Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) is working on the script of Satya 2, the sequel to arguably his last blockbuster of consequence. Pacing around his office, he details the plot: “By 2012, the Mumbai police has almost finished off the underworld. But as long as there is greed for money, resentment towards the rich and rebelliousness towards the system, it’s a fallacy to think any police in any civil society can ever wipe out crime. It inevitably comes back in a deadlier manner because a new-age gangster is additionally armed with both the mistakes of earlier dons and the knowledge of modern policing methods. If Satya was the story of a man who came to Mumbai in 1998 and (was) shaped by the then circumstances in the underworld, Satya 2 will be (about) a man who in 2012 comes to Mumbai to create his own circumstances and reinvent the underworld.”
News comes that a young aspiring actor, Bidushi Dash Barde, has just been found murdered down the road from his office, and the talk, much like the protagonist he is building, turns to rage. With the sheer growth in population, Varma says, the media plays a huge role in amplifying rage. Headlines screaming “Woman found murdered” ensure rage is radiated and discussed more, he says.
Varma has spent his time working on the plot, in research, like he does for all his films—with seasoned criminals, police investigators and insiders to the crime itself. The protagonist of the new age, he explains, will no longer be an outsider, supported by dons, gangsters and profiteers, but fed up of the system, he will be born from it. And his weapon will not be a gun, but cold, ruthless logic. Edited excerpts from an interview conducted in October:
You’ve always had a fascination for the angry young man. You once said in an interview that as a child you were fascinated by bullies. You are drawn to places of devastation. What is it about expressions of anger that fascinates you?
For me, anger is something which comes from a deeply felt injustice which gives rise to the so-called courage of conviction... this results in a certain act of rebellion which, depending on the commonality and an identification to the subject matter, will find a huge resonance on both an instinctive and social level. In turn, each of these influence or impact political and social situations.
You’ve spent your life studying rage. How do you define it?
There is part-ego and part-uncontrollable emotion which you need to prove a point, where you have this tremendous conviction that you are right. A lawyer was telling me most of the domestic violence occurs when a guy has said “I’ll kill you”. This will compel the murder. Once the guy has said that, he is propelled by ego to fulfil the threat. In that moment he has taken a decision. In such a short, contained space the act is done. Suddenly your emotions control you. Your ego doesn’t permit you to go back on the threat or succumb to the threat, depending on which side you are on. What gives it that spurt is that ego-boosted emotion. So there are two kinds of rage—one propelled by ego and emotion and a second born out of a lack of understanding. Which when you look at the social and political conditions, the Anna Hazare movement, the IAC (India Against Corruption), etc.—many critics ask: Have they understood what they are asking for when they ask for a parallel government?
It has always been there, it just gets amplified. When the Anna Hazare movement came, everybody—they don’t know what a (Jan) Lokpal Bill is, they don’t know what he is saying—spontaneously people came and stood on the road in protest. And yet when he comes to Bombay (sic), nobody shows up at the official gathering. So it is like a phase, it is a popular whim.
You mean rage itself can only be a spurt? It can never last?
Because emotion by itself is like a drug, and a drug wears off by definition. Someone explained to me that it’s like you go to a cricket match and you’re enjoying the match. Fifty runs, people cheer and scream, 100, the stadium explodes. At 200, the applause is not as high as 100. Because by the time it hits the double century, people are bored. So people say what a f*****g fantastic man Anna is when he is quiet but after you hear it enough times, people start getting wary of it. Because I am not high any more.
When you were talking about the British (a prior discussion on colonization and the independence movement), it is the degree of the strength of what is felt. (Mahatma) Gandhi’s movement was just one aspect of what was happening. There was violence, riots, so much happening. If you don’t keep on increasing interest, then the interest is lost. The movement depends on various factors to gain and sustain momentum. If you fast the first time, I’m interested; the second time, I’m interested; the third time, I’ve heard it before. With Gandhi, it was the first time we heard of it, and the second is the issue we were dealing with. And so today nothing short of Anna Hazare getting on a 50-storey building and threatening to jump—unless that happens, I don’t think I would be interested to listen.
... They will kill me if they hear that, but still. Tomorrow morning if Anna Hazare gets on top of a building and says unless they bring the Lokpal Bill I am going to jump, that will get my attention because it is original. I think it’s a great idea I am giving to the world.
So you’re saying rage to sustain must be propelled by drama?
I think people only listen to drama. It’s not that they don’t understand deeper aspects, but even the most charismatic leaders, people listen to them when they display drama. I don’t think an average man, 99% people will have neither the interest or the sensibility or intelligence or even the attention to understand a problem which is outside their immediate self-concern. It is also that the stimuli (existing) are so high it has to be original, it has to be catchy, but what catches your attention is by definition dramatic. So if you are going to give me statistics of what is happening in the country, no one is going to listen. The way you are talking about Lokpal, you are making a character out of it. Suddenly it becomes a symbol. And now what actually the Lokpal Bill is about, no one will know. People are emotionally charged.
...And yet, paradoxically, all support for any movement comes from people who are emotionally charged?
That is the mass support and the entire political system is geared towards manipulating this emotional charge. That is the irony. The support is coming from the masses, but at the same time the political leaders cannot ignore them—they are the vote bank. I remember a film Shyam Benegal made, Kalyug, two trade unions are fighting in the factory. One union wants compensation of Rs.1 lakh per person; and the other tells the family we will get you Rs.5 lakh. The first increases it to Rs.10 lakh. So the issue is no longer about the incident; it is about the egos of the different parties involved. Pretty much that is the truth—and George Bernard Shaw’s line “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies. So whatever rage and anger has been channelized, the moment that has a certain ramification, rationality comes in and then you start to rationalize it, then an agenda will come in and hijack it.
Our entire political system depends on the ability to manipulate social emotion and the greatest leaders have simply been those who have manipulated this emotion the best. Right?
Correct. Where it is not channelled, a local hero rises to channel the rage. So from Angry Young Man and then there were RGV films, rage is just one small part of it. I don’t think it is rage, it could be grief, a surge of patriotism, an aspect of overwhelming emotions. Manipulating emotions is very different from rousing rage. What is a film? A film is eventually a conflict between characters over a certain issue.
Why is it essential to tap into a social rage? What is anger socially indicative of?
Anger is a basic instinct very much like sexual desire and hence it draws attention very easily and a society can best be studied only through the eyes of angry people.