RGV is back with what he does best, a film on the Mumbai underworld
After all these years, Varma’s fascination with the underworld is unabated
Credited with establishing the ‘Mumbai Noir’ in cinema, Ram Gopal Varma’s 1998 film Satya and Bhiku Mhatre’s defiant Mumbai ka King kaun? marked a new beginning in the Indian film industry. It was soon followed by Company (2002). In fact, British filmmaker Danny Boyle says both Satya and Company with their “slick, often mesmerising portrayals of the Mumbai underworld” were a major influence on his Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008). After all these years, Varma’s fascination with the underworld is unabated. His recent release, D Company, is based on—no points for guessing—gangster Dawood Ibrahim. The filmmaker is honest enough to admit that he is completely obsessed with the Mumbai underbelly.
With his first hit in Hindi cinema—Shiva (1990), the remake of his 1989 Telugu film Siva—Varma became a force to reckon with. Influenced by the philosophy of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche, besides the likes of James Hadley Chase and Frederick Forsyth, he was that different breed of a filmmaker—one who made masala films with a philosophical core. Rangeela, Daud, Kaun, Mast, and of course, the Godfatheresque Sarkar had the Hindi film industry vying to be a part of his filmmaking world. But then, something happened. Suddenly, the man who could create magic on screen lost his mojo. And somehow has been unable to find it since.
Nonetheless, he is excited about D Company. “Basically whatever has been created so far has been in small segments or imaginary sequences of Dawood’s life. My film is actually a biopic. A lot of research has gone into it,” he says, adding with childlike awe, “What you must understand is that he was like an entrepreneur when Mumbai had gangs. There was the Byculla gang and the Golden gang. He put an organisational aspect to his business—which was crime—and called it D Company. He studied and educated himself on both the shortcomings and achievements of every gangster who ruled Mumbai at that time. The film starts somewhere in 1980 and finally ends with gangster Chota Rajan’s arrest in 2015 in Bali. It’s nearly a three-decade story.”
While most of the world has been shut and is silently battling the pandemic, Varma has been busy making films, though away from the glare of Bollywood. Now finally his films are set for release. He is known for tackling risque subjects in his films. Why is that? “We are living in a highly hypocritical society. People don’t want to say what they want to see or not see. I want to put across my thoughts in a strongly critical manner,” says the filmmaker. Rumours are abuzz that the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) stalled the release of D Company over non-payment of dues to the tune of Rs 12 crore. The director refutes all allegations, “The film was stalled because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, I can’t comment on it because the matter is in the court.”
Famous for giving a break to an unknown Manoj Bajpayee, Varma says that he doesn’t judge talent vis-a-vis newcomers or legends. “Especially, in a dark film, I always feel that if the actors are new they always become far more effective. They spend on the performance and you take that face which you have never seen before as the real person. That creates a different experience. I always audition a lot of people and choose the best,” he says. Even as a producer, Varma is supportive of fresh talent. In fact, in his last seven films, he gave a platform to as many as five new directors.
If rumours are to be believed, this filmmaker is now ready to stun the audience in yet another way—he recently announced on social media that he would be facing the camera for the first time in his career of three decades with his film Cobra. How true is that? Varma shoots down all the hype, “It’s a media build-up. It’s not true. I have no such plans.” As of now, he is looking forward to his next film, Enter the Girl Dragon. “We are planning to release by the end of June or the beginning of July,” he says. On a final note, will he always be Controversy’s Child? “I can’t change that. I am what I am and I believe in what I say. For me, it’s a medium of expression and when I feel something I express myself.” Well, that’s RGV for you.