Ram Gopal Varma: 'I'm not a ladies man'


Staff member

A fan of Bollywood or not, most wouldn't know filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma owned a video rental shop in South India before venturing into filmmaking. Many also wouldn't know his first movie was Shiva, made in Telugu, before he started making Hindi films.

But even fewer would know this gem. The director of more than 40 titles spanning more than 20 years has never walked a red carpet at a film festival.

"I just never wanted to," said Varma, who is as renowned for his controversial outbursts as he is for his action movies. "My producer convinced me to come to Doha and to be honest I'm completely shocked at how it all works. I wasn't expecting any of this. I like to make films. I release them and then that's that. I've never seen the need for a circus," he said.

Maybe that's because Varma more often than not manages to create his own media frenzy one way or another.

Last month he launched a Twitter war against mushy-film director Karan Johar, who criticised his latest flick, Rakht Charitra. The film also angered the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) resulting in the film being re-printed and distributed. TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao's wife Parvati, who informed media she will file a written petition asking for removal of some of the scenes from this latest flick, claims the film portrays her husband as a "murderer", calling Varma a "wicked person".

Maybe all that explains why he didn't exactly look a picture of joy on the red carpet at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

"It's like a fantasy land," he said without breaking a smile and not exactly dressed to impress in a black Armani-branded, sleeveless hoody.

Rakht Charitra is set against the political backdrop in Andhra Pradesh, where Varma was born, and shows the ugly side of urban life in India.

Billed as the bloodiest movie Bollywood has ever seen, Varma insists it was the only way it could be.

"The setting of this film is known for being a very, very violent place," he said. "So you're right. Nobody has seen such brutal violence on screen before but that is like a depiction of the truth. But I want people to see the story which examines the causes of such brutal violence. That is the point of the film.

"In the past my movies have been violent because of money-making operations to produce thrillers and hard-hitting cinema action. This time it is about pride, about family feuds so the violence is very upfront. It's in-your- face and I believe that can shock people sometimes.

"It calls for a certain treatment. It's remarkably different from anything else I've done in my career," he said.

Mixed reviews

According to Varma the critics have highly praised it — but then he would say that. Reviews online appear extremely mixed although many praise the strength of the storyline.

Bollywood diehards could argue any negative press could stem from Varma's decision to cast Vivek Oberoi as the lead. The actor has lost roles after holding a press conference to criticise Salman Khan.

"I don't believe people really ever lost faith in him. I believe it's a section of the media which lost faith and portrayed that. I think he's always been appreciated as a very good actor. The truth is any actor is as good as the role he gets and any director is only as good as the subject he chooses. I personally believed he was so perfectly suited to the character. I think he's done a fantastic job."

Out with one and on to the next is Varma's work ethic. Having only finished filming Rakht Charitra two months ago, he was already on to talk of his next project. But even that wasn't enough to get this guy excited.

"I am doing a film called the Department," he said, as I began to wonder how anyone who is so unenthusiastic could ever be passionate or find the inspiration to make movies. "It's set in the police station and is about politics within a police department."

Controversy and this filmmaker go hand in hand. Most of his films have been dragged through the wringer for one reason or another.

His first huge success in Hindi cinema was the commercial blockbuster Rangeela, a stylish romantic drama with Aamir Khan and Urmila Matondkar.

Varma followed up with the ground- breaking gangster saga Satya. The hard-hitting masterpiece Shool followed shortly after, which was written and produced by Varma.

It's not just his films that have courted the odd headlines, Varma himself often makes news, especially when it comes to the leading ladies. Many a times it has been reported he has cast "pretty Indian actresses" in roles other than for their talent.

"I'm not a ladies man. Well, I am a ladies man, but…", cut short by a timely interrupt by a waiter with food he just couldn't wait to order. "I'm married to films."