Friday, September 23, 2005


When most people think of Bollywood, they picture overly dramatized deaths, vivacious colors, and drawn out elaborate dance sequences. And most times they would be right. The main stream Indian market adores such films. They have for decades and they will continue to for a long time to come. Some new and younger talents have started making modern films such as Salaam/Namaste, which I wrote about last week, but they also do stick to similar guidelines, more or less. However there are other directors who work on a totally different level and have managed to create a name and a pretty large fan base for themselves. One such director is Ram Gopal Varma.

At the age of 28 RGV was an owner of a video library in Hydrabad. Since childhood he had always been a film buff and apparently he had quite a knack for narrating stories. He was giving the opportunity off the bat to direct the movie SHIVA by a friend who noticed his talent. With no experience he utilized the talents of the cameramen and music directors working under him to bring his visualizations to life. From 1990 to date he has more than 35 films under his belt. Although he has also worked with some famous stars like Amitabh Bachchan, he is very well reputed for selecting fresh new talents that do not fit the “hero” stereo types and also for producing young talented directors.

RGV’s favorite film subject seems to be the underworld. All his movies that I have seen have been about the mafia and the underbelly of Mumbai politics. He creates original characters that are sometimes rumored to be molded around Indian gangsters or figure heads. The characters in his films are never over the top portrayals, but rather subtle renditions that truly exhibit the actor’s talents. The first film I saw of his was SATYA. It was the first time I had seen an Indian film that showed Mumbai in its truest form. A city, with millions of nameless faces that come and go everyday. The story follows the arrival of Satya to this cosmopolitan, fast paced city. He arrives in Mumbai with absolutely no baggage from his past. Without intention he finds himself a member of a gang, only one of hundreds in the city that carries out hits and robberies on a daily basis. There is little hope and no glory. There are no glitzy shots and we can see the real color of Mumbai. My only thought after watching this film was that it was REAL.

As most of us are, RGV is also obviously fascinated by “Gangsta Flick’s”. In his most recent release, he makes a dedication to Francis Ford Copolla, the director of The Godfather. He acknowledged that SARKAR was deeply influenced by the old classic. I watched the movie last weekend and I feared it would be an exact copy of the original but I was pleasantly surprised. Although the connection is clear, RGV has made the story his own. It was also rumored that the model for the Godfather played by Bachchan was modeled around Bal Thackerey, one of the most powerful men in India today. RGV vigilantly points a finger at the ongoing corruption in India through his tales.

RGV has now set up the Film Factory where his young protégés can churn out original hits one after the other. He still makes his own movies but through this company he is giving a lot of new comers a shot at the top under the umbrella of his name. Such action is always smart and commendable. Another movie I watched last weekend also came out of his camp, it is called D. The story is similar to Satya but this is more about one mans rise to the top. A lot of RGV movies are similar this way but that is the true form of a good gangsta movie. The characters name is Deshu but that is not what the title of the movie stands for. Some people believe it is a reference to one of India’s biggest mob bosses, Dawood Ibrahim. These conspiracy theories do make for fun banter and they hype the films up as well. Whether there is any truth in this, I don’t know.

Another one of the protégés is turning out a film soon called JAMES. This one promises to be the tale of the ‘Urban Samurai’. A classic story of good versus evil, and good wins. The villain’s role is to be played by Zakir Hussain. The only Zakir Hussain I know is a fucking awesome tabla player so if this is him in that role it will be pretty phat. RGV is also planning to release his own rendition of the old Indian classic Sholay. This should be extremely interesting to watch as many of us have grown up watching this movie every Sunday morning. It takes balls to attempt a project like this. I am curious to see what comes out.

In another movie Ab Tak Chhappan, RGV takes a look at the mob from a cop’s point of view. He brings to light a lot of the flaws in the Indian police system and once again portrays an extremely realistic emotional human element. The main character is played by one of my favorite actors, and one of the most talented actors I have ever seen on screen, Nana Patekar. The script of this film is truly awesome and it is Bollywood at its best. Another movie to keep an eye open for is EK (One) which is still in shooting. It is a big budget blockbuster but there is a lot of talk about the controversy it will spark.

Ram Gopal Varma stands out as a unique film director in a market that churns out more movies per annum than any other country in the world. He has truly had a positive effect of Indian cinema and if you do get a chance to watch any of his up coming features you should jump at it. Here in Jakarta they show the latest release Indian films at the MPX cinema in Blok M.

Excerpt from TIME MAGAZINE interview.

TIME: What's the future for Bollywood?
Varma: There's going to be a massive change. A lot of old filmmakers are going to go out of business. Anyone who looks at a film as a formula of one song, two comedy scenes and three action scenes, who doesn't look at the totality of the film, is lost now. Anyone who follows the old prudish traditions, of showing a bush's shaking leaves when they mean people are f---ing behind a tree, is gone. And anyone who doesn't follow the West is gone. For many people in the business, their pride won't let them. But following the West is not surrendering. Following the West, the best of the West, is following originality. Western innovation is superior, and I think we're just beginning to understand that. With my films, I'm targeting the urban multiplexes, the sophisticated media-savvy young crowd. Frankly, I couldn't give a f--- for the villages.


Aisha said...

RGV has chaned the face of bollywood. the thing is his movies are pretty damn slick. Hindi moves are seldom slick. WHen i was in b'lore.... the only hindi films i'd be excited enuff to watch were RGV films.

Avi said...

So I take it that we are gonna blaze and watch Ek together when it comes out?

Aisha said...

ha! Sure. If i get out of this house arrest thing.I quit my job by te way... abt a month ago... which is why i dotn come into town ... at all!! and also my fone's been taken over by my dad. so... i guess you'll have to email/comment me sometime!:)

Avi said...

damn lady, that sounds pretty intense. ah well, if you do ever get a break, i am having a barbq in Kemang next week. bring your folks ;-)good clean drunken fun

Anonymous said...

lol. u two seem to be bollywood big fans. is avi indian or indonesian? just curious, i'll add ur link in my blog.