Interview Hindi

I consider Sarkar a realistic Superman or a James Bond: Ram Gopal Varma

The maverick filmmaker admits he deliberately used scenes from Sarkar (2005) in the upcoming third part.

Mayur Lookhar

Director Ram Gopal Varma has been off the boil for a while, with his tweets making more news than his films. But he hopes to change all that with Sarkar 3.

An army of journalists has gathered at the Company (Varma's production house) premises. But more than Sarkar, most of them are keen to talk about the filmmaker's controversial tweets.

While waiting to meet the maverick, we are intrigued by the dark humour on the doors and walls of the office. Sample this: This office is for those who love wine, women and wealth. There is a painting of naked women, one perched atop a lion. And US president Donald Trump adorns the restroom door. The best, though, is Varma's 'crime branch' where two doors facing each other have the names of Dawood Ibrahim and Narendra Modi.

All this gives an insight into what makes Ram Gopal Varma tick. He is unabashed, unflinching in his thinking. And he speaks freely about Sarkar 3, the third film in the Sarkar series, why he considers Amitabh Bachchan’s character to be nothing less than a realistic Superman or James Bond, and why it is impossible to not glorify a villain like Veerappan. Excerpts:

After nine years in abeyance, are you confident that the audience will say 'ab ki baar RGV ki Sarkar'?

I can't talk about my confidence because my job as filmmaker is to make films. How people perceive it depends on how they take it. If I knew that, I wouldn't have made my flop films. However, as a filmmaker it excites me that Sarkar 3 is bigger and the issues it deals with, the connectivity and relatability of the characters, in my view is larger than in the earlier films [in the series].

Eight years is a long gap between two films. Is that a drawback for a franchise?

Godfather III (1990) came almost 20 years after Godfather II (1974). A film works on two levels – when people have background knowledge about it, they see it in one way. Sarkar 3 was done keeping in mind that some people might not have seen the two earlier films. Those who have seen them, too, may not remember substantial details. I would like to believe that Sarkar 3 works as a standalone without knowledge of the earlier films.

The trailer of Sarkar 3 strongly reminds us of Sarkar (2005).

You are right in that observation, but the two stories differ. The intention of what I thought worked exactly as I conceived. One of the mistakes I made in Sarkar Raj (2008) was to put Shankar [Abhishek Bachchan's character] in the forefront. It reduced the impact of Subhash Nagre [Amitabh Bachchan’s character]. Then I killed Shankar.

Sarkar is not so much about the story as it is about the power of the character, the lines, the adrenalin it creates in certain spaces and time. I wanted a lot of this in Sarkar 3. So I have deliberately used a lot of dialogues from Sarkar (2005), in different situations though, to create the same effect. I consider Sarkar a realistic Superman or James Bond — that would be a better word. He is a hero. You always want a hero to speak similar lines. The design for his character [in Sarkar 3] is very close to Sarkar (2005).

One of the fascinating things about a Ram Gopal Varma film is the way you use silence in critical scenes. An example in the first film was when Shankar kills Vishnu. There was a prolonged silence before he breaks down. How do you manage to use silence so effectively?

Cinema is an emotional experience. Many a times emotions are best expressed through silence, especially when you have actors who can hold the camera with their expression. When you are waiting for someone to say something, that sometimes can work more powerfully than what is being said.  Silence is a function of storytelling. I have always been influenced by this particular style, from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) to Steven Spielberg’s early works.

Your last film, Veerappan (2016), didn’t fare well at the box office. The trailer suggested there was a certain glorification of Veerappan and his crimes. Your thoughts?

I don’t think glorifying would be the right word. I face this accusation [often], but my answer is that the only person glorifying it is the media. To create an impact on a certain character, it goes without saying that you have to glorify.

For example, nobody in the word thinks Adolf Hitler [the German dictator] was a hero. He was a tyrant and a mass murderer. [But] it is impossible for you to not glorify because of the impact he created at a certain time.

I remember how a noted Hindi news channel once aired a story about Dawood Ibrahim attending a wedding. The headline was ‘Pehli baar aap dekhe Dawood ko chalte phirte' [You’ll see Dawood Ibrahim walk for the first time]. (Laughs.) They sounded ecstatic about it.

You’ll probably work more on glorifying a criminal than a scientist from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. Even if you want to, you can’t shoot Mother Teresa in high speed. Today newspapers are filled with stories of crimes, scams. One is interested in the dark side of a human being. That’s human instinct.

You were once quoted as saying that your films flopped because of your arrogance. Veerappan didn’t do well. What would you attribute that to?

It is pointless to analyse a film after its result, both in success or failure, because there are films which you like but which don’t do well, and vice-versa. If it’s a big hit, then you can come up with a terrific 'why it was a hit', and equally you can come up with a reason why it didn’t work.

I never go into specific reasons why it failed, but I look back and wonder what was the mindset when I was making the film. For example, for me, though Company (2002) was a hit, it was a bigger flop than Veerappan. I feel I did a better job with the material I had with Veerappan while, despite having the material, I did a worse job on Company. That is how I look at it. Maybe I’m the wrong person to ask such a question.

However, if one looks at the genre itself [crime, dark thrillers], it doesn't seem to be doing well at the box office. For example, Kaabil, which  I thought was a great film, didn't do great commercially. The common words among those didn’t like the film was that they don’t like watching violence on the screen.

I don’t think it would be right to generalise the audience. When Satya (1998) came out, many at the preview screening thought nobody would buy tickets for such a film. Many said who would want to watch these ugly-looking, sweaty characters; everyone wants escapist cinema. But the film worked. So, you never know what the audience will like. The same kind of film may not work again.

People differ in their tastes. I personally don’t watch rom coms. Lots of people do though. It’s like going to a bookstore and probably you may not like 95% of the books, but you will buy something.  What you buy may not interest others. Formula films worked for a long time because there was something in them for everybody. The moment you make a genre film, it gets restricted by its very definition. Then the secret is to make it in a budget where you don’t need it to go through the roof.

At the Sarkar 3 trailer launch, you said that except for Sarkar you regret all your films with Amitabh Bachchan. You felt all directors, including you, had taken him for granted. You briefly mentioned your reasons. Can you elaborate on them?

When I created the character of Sarkar, it was the embodiment of what had influenced me over the years of watching Bachchan since Zanjeer (1973). When I made Rann (2010) or Nishabd (2007), I was just taking him as an actor. A week before [Rann's] release, one distributor told me your film will flop, not because I don’t know what your film is, but after seeing Bachchan in Sarkar, I don’t want to see him like this, holding his [head in his] hands and crying. He didn’t want to see a weaker Bachchan. So, if any character I have done with him later, if it was not as powerful, as impactful, as Sarkar, that itself proves I did an injustice to him.

In one of your tweets, you had called Baahubali a dinosaur and said other films had gone into hiding like dogs and tigers. Well, Sarkar 3, too, didn’t dare to take it on.

Everyone was included in it. Why should I be separate?

Will you be watching Baahubali?


But I guess you will not be watching the next [Telugu star] Pawan Kalyan film.

(Laughs.) No. So, you know Pawan Kalyan too?

Not much, but I know him mainly through your tweets. Dark humour is not easily digested in this country.

A lot of people don’t realise that I make the maximum fun of myself. The only tweets they take seriously are those when I make fun of someone else.  Everyone advised me to be off Twitter, but the only person who has never asked me to do so is Mr Bachchan.