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.