Encounters in the city: Cops, criminals, and human rights in Hindi film

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper discusses the recurring trope of the "encounter" in popular Hindi cinema and its implications as far as the human rights question is concerned. Encounter, in the legal sense, means a situation in which the police have an exchange of gunfire with certified criminals or suspects. The purpose could be self-defense, defense of citizens, or prevention of the escape of detainees. However, encounter is also a colloquialism used in the public sphere to describe extra-legal killings. Although it can be traced back to the early eighties, the encounter was a practice irresistibly systematized by the Mumbai Police Special Branch since the Bombay blasts of 1993. Its perpetrators like Vijay Salaskar, Praful Bhonsle, and Daya Nayak have since become folk heroes and many films have been made on the theme. This paper analyzes cinematic encounter as a trope of exception within the normative workings of the liberal constitutional state apparatus. The state addresses the danger posed by the other by announcing the other as endemically pathological in being a criminal/terrorist/Muslim. The encounter is thus the outcome of a habit of statist thinking that is a theodicy; that is, it closes the ontological gap between human procedures of judgment and the divine ideal of justice. The state can therefore immediately and violently connect reality to law, bypassing juridical and legislative institutions that should mediate such passages. In doing so, it displays an executive sovereign power outside the ambits of democratic liberalism or even the Foucauldian idea of governmentality; as Hannah Arendt would have put it, the state practices a "secrecy" in open daylight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-190
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Human Rights
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Encounters in the city: Cops, criminals, and human rights in Hindi film'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this