What I love about Ram Gopal Varma

This is not the manner in which I had planned to write about him, but Ram Gopal Varma’s (click) style of movie making had always impressed me. No, I have not watched Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag (click), and doing so might not change my views about his abilities. Because even if I were ever to watch and dislike it, it does not negate all that I had passionately cherished in his cinema and held dear to me. Also, there are too many prominent movies associated with him that I have not watched, yet – Satya (click), Darna mana hai (click), Sarkar Raj (click), Rann (click), etc.

The way he knows human psychology, which is absolutely essential for playing with our minds is simply awe-inspiring. And when I say psychology, I do not mean that concerning easily discernible gross events or emotions, but more so, how we respond to visuals and sounds. Behind some of the most chilling and provocative sounds, camera positions, lighting and facial expressions is a very astute mind that knows how the human mind reacts, given a particular stimulus.

Here, I will mention a few small things from his movies that have always stayed with me.

1. Vaastu shastra (click).

On the whole, the beauty of this movie was that it had presented the stories in gaps. Meaning, for many episodes, just the beginning and the ending were shown, and their spookiness lay in the viewer imaginingg how exactly the gap must have got filled, and this had required a proactive viewer and not a passive one.

1.a. The opening titles. The way the opening titles had floated in free space in a dark background had made me aware of their meanness and an inescapable imminence.

1.b. The conviction of the young boy – Rohan in talking of Manish and Jyoti. His confidence in talking of them was frightening. Not for a single instance did he plead with his parents to assuage their disbelief or ridicule. His confidence was unnerving for me as a viewer. This confidence coupled with background awareness a few ‘wrong’ things happening in that house, in light of his parents’ utter ignorance of all those things had instilled a perverse curiosity in me to know what was to happen ahead.

1.c. The manner in which the tennis ball kills the maid. Well, to be specific it was not how the maid was killed that had got impressed upon my mind, but how the ball travels back as if having a life of its own, then in the end it climbs up the cupboard and nearly comes to rest making me think the scene had “ended”, when the camera frame shifts ever so slightly to the right, and shows us Manish grabbing the ball with his hand. This last thing was a most unexpected surprise. There was nothing jerky in the way the entire scene was captured, and yet the manner in which the body of Manish emerges from the right edge of the frame and his stark whiteness in contrast with the background gives the viewer that totally unexpected moment. His facial expression is not one of happiness or anger or sadness, but of unshakeable resolve – again alluding to some kind of inevitability accounted for by nothing else but his unadulterated resolve.

1.d. The ladder leading to the top of the Banyan tree. This is the prime example of the dealing in gaps that I had talked of. The camera pans upwards and a nonchalant Rohan is seen sitting cozily very high up. While movies like Exorcist would have tried to make the scene scary by showing him climb up in some unnatural manner, this movie does no such thing. All the viewer gets to see is the “end” of the scene without showing how he climbed up. Also, the way the tree house at the top looks, it has a certain alien feel to it, one of belonging not to “us” but something else. This effect was probably achieved by sheer height and also a camera angle that made the top of the ladder converge like the apex of a very long isosceles triangle.

One of the bugging elements of the movie was the sinister kid laughter. It was rather interfering with the viewer experience than adding to it. Some of the slow undulations of the camera, which had given the scenes a ‘floating-in-the-ship’ kind of feel were also irritating.

You can read a very detailed review of this movie at Army of Monkeys (click), which I have not read yet. 😉

One thing I would want to say about watching horror movies is that they cannot be enjoyed if one goes with a confrontational attitude akin to I dare the movie maker to be able to scare me. Rather, to completely enjoy such movies requires a proactive viewer who would try to anticipate at each step what would happen ahead, so that getting surprised would be made possible!

2. Sarkar. The thing in the movie that had affected me the most was the dull thud of dumbell at the beginnig of the movie when the alleged rapist had been killed. The dullness was again one of those devices that had scared me because of my ability to empathize. The first thing that had come to my mind was – “I would not like to be there, hit like that”! It was that effective. Some other manner of killing like liters of blood splattering all around or something involving fast, jerky motion would dazzle or excite the viewer, but not necessarily frighten.

Towards the end, the unshakable expression on Rashid’s face despite his inevitable death was something that had made me uncomfortable. Here was a man, who in the context of the movie was a villain, a wrongdoer, a failure, and yet, he dies the same way he had lived, without remorse. He faces the process of death just like any other average event in his life – trying to live through his death. Though the turn of events in the movie had not given me the time to think about all these, somewhere subconsciously the scene had sown a doubt, which serves as a chink in conviction with which we lead our lives – why do we do what we do in our lives? To what end? It all ends, anyway.

3. Music in Ram Gopal Varma-movies. Though the credit for the music in his movies should most directly got to the respective composers, still it is him who had introduced in Bollywood, music with piercing quality to it. One of the all time favorite songs of mine is “Mast” (click to hear) sung by Sunidhi Chauhan (click) and composed by Sandeep Chowta (click). The manner in which the opening words like uske siva kuchh yaad nahin… start with with a subdued hushed tone, and yet end in hui, hui main mast represents the most planned yet unstoppable dissipation of energy. Again the quality that comes fore is of unstopability. “Mast” at the end of the line hits the listener with an impact.

Another song that really resonates with me is Ganda hai par dhandha hai yeh… from Company (click). It has an element of tease. The point after Sandeep Chowta utters (ganda hai) “yeh”, when I would expect a drum beat, there is none! It leaves me wanting for more; the dissipation does not happen this once.

Why I mention these pieces of music is because they gel so well with his overall style of movie making. Also, I do not know why, but somehow it is certain people’s vision that enables others to deliver the best stored up in them, like potential energy. For instance, Sandeep Chowta has not been able to deliver such powerful music working with someone else. Vivek Oberoi (click) has never acted as well as with Varma. Abhishek Bachchan has not been able to make his screen presence felt the way he could in Varma’s movies. It took a Varma to bring out the amazing actor hidden in Urmila Matondkar (click), who otherwise would have only got dismissed as a skin revealing bimbo. This also made me realize how Ismail Darbar (click) has been able to do his best only working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali (click). So, I believe these movie directors and producers indeed have a role in extracting the best from the people they work with. So even if a lot in his movies is not his doing, he should get the credit for firstly having a desire to work with talented people, then ability to recognize that talent, and then eventually actually associating with them.

Anyway, I could be accused of reading, seeing or hearing too much where there is really nothing. But well, I could perceive those things, and I do not rule out the possibility of my deluding myself only to be able to recognize an icon.

Also, there had been a few curious coincidences. Despite my liking some of his movies very much, I had not known much about him. But then some time later I came to understand that he is an atheist, and further later (just a year back) that he is a fan of Ayn Rand (click) – another person I greatly admire.

Ram Gopal Varma is in show business. His skill lies in employing a “technique” to generate an “effect”. To digress a bit, this dichotomy between insipid technique used to generate a scintillating effect was something I had become sensitized to while making PowerPoint presentations for the first time. Same effect on screen could be achieved by elegant simplicity, or through crass background technique while editing the slides. I would like to share with you a novel that heavily relies on this passion for use of techniques to yield effects – The Vanished Man (click) by Jeffery Deaver (click). So what I admire about Ram Gopal Varma is his proficiency with two strata of techniques. One, of converting mundane resources like outdoors, sounds, raw actors, camera, ideas (raw materials for “technique”) into visuals, sounds, facial expressions and plot-surprises (tier 1 “effect”). Two, the very same visuals, sounds, facial expressions and plot-surprise in turn serve as raw materials for the emotions generated in the viewer (tier 2 “effect”). And he is a master of both tiers of technique. He has perfected this art, I do not believe, which would have been possible without immense passion and a basic level of intelligence.

But years and experiences have also sensitized me to the same technique-effect concept put to use by famous people. I have my doubts whether the public image he has is the “true” him, or his attempt to provoke people into hating him and talking about him, or to profess love for him only to stand out.

But there is sufficient intelligence in his words that convinces me that whatever he does, he knows very well what it is, and that he also understands the motives behind his actions. Sometimes I also wonder if the insolent attitude he reserves for most people is his method to filter out those who cannot see form from substance, or in other words, those who miss the subtle but significant and go after the conspicuous but merely a distraction. Or again, I might be wrong in thinking he thinks so much about others!

But the fact remains, I continue to be intrigued by him, and admire him in equal measures.

You can read his blog here – RGV BLOG (click), going through which was basically the precipitating factor in my writing about him.

You can read some of his quotes here (click).

3 thoughts on “What I love about Ram Gopal Varma

  1. Hi Ketan

    Nice to note some positive words about RGV. Despite so many uncharitable reviews on him, he remains one among the film makers whom and in whose movies, I am some how interested in.

    I have loved every frame of Sarkar and Sarkar Raj. He has made rank bad movies (RGV Ki Aag. Saw some 30odd minutes). Less than average ones as well (Contract). Fabulous ones should necessarily include Company.

    The best thing about him is that he experiments. First thing I loved about Aag was way Amithab was shown. Pure Evil. After a long time, here was a villain who looked menacing. But sadly, movie didn’t match up to the initial hype. The worst thing about his movies – sometimes too much of mannerisms with the lead players (especially the negative roles) makes them look like some bad caricatures.

    I used to hum along Mast song for a long time. Among the favourite ones around that time. It is a news to me that it was a RGV movie. Though I had watched it I don’t remember if I noticed the director / producer. He has introduced the largest number of new directors in the recent past. Though most of his understudies have turned out be even bad movie makers.

    As to Vaastu Shastra, I remember the Kid’s portrayal to be fabulous for precisely the same reason as you had mentioned. Conviction. I didn’t notice the other aspects which you have detailed. Would take a look at that some time later, hopefully.


    Saimukundhan G

  2. I’ve only seen Vaastu Shastra and it was so SCARY!
    I watched it with my cousins and it really was chilling…I’ve never been a fan of horror movies because movies is something I love, so whenever I watch them, I get really engrossed and needless to say, that can be scary while watching horror movies. But after my exams I plan to rent a all the horror movies and watch them.

    I didn’t notice the little things you wrote about in your post, because I saw it a long time back, but i doubt I would even notice it now.
    I think you’re exceptionally observant in these little details. 🙂

  3. “Well-articulated disagreement would be a very good indicator that I was understood, and would be appreciated more than perfunctory agreement or praise. But of course, you could agree and praise…”

    How do I find reasons to disgree with this post! Lol Brilliant stuff! I’ve somehow been irritated every time I hear his name. Don’t ask me why. I’ve watched only Sarkar so far. I actually liked it very much. But unfortunately I found out it was a rip off of Godfather.

    @Srishti: I have serious doubts that Ketan is human. I think he is more like the Na’vi


    only he isn’t blue or 10 feet tall and sure doesn’t have a flat stomach! 🙂 I can’t believe his ability to describe the nanoest of things. Ketan, you have to prove you are human and not Na’vi!


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