Lately you might have read the post on Ram Gopal Varma on this space that he’s “down but not out”. Naturally because the man’s a fighter, and has buffeted several storms: not only flops, Aags, court cases but also personal attacks in print.
Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not a burqa-clad PR of the 52-year-old RGV (going on 32, I suspect he uses L’Oreal for his hair). And in fact, he’s been downright nasty to me, following a negative review for any of his films. That’s human, I guess. Which filmmaker doesn’t suffer from bad review allergy? He retaliates, simmers, sulks but the lord be blessed, returns to normal.
And what is the normal RGV? The honest answer to that he’s the most abnormal person I’ve ever met in my lifetime. Abnormal in a nice way. He’s viciously honest about his dislikes and childishly playful about his likes. Yup, I’m sure he dislikes and likes me. Chalo, that’s much better than friends who’ve turned out strictly to be opportunistic friends in need. Extremists are preferable to those who’re neither here nor there. And there’s no filmmaker who’s more fun and no-nonsense to converse with. The only comparable name I can think of is the late Manmohan Desai, who was consistently straight as an arrow.
And although RGV pretends to be irrevocably heartless, it’s a front. When I lost someone very dear to me, very dear, he was there, spending an entire day with me when I went numb, and could hardly register what he was saying. He didn’t offer fake homilies of consolation, he strived to divert my mind by discussing his favourite writers, Ayn Rand and Nietzche.
This must have been at least a dozen years ago. RGV went to the kitchen, made himself a mug of coffee, and was there for me, cancelling a day’s shooting: the presence mattered particularly because none of my other friends had understood that I couldn’t be left alone in those immediate days of mourning. He’s ‘senti’ even though he doesn’t know it. And I suspect he’s even forgotten that afternoon when he was there, assisting me to come out of my vortex of grief.
Films that hurt him the most: Bhoot Returns, The Attacks of 26/11 and Department
We call each other ‘Gaaru’ simply because it sounds correct and maybe even endearing. When he’s upset with me the ‘Gaaru’ vanishes, I become that ‘bloody fellow, he doesn’t know anything.’ Such snubs are a piffling price to pay for the positives. Today, we are back on ‘Gaaru’ terms, not that he’s close enough to inform me about the hell he’s gone through lately, following the consecutive rejections of his movies, the last one being Department, The Return of Bhoot and The Attacks of 26/11.
He went riot with the new digital medium, entrusting the cinematography to film students armed with HD cameras. In addition, I think he couldn’t quite deal with the interventions of Sanjay Dutt (some believe Sanjay Dutt’s secretary) in the making of Deparment. RGV, a fantastic technocrat, became associated with mind-spinning camera angles and an arrogant attitude towards his audience.
Take it or go for a walk. Audiences preferred to go for a walk. Reviewers slammed him, the trade went tsk, tsk. Personally, I found a visceral power in his Not A Love Story. It would be facile to say he’s ahead of his times. He can be a solid story-teller in the cause-and-effect mode as well. Proof: Rangeela and Sarkar.
Incidentally, a poll which had been conducted by a newspaper among a group of critics, ranked Satya as their all-time favourite. Its impact – because of strikingly realistic content and a style to match – has lasted decades. Urmila Matondkar and RGV may have had an acrimonious parting of ways, but that hasn’t ever stopped her from admitting that he’s the best director that she has ever worked with.
And Dibakar Banerjee, in an interview with me, pointed out that today’s adventurous filmmakers owe a huge debt to Gaaru, a debt that is rarely acknowledged. RGV has mentored Anurag Kashyap and gave Sriram Raghavan his first break with Ek Haseena Thi.
According to Dibakar Banerjee, “Ram Gopal Varma pioneered the indie wave with his Factory production office. It buzzed with some of the most remarkable writers, technicians and directors on the scene today.”
So, that’s the verbose backstory to Ram Gopal Varma of 2014. As it happened, I collided into Gaaru during a visit to Hyderabad this week. He’s completed a Telugu film featuring Vishnu Vardhan Babu on the trail of a serial killer.
Earlier, he delivered the successful Rowdy, with the legendary actor Mohan Babu and his son Vishnu, a riff on his obsessive film The Godfather, which had spawned two Sarkars in Hindi. His other obsession has been Sholay but you know what happened there: a calamity which he takes either with a sense of humour or wants to forget like the raging Hyderabad heat outside his editing room.
I’m not surprised that he’s cutting a promo of the serial killer film right now. He shows it to me with the expectation of a school kid eager to score high marks in a report card. The promo has RGV’s trademark swift cutting, gratifyingly the camera’s rock steady.
What is the film’s title, Psycho? Or is it Tension? Who told you that, he balks, nothing has been decided. Who who who who told you about Tension? Gaaru, I saw the title scribbled on the production’s soft-board Easy! “Oho, you were the last person on earth I expected to see here,” he guffaws. “Don’t make trouble for me. The title hasn’t been finalised yet. Okay?”
Okay Gaaru. According to internet news reports, Dr Mohan Babu has been a sobering influence on RGV, talking him into giving up on his evening tankards of vodka. Instead, at most Gaaru pours himself a glass of white wine in the evening, or makes do with a filter coffee. “Ya,” he says, “that’s correct. Only wine sometimes.” Is it a good French wine, I wonder, to which he creases his eyebrow, “I don’t know. It’s Sula something. Is that French?” No, it isn’t, ha ha!
Currently, the filmmaker’s staying in the service apartment of a five-starrer. He has a family home in Hyderabad but then he’s not been much of a family man, needs his tanhaai, creative space and all that. Ummm, is there any new muse in his life?.. I roll a tongue in cheek. He glares. No? I badger him, whatever happened to Nisha Kothari, for instance? No expression this time, Gaaru speeds off to the washroom to wash his hands before lunch. It’s nearly 1.30 pm., and if he doesn’t eat by this time, he’s dead, another way of saying that he doesn’t have much of a breakfast. Result: the stomach’s growling like one of the ghosts in his movies.
The underworld, ghost stories and twisted love valentines have been his calling card. Gaaru tells me that he will be back in Mumbai, June-end, to look for a new office. And he will start the pre-production of his next Hindi film.
Aaah! that’s Gaaru RGV. Nothing can faze him, and that’s the way it should be with filmmakers. Who knows, he could even come up with a Dilwale Bhoot Le Jayenge some day.
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