The Justice Trilogy – Introduction

In 1990, Rajkumar Santoshi made his first film Ghayal (1990). Using mostly the same cast, 3 years later he made the female centric Damini (1993). Four years later, Ghatak (1997) (my favorite) followed. Having watched these movies multiple times, I developed a fascination for them. I realized there was more to them than meets the eye and so began my quest to find an invisible thread and analyze the link. The recurring cast gives one a feeling that these movies form a universe of their own. Each movie will be analysed in coming posts to dissect the universe they create. Note, this is my personal view of the films and I do not know if Santoshi intended these movies as a trilogy.

The movies themselves deal with heavy subject matter. Make no mistake, these movies do have the usual Indian melodrama of song, dance, bad guy versus good guy and “dishoom dishoom” action. But don’t let that put you off, because they are so much more than that. Santoshi is a master craftsman ensuring the movies are not just commercial fodder but have depth and soul.

A look at some of the main crew involved.

The Director – Rajkumar Santoshi


He started out as an assistant director to Govind Nihalani, working on the brilliant Ardh Satya (1983), whose theme I think has some influence on the three movies. He then wrote Ghayal and was looking to be financed. But producers were reluctant to back him because they thought like Nihalani, he may be artsy and hence will make less profitable films. Sunny Deol who was by then a major star, read the script and agreed to star in the film. Things started to fall into place. Deol’s father Dharmendra produced the film. The movie was a commercial success and he has never looked back. In between Damini and Ghatak, he made what I consider, as the only spoof movie in Indian cinema till date; the hilarious Andaz Apna Apna (1994). He also made Barsaat (1995) with the younger Deol brother, before making Ghatak. He not only directs but also writes. He has maintained a steady output taking on big subjects and ensuring his movies are public friendly. I must confess, I have only watched Pukar (2000) and Khakee (2004) from his later films. But he is an established director, in control of his craft. He has worked with the best actors and actresses. Most of them claim that they would blindly sign a film for him. And why won’t they? As we will observe in the film analysis, he writes great character parts and also manages to get the best performances from his actors.

The Actor – Sunny Deol


Post 9/11 Indian cinema changed, and actors and actresses had to adapt. Some think Deol failed to adapt. I think there was nothing left for him to do. The movies changed and didn’t take him along. Deol was known as an action star but he could  definitely act. The image I will always remember him by, is the bloodshot eyes and his gruff authoritative yelp of a voice. But he could act tender, be soft spoken or show a vulnerable side (remember the scene in Ghatak trying to unsuccessfully hide his feelings from his father on learning about his father’s cancer). Santoshi writes him characters with the perfect back story and gives him so much to do and be, instead of just yielding to his action man avatar. Although he does continue to act I dare not watch any of the movies. Most of them just look crappy. He tries to write himself into roles that would suit him, but alas the movies have changed!

The Actress – Meenakshi Sheshadri

What a loss it was to Indian cinema when she retired. Rumor has it she decided to quit when she failed to receive an award for Damini. Ghatak was her last film. She announced her retirement even before Ghatak was completed and stayed back to fulfill the commitment. She came with the background of a dancer and preferred dancing to acting. But she was an accomplished actress. Like most Indian actresses of the time it was slim pickings and she mostly played the same role. But Damini was her calling and she stepped up to it, digging deep and justifying herself as a serious actress. One can’t say she was the most versatile actress in Indian cinema, but she gave a very good account of herself.


Amrish Puri – Needs no introduction with a body of work that is cause for envy among any serious actor. He may be the only one known to western audiences for his roles in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982)  and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). He plays important roles in all the three aforementioned films, playing a “baddie” in the first two and then an ailing father in Ghatak. He started out as a stage actor and then moved to the screen which probably explains why he is such a superior actor.

Although there are other common crew, these are the most identifiable. I think a review of these films is even more relevant considering that Puri passed away, Sheshadri retired and Deol struggles for relevancy. The movies they helped create are entertaining, have a soul and are worthy of retrospection.

Next we review: Ghayal

pic credit:
rajkumar santoshi: [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
sunny deol: By Bollywood Hungama [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
amrish puri: By IndiaFm/Bollywood Hungama ( [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
featured image: By Bjarki S (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons



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