INTERVIEW: Ram Gopal Varma On Failure, 'Veerappan', And Why He Is Fascinated By Donald Trump

27/05/2016 7:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 6: Indian Bollywood filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma during an exclusive interview for the promotion of upcoming movie Satya 2 at HT Media Office on November 6, 2013 in New Delhi, India. Satya 2 is Bollywood crime film and directed by Ram Gopal Varma. The movie is expected to release on November 8, 2013. (Photo by Waseen Gashroo/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

On my way to meet filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, I realised I didn’t have a real address for his office, situated in Mumbai’s Andheri (West) area. I called up the PR person coordinating the interview immediately. “Your message just says opposite Veera Desai Road Police Station,” I said, “but where is it exactly?”

“Bro, it’s called ‘Company’,” he replied, with the air of someone who couldn’t believe he had to explain this again.

“Yes, I know, but what building is it in? What floor?” I persisted.

“Bro, just stop outside the police station and look across the road,” he said, sounding a little amused. “You won’t miss it.”

Well, he was right. On the other side of the road, opposite the police station, was an office building that had the word ‘COMPANY’ written across its front in giant lettering. No less than three security guards stood near its otherwise nondescript, wood-panelled entrance. I entered to find a waiting room with a fairly high ceiling (by suburban Mumbai standards) and sparse décor that was muted but still not very subtle. A full-length poster of Bruce Lee adorns one of the walls, sporting the caption: “I care a fuck about circumstances. I create my own opportunities.”

A few minutes later, I was in Varma’s office: a massive room with wooden flooring and very little furniture, barring a desk and a few chairs on the side. He’s promoting his latest Hindi film Veerappan, a docu-drama on the notorious dacoit who was hunted down and killed in 2004. It is a re-shot version of his own Kannada film Killing Veerappan, which released less than six months ago.

Here are excerpts from the conversation we had:

In your autobiography [Guns N Thighs: The Story Of My Life], you’ve written about how you, in your own words, conned people like [Telugu star] Nagarjuna and [his father] Akinneni Nageswara Rao and through lies and deception managed to get your first directorial venture, Siva (1989). Was there any fallout over this revelation after the book came out?

[Laughs] Firstly, I’m glad you read it. No, there was no fallout. They knew… I mean, I’d told them this after the film came out. Once it was a hit, anything you say sounds cute. Of course, had it bombed, it would’ve been a completely different story. I was just completely convinced that the film I wanted to make would’ve been much better than the one they were trying to make, which is why I did that.

People often wonder how you continue to make films even though they keep bombing with critics as well as audiences…

I would say it’s because of my ideas. That's what people want to know... what is the film about, what is the story. For an actor, investor, technician, that's what they are interested in.

See, for example, a lot of people wonder why Amitabh Bachchan trusts me, despite Aag (2007) or Department (2012). But the reason is very simple; it’s just that no one wants to see it: he knows my intentions are serious and he would appreciate that, and that's what he looks at. People see the effect; he saw the cause when we were working on it. That's what people look at. But behind the scenes, he sees how I'm working on it, and the final film is just a result of things I’d planned not working out.

In hindsight, if you look back at the last few years, have you zeroed in on what went wrong?

No, see, I can only make a film on a subject that interests me, excites me… something I'm passionate about. An idea excites me and I want to capture it in a visual medium to tell it to others. Now, people getting interested in the subject matter, whether I could translate my exact intention without it getting lost by the time we reach the end… there are many factors influencing all these things. Sometimes, it could go beyond what I envisioned. Sometimes it might go much lesser. These are factors that I don’t think any filmmaker can really control.

People say to me 'You used to have great writers'. But I say, so what? Eventually it’s the director deciding what to make is what will make a film. It's not about better writers, it's about what I like. I think of a film visually. I cannot connect to something given to me by someone else. If someone says Anurag [Kashyap] is a good writer because he wrote Satya (1998), then what was he making in Bombay Velvet (2015)? There's nothing like that. It's all about how things fall into place, and the decisions you make at the time.

Many seem to be put off by the camerawork you’ve been using in your films over the past few years. Why do you think that is?

See, now, I was most criticised by everyone for the camerawork in Department. But then I used exactly the same thing in Veerappan. But here the content is working so people — at least going by the Kannada reviews for Killing Veerappan — are calling the camerawork extraordinary.

Now, the thing is, these decisions come from the content and the context it is shown in. This kind of camerawork may not have worked in Sarkar (2005), for example. It’s too structured and designed. In that film, I wanted everything precise, down to the speed with which Bachchan would move his head from left to right or how he would get up from a chair.

In your book you’ve written about how you chose to let actors improvise their own lines in Satya after Sushant Singh gave you an unexpected reaction in one of the scenes, all because you forgot to say ‘cut’…

Yes, because it worked for that film. Now, in the case of Veerappan, because he was an unpredictable, violent character, it’ll reflect in the way the film has been shot.

How different is this movie from Killing Veerappan?

Well, it’s about the same person and has the same story, but every character has been changed. Sequences have been changed in context. It’s also darker and much grittier.

Were both films shot simultaneously?

No, it was completely re-shot, over 55 days, starting from December, I think.

What kind of research did you do?

I met some people who worked with Veerappan. Many officers who at various times were hunting for him. Met people who would go into the forest to meet him. Then I met a couple of people who infiltrated his gang. I met his wife, from whom I got a lot of personal details about the man.

But instead of making a biopic, I wanted to make it from the POV of the people who killed him. They need to know him and they need to know what went wrong in previous attempts to catch him.

It's not his POV. It's the true story behind Asia's largest manhunt. So we only know what they know. It’s not a biopic.

The first thing I do when I get up in the mornings is: watch porn, then read up on Donald Trump and ISIS. Maybe not necessarily in that order [laughs].

How much do you care about the aftermath?

I never think of this, never really cared about repercussions of... anything. That's the reason I'm so brazen. That's the reason I can write a book called Guns N Thighs. That’s the reason I can put out the tweets I put out, and all this should be indicative of the kind of guy I am. If I'm always concerned and thinking about what will happen, I won't be able to do any work. It's as simple as that.

Do you have any regrets about certain films you’ve made, or people you’ve fallen out with in the industry over the years?

I don't fall out. Because I actually don't have any friends, no emotional bonds with anybody at all. I only meet people I'm working with at the time, or someone I want to work with, or someone I can have an interesting conversation. But I am always working on so many ideas at the time [he works simultaneously on Hindi and Telugu films]. I don't have friends because I don't need or like any emotional dependencies. I don't like small talk or personal conversations. I don't like 'how are you', 'how are you feeling'.

So what do you do in your spare time? How do you begin your day, for example?

The first thing I do when I get up in the mornings is: watch porn, then read up on Donald Trump and ISIS. Maybe not necessarily in that order [laughs].

It seems you’re quite fascinated by Donald Trump…

You know, I don’t ever remember following the US election this closely before. This is the first time, and it’s all because of Trump. I mean, look at him: there’s no logic, no rationality to anything he says. He doesn’t come across as an intellectual. But his shock value works!

Do you think he’ll win?

One hundred percent. And I’ll tell you why. He goes and says something outrageous, which creates a debate. This triggers an emotional response in people, which by definition is a drug — it creates a high, logic and rationality stop working, and then it all wears off after some time. Then, he says something else and the same cycle repeats itself. So who needs logic?

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