police character.
At the end of the film, Shivani defeats Karan in an empowering showdown. She utters the patriotic line:
“This is India!” She has patriotic devotion simmering inside her.
Karan’s young captives look on. Their desperate eyes are in awe of the character.
All the action scenes and Rani’s fierce performance lead to a historic Bollywood police character.
In a 2014 film review, Mohar Basu from Koimoi highlights Rani’s character:
“I am quite proud to say that the roaring lady rules the show in Mardaani.”
Rani surely did a magnificent job in the film, but it is the character of Shivani that deserves applause.
Meera Deshmukh – Drishyam (2015)
Drishyam (2015) sees IGI Meera Deshmukh (Tabu) go up against Vijay Salgonkar (Ajay Devgn).
She’s a strict police officer investigating the death of her son Sameer ‘Sam’ Deshmukh (Rishab Chadha).
Not only does Meera display the resilience of a police officer but she also shows a mother’s pain.
Meera’s eyes show determination and resolve. There is a scene when Meera faces prisoners in a cell and she doesn’t even flinch.
At the same time, Meera’s emotion in her voice when she recognises her son’s car is devastating.
Meera also finds out that her son was a brat who harassed women. The emotion she displays when seeking forgiveness from Vijay for Sam’s misdeed is, especially rousing.
Like the rest of the world, India is also in an age wanting to empower women. It is characters like Meera that are a step in the right direction.
In 2015, Lisa Tsering from The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film. Talking about Meera, she called her ‘a fierce and ruthless lioness.”
Bollywood police characters have been lighting up our screens for many years. But it’s not really about the stars. It’s about the characters they portray.
These 20 characters epitomise responsibility in a powerful ‘vardi’. They show us the depths of despair and the barrels of bravery it takes to be a police officer.