Ram Gopal Varma: 'Normal families are boring; I never tire of the underworld, crime stories'
In a chat with Firstpost, Ram Gopal Varma talks about his latest web series, Guns and Thighs
Ram Gopal Varma made a career out of gangster movies like Satya, Company, the Sarkar series, D... as he found the world of gangsters intriguing and ‘normal’ families boring.
Now that he is venturing into the digital space, the filmmaker wants to focus on the ‘Mumbai Mafia’ and show some of the biggest underworld rivalries. Besides the flashbacks in the '80s with gangsters like Karim Lala and Haji Mastan, his web series Guns and Thighs, will chronicle the fights that finished the underworld in Mumbai.
In a chat with Firstpost, Varma says he won’t shirk from talking about the big Bollywood stars crossing path with the underworld in his web series, which will span four seasons comprising 10 episodes each.
To make it brave and bold, is that the reason you chose the digital medium instead of the big screen?
As a filmmaker, my job is to tell a story and after that we need to tell it as effectively as possible. Obviously there are certain restrictions in a theatrical film which could be of CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) or the kind of audience that will come in. Besides legal and commercial, there are various other considerations, but when you are telling a story on the web, you are actually telling one person at a time who is only coming if he is interested in the subject matter and is aware of what he is going to see. Nothing will be lost in translation in terms of how effectively I can tell. I know so much about the underworld and it gives me a height of creative satisfaction as I can exactly show what I deeply think without thinking for one second about how will people react. Even if you look at the language or the imagery, it has been done in a context. Trying to water it down is doing injustice to the aspect of what it is supposed to be. The first time we saw the imagery (frontal nudity) in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen about 25 years back and you know that it was shown in a context. First time you probably heard expletives was in Satya which came in 1998 and it was also in context. There is not a single shot done for effect. It is a part of a certain world and the language and images are the intrinsic part of that world. Anybody who comes to watch Guns and Thighs, the title itself is indicative of what it is. You make your choice to watch it as an individual. Freedom is about you being able to make the choice.
Talking about imagery, this is the first time you have pushed the envelope because female nudity is not seen even in Indian web series. How did you tackle it and how much of preparation did your actors have to do? How did you convince them?
When I met the actors and actresses, I told them my intention and exactly what it means... First of all, a web series (is part of) a digital world, it is not bound by areas, it is not like it is being seen only by people in this region. The digital world is a separate world. I can watch Narcos on the Colombian drug lord that is being made in Colombia, and people in South Indian villages can watch the sub-titled version of the same. When you are doing digital and web series, you should not think in terms of cinema or a certain group or a certain region or certain kind of people watching it. You may have 500 people watching in Colombia and might only have five people watching in Bengaluru. It happens all the time in the digital world. I explained this to the actors and crew members involved and they were convinced with my sincerity and my logic and they trusted me completely.
It was mostly in the '90s that we heard about the nexus between the underworld and Bollywood. How would people connect to your web series now?
I don’t think the underworld is relevant today. It lost its hype around 2005. When you are telling a story, it is not about whether it is happening now or it happened earlier. For example, it was in 1920s when the mafia started in America just around the Prohibition time and by 1956 it got over, and Godfather was made in the early '70s. So any time you see a story, it is eventually the characters and situations, and then you come up with a genre. When I made Satya, people wondered how did I know so much about the underworld and how did I portray gangsters in a realistic way. Now, how do they know it is real? They are connecting to the emotions which seem real and which is the reason it looks real. It is explained in the voice over. Why was there an escalated criminal activity happening between 1995 and 2005? Because after the break-up of the ‘D’ Company, lot of other gangs were trying to (get a piece of the pie). It is like when a company breaks up, all the competitors will try to corner the market. A similar thing happened in the underworld, so that will create situations, and that will create characters, that will create inter-relationships which you normally never see happen.
Also, it is a misconception that there was a nexus between the underworld and Bollywood. The underworld never put money in the industry. If underworld had to put in money, then why is it underworld — that would defeat the purpose. Most of the time they either used it for publicity, they used to get a high — to scare who we think are stars and big filmmakers. They used to help friends by making a phone call. The underworld at that time wanted to be in news, they were just crazy for publicity apart from other reasons. But when the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) was created by the encounter cops in 1998 or 1999, pretty much by 2004 they killed most of the gangsters. Many other gangsters lost their power. Disbanding of the encounter squad in 2005 was a signal that underworld as a force was completely reduced.
You have mostly made crime dramas and gangster stories; have you ever been at the receiving end (of threats) because the subject matter you were dealing with involves a lot of risk?
If I am still alive, then I was not at the receiving end. Why would the underworld have any problem with anyone making a film on them? The underworld is a kind of an illegal business organisation, they are not terrorists selling an ideology. They are not trying to sell a certain thought, so they would either ignore or they might have reacted to something wrongly portrayed. Otherwise, technically speaking there is no reason for them to mind movies on the underworld. It is very much like if I make a film on businessmen, they won’t get upset with me.
Why have you chosen relatively new actors for your web series?
I wanted to have a heightened sense of reality in it. I felt that if there are known actors, it will look like you are watching a person perform because you have seen that person in another film, but an unknown actor will be taken as a character. The same thing happened with Satya. If I had taken known faces in Satya, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Do you think in today’s time it has become difficult to express thoughts openly without being trolled? [RGV recently quit Twitter, as has Sonu Nigam.]
I think social media is just noise. It shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Eventually it is a democracy and everyone has the right to speak according to the Constitution. Social media allows you to shout but if someone wants to take the shout seriously, they have the choice to block it and they have the choice of not following that person. To take social media seriously is a mistake. It is like grafitti on walls.
Why do we have the overbearing element of the underworld and sex mostly present in our movies?
Power and sex are the two most motivating factors by nature. Most of the time, the moment there are people in powerful positions, they will indulge in something which they tell the normal people not to. I named the series Guns and Thighs as a synonym for power and sex which are primary motors of nature in any politics of a criminal nature (sic).
How do you see he digital space opening up for web series?
That is the future and I have no doubts about it. Look at the great series streamed on Netflix, be it Narcos or House of Cards...These days when I meet people, they ask me what series I am watching, they don’t ask what film I watched or plan to watch. It is catching up rapidly. Here we are scared of making two-hour long movies, whereas, people have been watching something like a Narcos for 12 hours at a stretch — which means the content is so interesting. Your mindset completely changes when you are watching a web series, you don’t need to have that stipulated first act, second act, interval, climax...you can tell the story in your own way, as you think it deserves to be told.
How do you go about directing the series?
In the course of research, I could be talking to cops, ex-gangsters, some middlemen, I would always feel that there is so much material and it is impossible to do justice by putting it in feature film in which we predominantly use a very old-fashioned way of making. But a web series (is) a continuous process. Everything I show is real, whatever I have heard in the last many years. I might just change names to protect my sources. I have spent lot of time with gangsters and when you are talking to them there will be emotional elements, I am more interested in understanding their feelings. For instance, the first time a gangster shoots somebody... I look for the emotional and psychological aspects of every incident. The stories of the underworld and crime never tire me because I feel normal families are boring. I am intrigued by this world.
Will you also show the top Bollywood actors crossing path with the underworld?
Hundred per cent. But I don't want to disclose more on this aspect.
Finally, what went wrong with Sarkar 3?
A post-mortem of anything doesn’t make sense. Everybody will eventually believe what they want to, so there is no point in venturing into it.
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