Life and Crimes of Sobhraj


This film, on one of the most notorious criminals who evaded the law in several countries by twisting the law and judicial system, has some fine acting and authentic moments. However, the storyline could have been tighter

By Shobha John

The film Main Aur Charles raised expectations of being a fast-paced thriller. After all, it was touted as the first-ever Indian movie on notorious murderer Charles Sobhraj, convicted for the murders of at least 12 women and presently in a Nepal jail. However, despite a gripping and readymade story, the storyline is confusing.

Known for his smooth, hypnotic, charming and deadly ways, Sobhraj’s exploits had once gripped the collective conscience of police in various parts of the world. After all, he used every trick in the book and twisted the law to con whoever he came in touch with, be it the police or numerous women who fell for his silky charms.

The film starts in Thailand in 1968 where a woman’s body is found on a beach by the police. It then pans to a man’s shoes as he relaxes somewhere. Then it shows him confidently striding to a boat and escaping. All along, Sobhraj, played to almost perfection by Randeep Hooda, is not shown in a close-up. As the music builds up to a crescendo, the sense of mystery too increases. But subsequently, the movie goes back and forth between Thailand, Paharganj and Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi, Churchgate in Bombay and Goa, with little to link up these locations. Anyone unaware of the sequence of events in Sobhraj’s life will be left confused.

The film basically focuses on that aspect of the criminal’s life from the time he escapes from Thailand where he faces the death penalty for coning and killing women tourists for their passports and money to his jail term in India. As he flees to India, he comes to Delhi, moves to Bombay and then to Goa, where he is caught by the police.

Then, the Delhi police takes over in the form of IPS officer Amod Kanth, played by a stern Adil Hussain, who brings him to the capital and high-security Tihar Jail. Here too, Sobhraj works the system to his advantage and cons everyone, right from the jailer to lowly cops.

randeep hooda as charles (1)
Randeep Hooda has played Charles Sobhraj to perfection in Main Aur Charles

Randeep plays the part of Sobhraj to perfection. His peaked cap, trademark glasses and accent bear an uncanny resemblance to the real criminal. His nonchalant way of blowing smoke rings, quizzical smile which almost resembles a smirk and stares give a hint of quiet menace. But of course, one has to be able to pick these subtle nuances. Also called “The Serpent” and “The Splitting Killer”, Sobhraj’s smirk is particularly aimed at a bristling Kanth, his bête-noire, who is all fire and brimstone over this man whom he sees as an obnoxious human being for preying on the trust of other people. However, Sobhraj is never shown as murdering his victims and his charm is the insidious kind, never overt. He is often heard telling his victims that they are beautiful. What kind of charm is that?

Adil plays the honest and committed police officer well. He bristles every time he sees Sobhraj as he understands the deadly psychology of this criminal mind and his anger at Sobhraj’s jail break from Tihar due to lax police officials is palpable. However, his righteous indignation is over-the-top at times, especially when he berates his attractive wife, played by Tisca Chopra, for being too curious about Sobhraj’s sexual exploits. He also gives a drubbing to Meena, a law student played by the sultry Richa Chadda, for falling for Sobhraj’s charms. For Adil, the law is more important than anything else.

However, what remains in one’s mind is the way Sobhraj twists the judicial and criminal system to his advantage. It works everywhere, even in Tihar where a wimpish jailer allows him access to women, guns and narcotics. It is a scathing indictment of our system that money power even today can help a criminal buy any privilege inside Indian jails. Sobhraj’s chumminess with the police inside Tihar allows him to even cook food inside jail, where he spikes it with some sleep-inducing medicine which knocks out the guards. Of course, he escapes.

Richa Chadda, as the impressionable law student, plays her part well and is almost hypnotized like numerous women before him. It is interesting to watch her take leave of her senses and work on behalf of Charles to justify his every move. Law be damned, love is more important. And her line: “Aur jab wo mujhe dekhta hai, I feel like having sex with him”, shows his hypnotic quality. Steamy scenes in the movie are done with finesse, though some of the body show in Goa shown through hippie culture is unnecessary.

The music is good and sets the background for a movie dealing with crime and passion. A song set in a nightclub in the 80s, Jab Chaya Tera Jadoo, is both seductive and foot-tapping. The film has been true to its times and authentic aspects such as old-time radios and The Navhind Times, a paper in Goa, are featured well.

Go ahead and watch it if you find Charles Sobhraj an enigmatic and clever criminal and want to see some fine acting. The loose storyline of the first half is tightened in the second. Overall, an interesting film.