Is Ram Gopal Varma The Most Prominent Indian Director Ever?

By Sayantan Mondal. Posted on April 11, 2015

Ram Gopal Varma might have had a recent slump in his creative endeavours, but it can’t be denied that he is one of the most influential filmmakers in India and during his prime directed several movies that are among the best films of the Indian movie industry. Not only this, under his tutelage a number of writers, directors & technicians learnt the tricks of the trade and later went on to create their own masterpieces. However if you look deeply you will see how Ram Gopal Varma’s work inspired them, having taken cue from their mentor’s work.

Ramu’s debut movie Siva, later made in Hindi again as Shiva, catapulted him to the big league. If you look at Siva, the fight between two factions, one supported by a goon while the other led by an upright honest college student, brings us to two movies, Tapan Sinha’s Apanjan and Gulzar’s Mere Apne, a remake of the former. The thematic resemblances were very close but Ramu triumphed by nullifying the overt romanticization associated with these two movies.

Here’s a scene from Ramu’s Siva, an engrossing cycle chain fight. Though Siva’s roots can be discovered in Apanjan and Mere Apne, but Ramu managed to make it more realistic, harsh and created stuff  that define cult movies .

Ramu’s position in Bollywood was cemented by Rangeela, which was his tribute to Bollywood of the 90's but contained with the necessary Ramu elements. Let us realize one thing, Ramu’s heart always belonged to a character who would represent the downtrodden, someone who would fulfil his or her responsibility of connecting the higher class with the lower. Rangeela was very different from the Bollywood romantic comedies made during that phase. Be it the characters of Aamir, Urmila or Jackie Shroff, each of them looked very real and were someone the audience could relate to.

Even though it was a masala movie, Rangeela didn’t deter Ramu from withdrawing from his realist mode of storytelling. The characters, the story, the cinematography as well as the visuals of this film added to the transition that Bollywood witnessed years later.

Here’s a scene from Ramu’s Satya. A scene where Satya and Bhiku along with the gang have gone to extort money from a builder. The entire narrative is given a very cool, low key affair while suggesting the viewer  that it’s just another normal day for them, just like an office-goer going to his 9 to 5 job routine . The joke narrated by a character in the scene is another prominent catalyst that once again detaches the viewer from the reality of the scene. But when the shootout starts, the audience realizes what they are watching.

Satya’s character, has shades of another character apart from his own- that of Siva, whose moody, stoic nature is a continuation of what we see in the movie. But here Satya is a gangster and though he is honest and loyal, he also manages to come out of Siva’s shadow. Satya is Ramu’s greatest achievement in terms of cinematic form and not only that it also had Anurag Kashyap as the screenwriter, who has now established himself as the foremost director in the Hindi movie industry. But it was under Ramu's tutelage, Anurag got first-hand experience that later helped him with his own movies.

If we speak of Satya, we have to mention Company. While Satya was about loyalty, bonding, friendship, Company took a different route where loyalty, kinship all falls foul. Company might be as dark as Satya, but is totally devoid of those emotions that make Satya a bit more humane. Once again Ramu’s idea is to create an anti-thesis of his previous work. Gangs of Wasseypur immensely benefits from these two movies. In Gangs of Wasseypur, if we look at the relationship between Faizal Khan and Definite, we will see that it has shades of Malik-Chandu, their friendship and subsequent rivalry.

Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2 have easily assimilated the vibes of both Satya and Company. Given that Anurag Kashyap worked under Varma in his early days, it was natural for him to be partially inspired by his mentor’s style.

Coming to another protégé of Ramu, let's talk of E. Niwas and his debut film Shool. Shool was in many ways Ardh Satya meets Ram Gopal style of filmmaking, just like Ramu’s Shiva which was a possible extension of Apanjan/Mere Apne.

Look carefully at both of the scenes above. While they look very similar where both the antagonists die at the hands of the upright hero, E. Niwas appropriated the story of Ardh Satya and methodically documented it with Ramu’s style of filmmaking influencing him the most. Ardh Satya was minimalist in its approach, with the rage of Om Puri stopping it from over-exposing itself, but Shool was loud as well as brash. Both Manoj Bajpayee and Om Puri with Sadashiv Amrapurkar as well as Sayaji Shinde form a nexus, with E. Niwas capturing the very essence of Ardh Satya, which undoubtedly was the best cop movie made in India, with Ramu’s model.

Shool could’ve never done an Ardh Satya. The rage was very controlled there. Even when Om Puri surrenders himself after killing Rama Shetty, i.e Sadashiv Amrapurkar, his rage as one can see might have subsided, but not that of Manoj Bajpai as he shouts out Jai Hind to end the scene with his fate unresolved.

We can end this discussion by talking about another movie, Shimit Amin’s Ab Tak Chhappan, about encounter cop Sadhu Agashe, played by Nana Patekar, again whose possible inspiration can be found in the character of Inspector Khandilkar, from Ramu’s Satya. Ab Tak Chhappan was produced by Ramu, though it was not surprising to see this connection, but what is more important is the amount of influence Ramu exerts here. The close up shots, the wide shots, the dialogues, the overall cinematography, the story which is bleak without any chance of redemption. These things reminds you of  a Ramu movie but then it was directed by the talented Shimit Amin, which once again just like Shool, could’ve been a cop movie directed by Ramu.

Ram Gopal Varma has completed around 25 years in the movie industry. He has created movies of epic proportions ranging from thrillers to romantic comedies as well as horror. He has been one of the most prolific directors around, single-handedly giving a break to probably the largest pool of talent in Bollywood including the likes of Sriram Raghavan, Apurva Asrani, Krishna Vamshi, Madhur Bhandarkar, Sneha Khanwalkar, Jaideep Sahni amongst others.

Besides Bollywood, Ram Gopal Varma gave a new lease to Telugu Cinema too with Siva. The gritty, raw action sequences of the movie changed the way action sequences were till shot and executed in South Indian cinema.

Here's a link to a documentary on the phenomenon called the Telugu movie Siva. This documentary sees prominent Telugu filmmakers such as Puri Jagnnath and S S Rajamouli talk about how  Siva influenced them and changed the way movies were made.

Ram Gopal Varma inspired a whole new language of filmmaking that spawned an entire genre of gangster movies in India. He might have had lost his Midas touch right now but his friends and well-wishers hope that he bounces back soon. We sincerely hope their wish comes true.


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