Bikini Killer, The Splitting Killer and The Serpent are but a few sobriquets that Charles Sobhraj earned in his heydays. The awe sustains even years after his final capture, and his life as a suspected serial killer, fraudster, escape artiste and thief continues to interest film and OTT makers.
As Sobhraj’s birthday comes up on April 6, we take a look at some of the screen efforts to capture his life:
THE SERPENT (2021)
Charles Sobhraj’s life is back in focus with the new OTT show, “The Serpent”, starring French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim as the criminal mastermind of French nationality. The eight-episode limited series is the latest account of Sobhraj’s life yet.
While the show imagines Sobhraj as a ruthless killer, there is a small room left for his portrayal as a victim of circumstances — in a sequence in the second episode where he asserts how, from the time he was 15 he felt that no one actually wanted him, that he was denied everything. While most of “The Serpent” depicts Sobhraj as a cold, calculating monster, the series creates scope to humanise him through this scene.
SNAKE (yet to release)
Based on Farrukh Dhondy’s research and interviews with Charles Sobhraj, three seasons of the series will be produced in Hindi and English, according to reports. The series will stream on Zee5. Details are awaited.
MAIN AUR CHARLES (2015)
Bollywood tried its version of the Sobhraj story with Prawaal Raman’s 2015 release “Main Aur Charles”, starring Randeep Hooda in the titular role. Adil Hussain’s act as top cop Amod Kanth, who had handled the Sobhraj case, was impressive in a film that fared below expectation at the box office.
Director Raman maintains he wanted to showcase the image Charles Sobhraj enjoyed publicly at that time.
“I showcased him the way he always planned and portrayed his image to the world. An enigmatic criminal who was eloquent, well-read, smart and on the wrong side of the law. (He was) Someone who understood the value of PR and marketing as his main tools. But the portrayal fails when one evidently notices that the police and the law in different countries outsmarted him,” says Raman.
Actor Alexx O’Nell, who plays Richard Thomas, Sobhraj’s accomplice in the Tihar jail escape, says that research for his character gave him an insight into how those around Sobhraj were affected by his company.
“Chatting with Amod Kanth about who Richard really was gave me an insight into how, of all those who became associated with Charles, Richard was the only one who did not let those events define him. After turning a state witness and ensuring Charles’ conviction, he returned to his family in the UK and disappeared into anonymity,” says the actor.
SOBHRAJ, OR HOW TO BE FRIENDS WITH A SERIAL KILLER (2004)
In 2004, Finnish filmmaker Jan Wellman made the documentary “Sobhraj, Or How To Be Friends With A Serial Killer”. The film cashed in on the renewed interest in the subject at that point of time, given the fact that Charles Sobhraj had been arrested on September 22, 2003.
The narrative of Wellman’s documentary stayed cut-to-cut while focusing on his life. It showed how Sobhraj was never actually convicted of murder despite allegations that he had killed at least a dozen people (some say the number could be 50) in India, Thailand, Nepal and across Southeast Asia. Most of the victims were said to be young backpackers from Europe and the US.
A 2006 review in Variety, however, is underwhelmed by Wellman’s effort. “Wellman doesn’t get anything especially revealing from Sobhraj during their interview,” it stated, adding that the story avoided speaking to relatives of his victims.
SHADOW OF THE COBRA (1989)
The TV film is based on the book “The Life And Crimes Of Charles Sobhraj” by Richard Neville and Julie Clarke. The two-hour, 45-minute narrative is split in two episodes, and it updated for the late eighties’ audience the content of the book. The focus was on how Sobhraj reportedly struck upon Western tourists in South East Asia during the 1970s.
The film cast Pakistani-origin English actor Art Malik as Charles Sobhraj and, despite his lack of similarity in appearance, the actor did an adequate job. Australian actress Helen Buday essayed Sobhraj’s lover Monique Leclerc.