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Ram Gopal Varma birthday special — When the director kept away from ghosts, gangsters

On the director's 55th birthday today (7 April), we revisit his films that had nothing to do with his favourite genres — ghosts and gangsters.

Keyur Seta

Ram Gopal Varma is one of the few mainstream Hindi filmmakers who didn't shy away from experimenting with the craft of filmmaking, irrespective of success or the lack of it. But two of his favourite genres have always been horror and the mafia.

Varma started his career with the Telugu film Siva (1989). The unconventional gangster saga received instant acclaim and it won the Filmfare Award for Best Telugu Film. RGV, as he is popularly called, remade the film in Hindi as Shiva (1991). This marked his successful entry in Hindi cinema too. 

He became kind of a specialist in underworld films. In movies like Satya (1998), Company (2002) and Sarkar (2005), he not only showed the inside workings of the mafia, but also their inner turmoil. Later on, he became known for reviving the horror genre to mainstream Bollywood. His films, Bhoot (2003), Darna Mana Hai (2003), Phoonk (2008) etc, spooked audiences in a refreshing way, a departure from the tried and tested Ramsay method. 

 However, there have been occasions when he ditched his favourite genres and explored other subjects.

On his 55th birthday, let’s revisit the times when he kept away from gangsters and ghosts.

1. Rangeela — (1995)

Varma’s big ticket to success was Rangeela. It still remains his most successful film at the box office. It is also one of Aamir Khan’s biggest hits and his character, Munna is still remembered and remains loved. Rangeela also marked Urmila Matondkar’s arrival in the big league. The film was AR Rahman’s first original Hindi work. Its songs like ‘Hai Rama,’ ‘Kya Karen Kya Na Karen’ and ‘Yaro Sun Lo Zara’ are etched in the collective memories of Hindi music lovers. 

2. Mast — (1999)

Varma has spoken about his admiration for superstar actress Sridevi many times. In fact, he has been unable to stop gushing about her for the past few years. As per his own confession, Mast is a result of his fascination for Sridevi when he was a youngster. The film sees Aftab Shivdasani lovestruck by a famous actress played by Urmila Matondkar. Of course, RGV couldn’t be with Sridevi. But that wasn’t the case with the protagonist of Mast. 

3. Naach — (2004)

To promote this film, Ram Gopal Varma only used song promos, which gave no idea what the film was about. It seemed as if it was intentional. Naach is basically a story of a young couple wanting to excel in their respective fields and how their professional struggle affects their personal life. The film bombed at the box office. The fact that it released alongside Veer-Zaara, Aitraaz and the restored version of Mughal-e-Azam didn’t help the cause either. 

4. Nishabd — (2007)

Even if he doesn’t meet with success, Varma has always believed in experimenting. Nishabd was not just an experiment, but also a bold one. Who would have thought about a love story between a senior citizen (Amitabh Bachchan) and a teenager (Jiah Khan) would be tried in mainstream Hindi cinema? The film failed at the box office and it also received criticism from the conservative sections of the society. 

5. Rann — (2010)

This film was ahead of its time. Rann is more relevant today when the media is constantly accused of promoting paid news and the concept of fake news is alarmingly increasing. The film was the story of the head of the apparently most honest news channel, played by Amitabh Bachchan. But one fake news crashes India’s central government and fresh elections are held. Rann received critical acclaim, but the film didn’t succeed at the box office.

6. Not A Love Story — (2011) 

Varma’s rendezvous with real-life inspiration continued with Not A Love Story. The film was inspired by the infamous murder of Neeraj Grover. Starring Mahie Gill, Deepak Dobriyal and Ajay Gehi, the film was shot in the same building in Malad (Mumbai) where Grover’s murder took place. It was shot in around 20 days. Not A Love Story received mixed reviews and no box office success. 

7. The Attacks Of 26/11 — (2013) 

The infamous 26/11 incident was the most audacious terrorist attack on India. It seems Varma had made up his mind about making a film on the incident instantly. Just days after the attack, he had visited the site with the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh. As he received extreme criticism for his act, it seems he delayed the film by a few years. The Attacks Of 26/11 did receive some applause. Nana Patekar’s monologue at the end deserves special mention.