Ram Gopal Varma, the name evokes a lot of reactions and emotions, mostly bordering on the extremes. But for me, he has been one of the most defining influences in life. I often think how insensitive a nation we are not to give due credit to a man as influential as him. His contribution to modern Indian cinema is unparalleled and something no one seems to fathom yet. You want proof of his achievements. Then read on.

The day he defeated GOD and GABBAR
21 years ago, this man who no one knew about, landed into the movie industry with a punch so great that it would put even Mike Tyson to shame. Very few people in India have been fortunate to experience the phenomenon that he created. Alas, it was a regional movie and only people who spoke a certain language could see what hit them. The movie was later remade in Hindi, but I would rather prefer to talk about the original than the carbon copy.

So, the year was 1989 and it was a time when the movie hero was a superman who could jump buildings, somersault in the air, fight with a tiger, finish off an entire army with his kung fu antics and still find time to sing songs and dance around trees with buxom beauties. Yes, this was the hero of the 80’s. In the middle of this came a little man straight out of an engineering college to make his first movie based on campus politics and the mafia, shot in a very gritty and realistic style. The movie was called SHIVA, a sensational trendsetter of a movie that changed the face of Indian cinema forever.
SHIVA, what does the name remind you the moment you hear it? Most people would say, it’s the name of a Hindu god. But, I challenge you, ask any Telugu speaking guy and see what he or she would say. The first thing that comes to mind would be this movie. It’s been 3 generations since this movie was made (they say every 7 years a generation changes) yet the name still evokes the same response. Such is the impact he made with his first movie. Akin to something a SHOLAY did to the nation in the 70’s. It’s most poignant and unforgettable character being GABBAR. The character that has been the source for numerous spoofs and spin offs to keep his memory alive till date. Shiva does not have this benefit, yet it continues to haunt the collective consciousness of millions of Telugu speaking people everywhere. I have no doubt in saying that by creating this character SHIVA he defeated GOD and GABBAR at once in terms of sheer recall value and impact.

If I start writing about this movie, I guess one blog post would not be enough, I would rather write a book about this. Therefore, I will not elaborate much on this but move on to what he did next. My intention of writing this post is not to chronicle or document the movies that Ramu has made but to highlight the highlights of his achievements.

Sarkar to Kallu Mama
The biggest challenge for any film maker is to create enduring characters that stand the test of time. This could sometimes turn out to be a bane rather than a boon. Ask Mr.Ramesh Sippy what happened to him after he made Sholay, or to Amjad Khan who played Gabbar. They could never in their lifetime better that movie or performance. Ramu is someone who has played this game well enough. He has consistently created memorable characters and yet managed to reinvent himself with every subsequent movie that he has made. The actors who played his characters have fared well, but except few, most couldn’t come out of the mould created by Ramu.

Remember Bhiku Mhatre (Manoj Bajpai), Mili (Urmila Matondkar), Munnaa (Aamir Khan), Chandu (Vivek Oberoi), Subhash Nagre aka Sarkar (Big B) or even smaller characters like Kallu Mama and Pakya. It is not just the main protagonist, but every single supporting character that gets a life in his movies. Hence, in a movie like Sarkar, which has a towering performance from the BIG B, he gives enough space for other actors like Junior B, Kay Kay, Rukhsar, Tanisha, Katrina Kaif, Supriya Pathak,etc to shine and have their presence marked. It’s all about memorable characters and he has been a master at it. This reminds me of a story I must share from my school days. It must be sometime in 1990 that the shooting for the Hindi version of Shiva was taking place in a school close to my house. I was so super excited that I tagged along my little brother and landed up at the shooting spot to see my favourite director. I hung around the entire day, but couldn’t get a glimpse of Ramu. I had my autograph book with me and I thought I could get his autograph. Instead I ended up meeting a lot of the junior artists who played key characters in the original version and were recast in the remake. I was overjoyed to get their autographs too, much to their and later my family members amusement. They wondered what was wrong with me. For me, they were like characters from a novel, characters to be preserved for posterity. Seeing them in flesh and blood made my day. To see Ramu in person, I had to wait a few more years, and then, to get his autograph, a few more years after that.

Close Encounter in a Balcony
I often used to wonder how he had so many ideas to make films. Finally, one day I witnessed something that made me see this man in a new light. It was sometime in 1998 at a Chennai movie hall off Mount Road. I don’t recall the name of the movie hall right away but it was one of those really old theaters that was on the verge of closure. That evening it was playing an English movie called Turbulence. Very few heard of this movie and very few ventured out to watch this movie. I being the movie buff that I am, was all alone in the balcony when I saw two gentlemen enter the hall moments before the film was to start. I felt a strange sense of familiarity when I saw these people walk in. Holy Cow! it was Ram Gopal Varma.

What do I do? Am too nervous to even react. I had to get his autograph, damn I wasn’t even carrying a pen. What do I do? I run out of the theater to one of the Tea Kadais (tea stall as they call them in Chennai) and manage to buy a pen. During the interval, I muster the courage to go upto him and introduce myself as a big fan of his. This man was so extremely shy that I couldn’t believe he was the same man who made my favourite movies. He gave me his autograph with a smile. I couldn’t sleep that day and for a few days after that. But the one thought that kept ringing in my head was, what the hell was this man doing at this theater in the first place? He must be a busy man, I believe he was still shooting Satya at that time. What I realized that day is a logic similar to what they say about being a good listener being more important than being a good talker. So here was Ramu doing all the listening, I mean, watching the movie and being a good student of cinema though I am sure he could have had a million other interesting things to do if he had so much time in his hand. In summation, to me he looked like a true disciple of cinema and the hunger to learn was evident in his eyes.

Inspired Choices
They say, there is no original creation in this world, originality lies in how well you conceal your source. Well, most of Ramu's movies have been inspired by other great classics, be it movies or real life characters. He himself constantly acknowledges this in press as well as his blog.

Talking of inspiration, unarguably the greatest movie India has ever produced, Sholay, is heavily inspired by the curry westerners of yore. Speaking of which I must mention about a movie made by the grand old master of cinema, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa made a movie called Seven Samurai, which was later reincarnated into many many different versions that one has lost count of now. Most popular adaptations or inspired movies being Magnificient Seven, Dirty Dozen, Guns of Navarone, Pixar's A Bug's Life and our very own Sholay, each a classic in its own right.

So the point of being a great movie is not in its originality itself but in the impact it makes over the viewer. Hence a Sarkar is no less than a Godfather, nor is a Bhoot very different from an Exorcist. Though the premise being the same, it takes away nothing from the films impact on the audience.

The De-Evolution of Ram Gopal Varma

Ram Gopal Varma is acting against the laws of nature and seems to be in a state of constant De-Evolution.

In order to understand why I made the above statement, we need to first look at the evolution of Ram Gopal Varma. Only then will we be able to see the process of his De-Evolution.

Evolution to immortality
If one were to write in detail about what Ramu has accomplished as a filmmaker it would be a colossal task. This time I will try and stick to one paragraph where I could actually write a book about him. If I were to write a book about him then I would passionately write about his first movie and how it inspired an entire generation of filmmakers’ right from his assistants to the tea boy on his sets. I would write about the way he introduced new techniques of filmmaking, his innovative use of the steady cam, effective use of sound design, and the way he gave greater prominence to technicians over stars. The way he reintroduced the item song to Hindi cinema and at the same time showed how one could make movies without songs. I would write about how he made horror fashionable and how he managed to kill the Salwar Kameez effectively from the wardrobe of Hindi film heroines. I would also write about how he made wannabes into overnight stars and at the same time gave second life to many fading stars. There is a lot more to write about but the purpose of this blog post is not to talk about Ramu’s accomplishments. Rather it is an attempt to understand how the mind of a man who has achieved so much work. Just as in the case of the sage who renounces all his worldly pleasures in pursuit of enlightenment, Ramu seems to be on a mission to accomplish something that is anti evolutionary, he seems to be seeking to become that sage who is interested only in the naked truth about life and nothing else. Let me explain further...

The thought about de-evolution came to me very suddenly while I was going through the publicity of Ramu’s latest movie Rakta Charitra. The movie uses a famous tag line sourced from the Mahabharatha.

Revenge is the purest form of emotion.
This line set me thinking on the purest forms of emotions. I was imagining what man would have been like without the conditioning of society. What emotions would a man feel when he has no idea or no regard for the ways of society. A sentiment which seems to embody Ramu and his current statements and body of work. How else would one explain his reason for making a gory blood fest like Rakta Charitra? How would one explain his bold statement asking women and kids to stay away from his film? No sane filmmaker would say that openly, yet he did. Few of my friends say he needs a doctor and few say he has a dirty mind, all I have to say is he is de-evolving.

Ramu has always challenged the ordinary and tried new things. It might seem to us as if Ramu is evolving as a film maker but he is infact de-evolving as a human being and focussing increasingly only on the purest forms of emotions, which according to me are RAGE and LUST.

Yes, Rage and Lust are the only two emotions one would feel if there was no society; love is too sophisticated a word and is best left to the likes of Karan Johar to talk about. Infact even revenge is a complex thought and a raw mind would only have rage and would never understand revenge. To a great extent we can add fear as another primitive emotion with very basic societal conditioning. So that brings us to only three of the purest forms of emotions.

Fear, Rage and Lust are the only three forms of pure emotion. Everything else is a product of social conditioning.

It is quite evident from the process of Ramu’s evolution as a filmmaker that he is shunning society and its methods and focussing primarily on the above basic emotions. Want proof? Consider the following.
The first movie that Ramu wanted to make was Raat, but had to wait till he made movies that were commercially more viable and made Raat the moment he knew he had commercial clout of his own. This is where his roots lie and his desire to make that perfect horror movie is still intact, fear being the driving factor, Raat, Deyyam (Telugu), Kaun, Bhoot, Darna Mana Hai, Darna Zaroori Hai, Agyaat, Phoonk, Phoonk 2,etc are all examples of his madness. Probably no other mainstream filmmaker in this world has attempted to make so many horror movies, and to think of it, Ramu made all these movies being an Indian filmmaker where horror isn’t even accepted as a mainstream genre.

Violence is an outcome of rage, and violence has been a trademark of most of Ramu’s films. Be it his first movie Shiva which redefined the role of an action hero to all the subsequent underworld and gangster movies of his, if there is one master of violence then it is Ramu. Show me one more filmmaker who has more consistently produced more violent films and I will take my words back. Ramu owns this genre and is now set to outdo himself, this time with far more bloodshed and rage than ever with his latest Rakta Charitra and its sequel.

Lust is a very basic human emotion between the sexes which through societal conditioning has transformed into the more acceptable term called love. Love can have many more layers of emotion embedded within it based on whom we direct it at unlike lust which is direct and unambiguous. Ramu is no stranger to this too, he has tried to cater to this basic instinct of his through the means of item songs and countless other sensuous numbers on his heroines but my guess is we still haven’t seen his best yet. The subject of his Nishabd was just the tip of the iceberg; I won’t be surprised if Ramu announces in the near future the first mainstream Porn film from India. Don’t be surprised and shocked, remember, it is inevitable.

I am tempted to add one more to the list of pure emotions, comedy or laughter. To some extent it still is a basic emotion and the purest of sounds one would hear from a child is that of laughter. Ramu is no stranger here too. Infact he has made very few comic films in Hindi, but anyone familiar with his films down south would know the amazing comic films that he has produced right from the iconic film Money and its sequel to his next direct Telugu film under production KSD Appalraju. This is one genre where he is still waiting to have the last laugh.
Celluloid Nirvana
Only by continually attempting to better himself in the above genres will Ramu be able to attain the state that he is heading towards, a state of total disobedience and abandonment of the norms of society. He wants to discover his primitive instincts because he is bored of catering to the structured ways of the society, also explains his fetish to tinker with well known classics like Sholay as well as a remake of his own Shiva. The only other thing that would probably excite him or be reason enough to make a movie is the use of new technology like 3D or something equally out of the box. Otherwise Ramu is a living example of a bored mind which is seeking to attain nirvana through a medium that is immortal.

Film making has never been the same since Ramu arrived on the scene and my guess is it won’t be the same, the de-evolution of Ram Gopal Varma is still underway and we are yet to see what more surprises he has in store for us. Till then we can all take evolved guesses as to what his next move will be while he continuously de-evolves into a sage like state leaving us in shock and awe.

Till then,
Kartik Dayanand Boddapati


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