Friday, March 03, 2006

Interview with Ram Gopal Varma

Ram Gopal Varma has rarely worked with the big stars. But now, the director appears to be changing his style, considering his next film will feature Shah Rukh Khan. He tells Subhash K Jha more about that decision. Excerpts:

A film with Shah Rukh?

Yes, finally! We've been discussing projects for years and are doing this in the second half of 2006. But I want to make a film that will project Shah Rukh's potential as a star rather than his capabilities as an actor. I want to tap what Shah Rukh is loved for -- his stardom. And I want to do it my way.

Why have you chosen to stay away from the media lately?

I haven't done so consciously. I have to have something to talk to about. During the last three months, I was completely engrossed in directing Shiva. It wasn't a conscious decision to stay away. I don't want to answer questions about my favourite food or holiday spot.

What is your favourite food and holiday spot?

Next question, please.

Will Shiva be like just another RGV film that comes and goes?

I don't think I make any film that just comes and goes. One reason I've kept silent is I wanted to steer clear of the confusion about whether Shiva was a remake of my first Hindi film Shiva, or James. The whole idea of making James was to make an action film in the style of the 1970s and 80s. It was meant to be a contemporary Shiva. By the time it came out, it was nothing like what it was planned to be. My new Shiva is a remake of my old one, but in a way that James was meant to be.

Shiva, which was out in the 1970s, was about one man's fight against campus violence. To me, that appeared outdated. In this Shiva, Mohit Ahlawat plays a cop just out of the police academy, faced with a harsh reality he isn't prepared for.

Do you have the same cast as James?

Yes, but they aren't playing the same characters. Why would I do something so stupid? I had tremendous faith in the original cast and crew of James. Just because the film didn't work doesn't mean I have to change my convictions and beliefs. I don't judge potential by Fridays. Mohit Ahlawat remains a talented actor, regardless of whether James worked or not.

You decided to do Shiva quite suddenly. Didn't that affect your other plans?

Not really. I only go from film to film. I was supposed to start Sholay, but Mr Bachchan's unexpected illness put a brake on that. In any case, Sholay was not supposed to start before July 2006. So I did have the time to squeeze in a film.

Your experiences with your films, assistants and associates haven't been too rewarding lately…

They aren't to blame. As the decision maker, the final responsibility rests with me. People don't understand the mechanics of making a film. They feel an assistant is responsible for a flop. But, for all practical purposes, I am equally responsible, if not more.

Then there's ingratitude. You had to deal with a lot of that lately.

What do you mean? I don't believe in gratitude. I don't work with anyone out of a sense of charity. I use people as long as they are useful to me.

What about Antara Mali? She said she felt bound by her commitment to your company.

I don't think she said that. She said she decided to move away from the Factory. I don't know what she meant. She was never under any contract to act in or make a number of films. She was free to go anywhere.

You are hiding your disappointment under practical cynicism. I have seen your protégés -- from Manoj Bajpai to Antara Mali -- move away.

That's your reading. And you're wrong. It's a free country. Everyone is entitled to do what they want. It could be that some of these people had unpleasant experiences with me, or they may not have liked my style of functioning. They had every right to move away. No one is bound to stay with the Factory. I will go as far as to say that they were all right. I was wrong.

In what way?

They fulfilled my expectations of them, but I couldn't live up to their expectations. It's not like I played host to them at a dinner. I didn't serve up a meal to satisfy their appetites. I did it for myself. I had a personal agenda. I work with them for my own selfish reasons.

Who but you would have given Antara Mali a chance to direct a film so early in her career?

Why go into specifics? I don't think anyone in my Factory was doing her a favour. Everyone needs a chance to prove him or herself. What about me? What if Nagarjuna hadn't trusted me with directing him in Shiva? It was a super hit. My second film was a disaster. If I knew how to make a hit film, why would I make flops? You have to trust people to deliver. Even if they don't, it doesn't mean you stop trusting people.

You need to keep discovering new talent because the old keeps moving away from you.

I don't think it is to do with the old and new. I give people a break when I see that enthusiasm and passion in someone. I cash in on those qualities. After a while, they don't remain the same. They want to move on, whatever the reason.

Your next production Darna Zaroori Hai is around the corner…

In March. There are seven episodes, each directed by different people. Sajid Khan has directed the prologue -- the beginning title sequences. Then there's Sarkar writer Manish Gupta, me directing Mr Bachchan and Riteish Deshmukh, G G Philips (of My Wife's Murder), Prabal Raman (of Gayab) and a new director called Vivek Shah, followed by Chekrvarthy.

How is it different from Darna Manaa Hai?

I felt the stories were not evenly put together earlier. The genre and concept was new and we couldn't make all the stories engaging. People ask me why I made Darnaa Zaroori Hai when Darna Manaa Hai didn't work. Just because love stories don't work, you don't stop making them. I have kept the old mistakes in mind. I might have made fresh mistakes, but not old ones. I never repeat mistakes.

Except trusting new talent…

There you go again. My intention was never for them to be grateful as I am not a grateful person myself. It's a stupid emotion. Let me tell you, I have too much happening in my life and career to bother about such things. I have quite a few assistants working on projects – 20 films by 20 assistants by the end of the next year. If you decide to make a film, I'll make you the 21st director.

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