Sarkar Raj: What’s That Burning?

14 Jun

Oh, it’s Ram Gopal Varma ki ass.

Meena, a regular over at Aspi’s Drift, just earned my undying gratitude by posting a link to the funniest rant I’ve read in years. If you were wondering how RGV feels about the ass kicking he received for his cherished Sholay remake/homage, wonder no more. With Sarkar Raj, the sequel to Sarkar (a more successful homage to The Godfather), out and in the critics’ bull’s eye, he’s sounding off loud and clear about the cretins who write about his movies. And what’s more, he’s got AB to post it on his blog. (RGV has his own blog but it obviously doesn’t get the kind of response AB’s does, so that was a clever bit of broadcasting.)

To paraphrase Kevin Smith (video below), every movie is somebody’s baby and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve achieved – when someone goes after your baby, you get up in arms. And so we have RGV who spent months giving everyone a dead fish stare and a mea maxima culpa whenever the subject of Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag came up, only to go off like a Diwali rocket now that audiences have once more ventured (kind of) into a cinema hall to see a flick that he directed.

What’s especially hilarious (and simultaneously sad) is that he comes off kind of like an enraged elephant – indiscriminately stomping over everything in his path. Particularly heartrending is the plight of Subhas K. Jha, a man who adores Aishwarya Rai but didn’t really care for Sarkar Raj. Ultimately he chose to put RGV in the docket for the lapses in the movie – and earned himself a place in front of the firing squad. (Click here to read his extremely spoileriffic review. Like, seriously, that thing is practically a synopsis.) But the truly funny part is that RGV chose to quote his (rather purple) compliments as an example of his doucheness.

Digression: He did that to poor Meetu as well, but she’s pretty jazzed about making it on to AB’s radar in any shape or form, so that’s alright. In fact, I hope AB took note of both her review and her reaction to RGV’s rant coz superfans rule.

Anyway, the only thing that I was taken aback to read was RGV’s reaction to the cinematic aspirations of certain critics. I’m well aware of this attitude some people espouse viz. that if your job is to critique then you shouldn’t try your hand at that art form. Personally, I find that line of argument completely moronic and insulting.

Anybody who’s thought it through will tell you that the best way to understand any sort of art form is to immerse yourself in it. A moviemaker who doesn’t watch movies, a writer who doesn’t read, an artist who stays away from galleries and museums – well, first of all I don’t know how they can deny themselves that kind of pleasure but more to the point, they’re limiting their knowledge of what lies out there and thus capping their potential. The beauty of humanity is that we learn and build on what has come before; our history is important to us and our contemporaries help us grow as individuals.

So why on earth would you think that a critic who spends all his or her time studying cinema would be or should be immune to the desire to be a part of it? Of all the art forms, cinema is perhaps the one that holds the greatest allure – commercial cinema if not art cinema. Even laymen want to be a part of the process. Why not critics? They might not always be successful at it but that doesn’t mean they can’t try. Or that they should be looked down upon or their judgment doubted because they do. You can’t tell me in all honesty that the film industry is full of people who uncritically love each other’s work. Not when Karan Johar is snickering on prime time TV about Rani Mukherjee’s stint in the “B-movie” wilderness with Bobby Deol and Kareena Kapoor is mocking her own movies like Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon (I bet the Barjatyas threw a fucking party when Tashan came out).

I find it especially sad that someone like RGV who according to legend ran a video store like that other director fellow called Quentin Tarantino, and presumably spent his days studying the work of other people, thinks getting paid to do what he was doing as a hobby would or should preclude you from doing anything in his field.

Perhaps it would surprise him to learn that Roger Ebert (the first Pulitzer prize winner for film criticism, Emmy Award nominee, Oprah Winfrey’s ex-boyfriend, recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the most influential pundit in America according to Forbes) is also a screenplay writer.

His work? Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. Stellar, ain’t it? But Vincent (ew!) Gallo remains the only person I’ve ever come across to take any serious exception to him unless you count Stephen King who thinks he’s too lenient. In fact, Rob Schneider, who’s been on the receiving end of a few zingers, actually sent him flowers when he was ill.

Of course, even blind Martians will recognize that Ebert and the horridly grating Khalid Mohammad (or “Khalida” as AB apparently calls him – with the utmost affection, he says) don’t inhabit the same plane when it comes to criticism. But that doesn’t mean he can’t try to make a movie if he wants to. Actually, the funny thing about all this “Khalid Mohammad trades positive reviews for a chance to make his movies” innuendo that’s been making the rounds in multiple places is that his first time out as a director, he made Fiza. A movie that starred Hrithik Roshan but was really a vehicle for Karisma Kapoor, then a Bachchan daughter-in-law to be, and marked Jaya Bachchan’s return to mainstream cinema. So am I to assume “Khalida” was doing the Bachchan clan certain favors?

See, that’s the problem with slinging mud. Try as you might, some of it eventually lands on you.

Anyway, the upshot of all this was that I did something I wasn’t planning to do and saw Sarkar Raj. And unlike a lot of other people, I actually liked it.

Yes, the background score and the camera angles tried a little too hard to convince me that this was a Serious Drama Exploring Dark Issues when the characters, not to mention the actors portraying them, were perfectly capable of telling me that much without any fanfare or manipulation – but I didn’t expect RGV to find his way back to the light overnight, so I guess I was prepared.

And once I settled down and saw the movie not as a sequel but as a kind of epilogue to the earlier movie, it made a lot of sense.

Sarkar (AB) is paying a lifetime’s worth of the butcher’s bill through Shankar. Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan) tries to atone for the choices he made in the earlier movie, specifically his brother’s murder, by embracing his social conscience because he can’t bear to embrace his moral conscience. His desperation to make his life count infuses his conversations with Anita (AIshwarya Rai).

Continuing this theme of every action giving birth to a consequence that must be faced are a host of supporting characters. Each works to an end of his or her own, and be it innocent or devious each of them has a bill to pay. And known or unbeknownst to them, they’re all of them connected – a long line of dominoes, who don’t always know that they’re being played.

That pretty much sets the tone of the movie.

Of the secondary characters, Anita is the one with the most potential – when RGV says that her character might as well have been a man, he means it literally. Unlike other women in the RGV universe, she is neither an angel nor a moll. Unfortunately, it’s unclear to the end what she is, exactly, other than a foil to the Nagre men. There are indications early on that she might be an equal, a yin to Shankar’s yang. She is just as much alone as he is, albeit for other reasons, and she seems to understand him in a way that the rest of us don’t – perhaps he showed her something more than we were allowed to see. Hers is such an indefinable presence, in fact, that there was a moment towards the end when I thought Sarkar was going to turn to her and ask her why she set the whole thing up.

Now that would have been a twist! Not that the one RGV gave us wasn’t a nicely chilling one, but it’d be interesting to see how he tackles a female protagonist in his universe.

If there’s one thing I found absolutely ridiculous, it was the hitman. That whole silent giant with the gloved hand bullshit – I had a feeling that if the camera panned up, we’d see the guy masked in a Hannibal Lecter-style helmet. I really don’t know why RGV, the man who’s single-handedly defined the character of the Mumbai hitman for my generation at least, would go for the kind of crock that belongs in a Vikram Bhatt movie.

Equally rubbish was that sequence on the terrace: I saw this movie unspoiled and it gave me a nasty jolt (I approve! So I won’t spill the beans) but you can’t tell me a man of his stamp would just stand there and take it instead of hitting the deck at first shot. Which makes me wonder if he was suicidal. Which is an interesting thought.

In fact this whole movie is like a very interesting idea, left half explored. The characters are all there and present but he keeps blocking our view of them. I kept getting the feeling that they were all holding much more interesting conversations when the camera wasn’t present. I don’t recommend it for everyone, especially those who like their movies made with more subtlety, but this is a movie that I’m glad I saw.

And finally Amitabh Bachchan – the things that man can do with just a sidelong look are amazing. Which is why he can blog like the most popular thirteen year old girl in school and still keep me as a fan.


Posted by on June 14, 2008 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


15 responses to “Sarkar Raj: What’s That Burning?

  1. narendra shenoy

    June 15, 2008 at 12:52 am

    I couldn’t make it to Sarkar Raj but the missus went to the premier and gave me a blow by blow account. The way she told it, sounded a great movie. Aishwarya apparently acted well for a change, though her role seems to consist mostly of emitting one silent tear every 13 minutes. The missus is fascinated with Abhishek (which I find most curious, by the way, since she has ME) and her assessment of his acting is unreliable, but this time according to her, he has hit Oscar levels.

  2. meetu

    June 15, 2008 at 4:15 am

    Thanks for the digression, Indiequill!

    Finding the letters “http://withoutgivingthemovieaway” on AB’s blog was certainly exciting for me! Of course, I sincerely hope that someone on that blog remembers the use of “a href ” tags. 🙂

    “In any shape or form” – yeah, good publicity would have been good, but not-so-good is not that bad either.

    About critics trying their hand at movie-making – I agree with you, but I think what RGV is trying to say is people who have made bad movies should not criticize others’ movies. Obviously, I don’t agree with that even if I don’t think I’m ever going to make a movie. And I doubt RGV believes it either, otherwise what business does the maker of Aag have commenting on Fiza or any other movie.

  3. Never Mind

    June 15, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I was reading RGV’s Review of Reviews on his blog,
    and that was my reaction too. You cannot criticize Khaled’s review of your movie just because he made a bad movie. That is like trashing a cricket commentator’s insights based on his own personal achievement or lack of it.

  4. Never Mind

    June 15, 2008 at 9:30 am

  5. sidekick

    June 15, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Amrita, I saw this one on the opening weekend, thanks to friends who were visiting who were curious about the hype. I liked it too although it could have used some crisper editing and a more “The Usual Suspects” type treatment (i.e. no bludgeoning over the head with either background score or plot points)

    I felt let down by the terrace scene too —- not for your reasons, but because of the scene between The junior Bachchan couple which I thought was a hindi movie cop out. There was no need for the film to take that turn (I’ll say no more for the benefit of the unspoiled) but upto that point I was impressed by the way Ash’s character had been developed. If indeed the denouement had taken the shape you’ d expected (and I did too, coz I couldn’t believe Anita Rajan’s story would take such a lame turn!) I would have been appeased! Not that the twist wasn’t an interesting one but because in the end all Ash did need to do was look gorgeous and shed a tear every 13 minutes! I really think she could have done more if given half a chance.

    I was thoroughly disappointed by AB Jr — a somewhat vacant, morose gaze does not equal smoldering, intense with emotional fires tamped down. We get that later through the exposition not from AB Jr’s performance. But in the end, AB Sr makes it work — he is easily ,after all these years, still the best actor we have in hindi movies

  6. Rada

    June 15, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    You have been tagged!

    Pls follow the link below:

  7. Amey

    June 15, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    in fact, that there was a moment towards the end … ask her why she set the whole thing up.
    My thoughts exactly… that would have been a good twist, though expected one at that point.

    Equally rubbish was that sequence on the terrace
    I would have shouted “get down you idiot” if the occasion (rather, the place) was appropriate.

    As for the assassin, I guess the thing is, given RGV’s record with bhaigiri in movies, the person would have taken more meaning if he had a face. I may not be expressing it properly, but I think the assassin was just a tool, not a person. He didn’t have a “role”, so his face was not at all important.

  8. Saagar

    June 16, 2008 at 1:25 am

    Its fair if Khaled gets personal with Amitabh and RGV but its not fair if Ram Gopal Verma points a finger at Khaled right. Agreed RGV made RGV ki Aag and its no good compared to Fiza but lets not forget that the same RGV gave Rangeela, Satya, Sarkar etc. He had successes and failures and what did Khaled have. Fiza, some other junk movie and some movie called SIlsila which were all huge flops. No hits to his credit so far. What people forget when they take the side of the person shot back at, to support journalism to support a critic’s point of view is that the film maker has every right to get back at them and to get personal. If journalists can blast Ramu saying he is insane and needs to quit movies, he has every right to get personal at them taunt them about their failures in making movies and taunt them about going after producers who wont give them a chance. He is human after all. He has every right to express his opinion as do you and I. Before the next one cries about RGV flaunting his position as a successful director to go after the failures and shouldnt be doing it morally or ethically, lets understand that by forgetting his status for a second, he has every right to get even with anyone who attacks him… And before you make any conlusions, no I am not an RGV fan or an Amitabh fan, just a person who believes everyone deserves a fair chance as a person and not as what their position in society is…

    Just my $0.02

  9. Saagar

    June 16, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Oh, and by the way Amrita, I didnt read the whole blog, because its too big for me he first few paragraphs prompted the above reply, so if things were misconstrued, then you can blame my impatience in trying to read the whole blog.. (in fact I dont follow your blog much any more because each blog is too big, no I am not complaining, its your blog and your choice, just a personal preference that I cant read big posts)

  10. Never Mind

    June 16, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Saagar: I think its fair that RGV gets a chance to get back at Khaled. But my point is that RGV totry and counter the criticism in Khaled’s review rather than his movies. Its another story if RGV wants to review Fiza and tell us what he thinks about the movie. And I think Khaled has every right to speak his mind about RGV’s or others’ movies without getting involved in a mud-slinging fest, because after all that is what he is qualified and employed to do.

  11. Amrita

    June 16, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    NS – Abhishek was hot for a quick minute before he turned into some kind of bearded fug but I could feel the faint stir of attraction once more in this movie. So… er, Team Mrs.. Sorry. 😀

    Meetu – way to roll with the punches, babe. 🙂 For what it’s worth, I thought your review was on point. And ITA with what you said re: bad filmmakers and their right to criticize.

    NM – I kinda preferred the Whole Food link! No, but I think RGV’s a cathartic kinda blogger – and he only has one subject to exorcise. And btw, I would love it if RGV reviewed a few flicks on his blog. The man is very specific in his likes and dislikes and what he takes away from the movie experience as Rangan notes in his review of SR and I think it’d be fascinating to read his take.

    Sidekick – if this movie had even breathed the same air as the Usual Suspects, it would have kicked all sorts of ass. But give the man some time. He’s at least on the road to recovery.
    Re: the rest – really, didn’t you see that coming? I saw it like a mile back. But I agree about it being a cop out. It would have been far more interesting if they’d taken it a bit further along, if you know what I mean. Tanisha’s character, for eg, was really hooked on power in a very subtle, housewifey way: she was the queen in waiting and she knew it, like in that scene where she ribs the CM for not coming to visit more often. It would’ve been interesting to see where someone like Anita could have taken that slant of derived power.
    AB Jr. I agree didn;t exactly blow me away but he’s developed into this very dependable sort of performer. A little one note but the poor guy can’t help it with AB sr. hanging over his head. 😀

    Rada – Will do, sir!

    Saagar – okay, I don’t know why you’re pissed but as it happens, you’re absolutely mistaken about what I have a problem with. I certainly have no problems with RGV blogging – but just like he has every right to blog whatever he wants, I have every right to laugh my head off at what he blogs about.
    And btw, unlike you, I AM an AB and RGV fan.
    Also, while I occasionally post the odd photo caption etc, the avg post on IQ is 1000+ words. So if you don’t like prose heavy blogs, I’m surprised you stuck around so long.
    Anyway, nice to have met you.

  12. Saagar

    June 16, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    As it happens, I guess the words didnt convey the meaning, but anyways, the meaning intended to be conveyed was, I havent been reading the whole blogs lately, bcoz they are too big for me, and same was the case with this one. So, if the meaning conveyed by the post in the middle and towards the end was different from the start, then my impatience is to blame… hope that clears it..
    And I wasnt pissed, just didnt like that many people complaining about RGV getting personal with Khaled, was an opinion not a blasting 🙂
    Well,your writing style and titles sure interest me to navigate from RSS to the blog, but prose heavy blogs drive me away most of the times. Not that I am complaining, and please do retain your own style, I was just trying to reason out something else with that statement and I guess it came out differently, “as it happens” 🙂

  13. desiGirl

    June 17, 2008 at 6:33 am

    Seeing / hearing AB in movie after movie is so blech that I do not think I can sit thru this. For the first time ever, these words are popping out of my mouth – er u know what I mean – Ash looks good!

  14. harini calamur

    June 22, 2008 at 12:14 am

    i have been seriously scared of watching a RGV film since Daud. I catch most of them on DVD — and am usually glad that i gave the theater viewing a miss. 🙂 seriously…..

    the last film of his i genuinely liked, and can watch at any point in time, is Shiva. I was genuinely scared by Raat, Rangeela enchanted me… but, the rest have been a let down. i will catch SR on DVD, at some point of time ….

  15. Amrita

    June 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Saagar – good to know 🙂 Personally I think RGV went looking for a fight with this one. And he used AB as cover, imo. Anyway, what I really found hilarious was that he couldnt differentiate between compliment and criticism.

    DG – He kind of brings back the magic in the second half but the man IS seriously overexposed. I think I hear SRK saying Yay.

    Harini – AHAHHA!! Daud! My cousin made a very astute observation about RGV;s movies that RGV himself confirmed just the other day viz. when he likes a certain angle, he’ll make it over and over and over again until he gets it right. So there are all these movies he’s made that are basically the same thing with just a degree or two different. IMO, his most successful attempt at the Two People On the Run With a Suitcase Followed by Baddies flick was the one starring Sreedevi and Nagarjuna. But apparently that wasnt enough for him so he made Daud. Ew.

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