Koose Muniswamy Veerappan (18 January 1952 – 18 October 2004), commonly known only as Veerappan, was a notorious Indian brigand and dacoit in India. He was active for nearly 30 years in the scrub lands and forests in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

“Veerappan”, a movie based on the life of the late forest bandit Veerappan, marks the return of maverick director Ram Gopal Varma. The once-upon-a-time successful film-maker would be looking bounce back after a string of past duds.

While he seems to have got a story never-told-before in hand, RGV has been able to extract masterful performances from newcomer Sandeep Bharadwaj, who plays the title role.

However, RGV’s Veerappan would have been better served by the title ‘Killing Veerappan’ that he gave to his Kannada film on the late forest bandit which was released earlier this year.

The name might suggest otherwise, but Veerappan is not a biopic of the notorious sandalwood and ivory smuggler who eluded the police of two states for over two decades. It is, instead, a documentary-style portrait of Veerappan as seen through the eyes of the Special Task Force set up to capture him while they work towards achieving their goal.

Based on events leading up to the death of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan who operated from the forests of South India, Varma manages to make this at best a one-dimensional tale about a police officer and his arch enemy, Joshi, who plays a brooding officer who makes it his life’s mission to hunt down Veerappan after the bandit brutally kills a fellow officer. He gets help from Priya (Lisa Ray), the wife of his dead colleague, who acts as a spy to extract information about the smuggler’s whereabouts.

However, Ray looks like she is in a B-grade horror film for all the believability she brings to her role. She darts furtive looks or stands in a catatonic state for most of her screen time, and is responsible for most of the unintentional humour in the film. Joshi is not far behind in this department, and Sandeep Bhardwaj as the reed-thin, mustachioed Veerappan is reduced to a caricature of the popular folklore surrounding the real man.

Veerappan’s life no doubt is rich fodder for a filmmaker and R.D. Tailang’s script has all the ingredients that could make for a great film.