He was burnt by his own ambition when he remade Sholay as Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag in 2007. Film lovers and his fans were shocked. Even more so when he followed up that debacle with no-brainers such as Agyaat. The failure of Aag prompted him to write on his blog: “I learnt a lot from that experience such as not to be arrogant and overconfident and I am a much wiser man today after being badly and nicely burnt in the Aag of Sholay.”
But Varma is also the man behind Satya and Company. These two films redefined the gangster genre in Indian cinema, even transcended the genre and became examples of extremely well-crafted films. With his realistic and gritty, yet stylistically uncompromising language, he influenced a generation of aspiring directors and writers which emerged in the 1990s and early 2000s. His latest venture is a two-part film set in Andhra Pradesh, based on the real life story of the Telugu political leader Paritala Ravindra (played by Vivek Oberoi) and his rival Suri (played by Suriya).?Made in three languages in two parts that will release within a month of each other, Varma says Rakta Charitra-I is a violent and intense film with a body count that will be hard to keep track of. Edited excerpts from an interview:
People believe ‘Rakta Charitra-I’ could be your return to form. Do you agree?
I feel any director is as good as the script or subject he chooses or gets, and an actor is as good as the role he gets. To that extent Rakta Charitra-I is the kind of subject you won’t get your hands on very easily, especially in terms of the characters. It is a very different film even though it looks like it’s my genre. Company was studied and composed; Rakta Charitra-I is a very volatile film in terms of its theme of revenge, the characters, etc., partly because it’s based on a true story. Company is politics within an underworld organization. Rakta Charitra-I has pride, family feuds and political-criminal nexus.
Describe the journey from idea to script to screen.
Realistic: Varma believes a director is as good as his subject.
This is a real story and it took me nearly a year to gather the material and put it in a cinematic script. Many of the people involved are dead, and I was not present (when they died)..., so I had to rely on news reports, eyewitness accounts, police reports and people close to the characters to build the story. But it is not necessary that those people are telling the truth so I have derived what I think is reasonably close to the truth. I met Suri a few times in Anantapur jail. I was interested in understanding the mindset of the man who can nurture revenge in his heart for 12 years and plot an assassination from inside jail. We think a man in jail is over, but he has his mind and from behind bars he is plotting ways to kill the man he hates. This is fascinating.
How different is this film from your past work?
It was quite enriching because while the film is a technical thing, meeting such people, going through their experiences and trauma, trying to understand them is a unique experience. I have a strong feeling it will have a great impact on my films after this. My understanding of cinema, people and characters has taken a leap with Rakta Charitra-I. In terms of human psychology it has exposed me to things that are much deeper than what I imagined.
The technique used in Rakta Charitra-I comes from the core emotion of the story—of the people and an extremely vengeful act coming. I have never dealt with this before, and in trying to capture that mindset my technique has advanced. I might have used more technique in Aag, but if the core emotion doesn’t work then the technique will go unnoticed. Satya works because the core emotion, characters and subject matter are correct so even if you don’t use technique, it still works in more or less the same way.
Why make it in two parts?
Firstly, to cover the span of time, but also because it’s the story of two people—Paritala Ravi and Suri, the man who killed him. I thought it would be interesting to see a break-up of these two stories: Paritala Ravi’s rise is one story and a guy deciding to kill him is another story.
How do you assess your work of the last decade?
I don’t think beyond tomorrow and yesterday. I have no clue what I did last also. I am too busy doing what I am doing right now. I don’t think of anything as a high or a low. I am living life every day—getting up in the morning and doing what I want to do till I sleep. I am more driven now by my desire to make films than when I began. I don’t think I have taken a break in 30 years. I don’t feel the need to take a break. I enjoy my work.
How do you look back at the spate of flops such as ‘Naach’, ‘Nishabd’, ‘Agyaat’ and ‘Aag’?
Rangeela was a hit; Daud was a flop. Then Satya was a hit, but Mast didn’t work. I have always oscillated and taken up different kinds of subjects. I made three flops after my first hit, so I have never been consistent in that sense. It’s just that the media caught on. It happens in phases and I am used to people talking about me since my first hit or flop. Then a new generation of media guys comes along and asks “why is this happening”. Arre, it was always happening—it’s just that you were not there at that time. During the Factory (RGV Film Factory Ltd) days, I was doing too many productions and didn’t have control over the creative. Then I slowed down production. The two films in my career that took the longest to make were Aag and Daud and both of them flopped, so clearly taking time does not assure anything. Things just have to fall into place.
Gang war: Suriya (centre) plays a major role in Rakta Charitra-I
You have influenced many young film-makers. Do you recognize that when you watch those films?
It is not for me to say if I am influencing someone, but I guess every film-maker is influenced by somebody. I very rarely watch movies but, in the little time I get, I see foreign films. A film in totality does not interest me. I look at the technique and the director’s point of view, his style and storytelling. I don’t look at subject matter. I look at it like a study. I do not see films for entertainment. In fact, when I like the first 10 scenes of a film, I see those 10 scenes 10 times, which means that sometimes I don’t finish the film at all.
How do you react to criticism?
I don’t care about praise or criticism; it makes no difference to me. If 100 or 1,000 people write or say nasty things about me that’s fine, that is the world we live in. One reason it happens is because I turn out so much work. Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes one film in three years so you will not have a chance to bark at him till he comes back. I give a chance every three-four months. Doing is my job. Liking or not liking is the job of others.
Rakta Charitra-I will release in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on 22 October.
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