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Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (Ram Gopal Varma Aggi) September 5, 2007

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews, Telugu.
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Fans of Sholay should keep away from this film. For the uninitiated, this is director Ram Gopal Varma’s re-imagination of the most popular masala action flick that Hindi cinema has seen. The title is intended to give the feel of the revenge sagas of the seventies and eighties while the name of the director himself indicates that this is his version of the film for which he intends to take the credit/blame for. Individually, I would say that half of the scenes in the movie work while half fall flat completely. However, as a whole, this is an unmitigated disaster. It leaves no impact whatsoever despite occasional flashes of technical brilliance.

In Varma’s defense, I would like to say that I have watched every one of his films and though he’s hurriedly made a few, none of them suffer from such a lack of continuity as this one. Considering that he claims to be the No.1 fan of Sholay and it was one of his dreams to remake this, one wonders if he had to cut out a lot of the scenes due to the court case that also required him to change the names of the characters (it could also be that cutting down the overlong Sholay was a difficult task). Despite that there are many other flaws. Foremost in my list is the highly inconsistent tone of the film. While part of it is like a seventies movie in terms of humor, action and romance, the rest of it is serious drama (more Varma’s style than the style of the Westerns that inspired Sholay) where almost none of the emotions manage to strike a chord. This seriously mars the film. The audience who like the dramatic moments loathe the seventies style humor and missing logic. The audience who watch this film hoping for a masala film are bored to death by the slow moving drama and dialogue. RGV seems to have focussed on some aspects of the film while neglecting some others. This results in a half-baked product that is a definite no-no at the box office from the word go.

Continuing further, the setting of the film doesn’t work at all. The setting of the original really gelled well with the film but the shift to the city loses what was essentially a character itself in the original. The back stories added to the film as a result of Ramu’s imagination seem arbitrary and add nothing whatsoever to the film. Another major drawback for this film is the comparisons with the original. These are inevitable but the standalone product is bad in any case and the comparisons bring it down further. The soundtrack of the film is of the catchy variety that sounds fine on screen (unless you dislike loud music) but you probably wouldn’t remember it a few months from now.

Amitabh and Mohanlal are super. Sushmita is good. Though he is raw, newcomer Prashant Raj (a huge improvement over the initial choice, the man with no expression, Mohit Ahlawat) has a good screen presence and does respectably well in his debut (without any comparisons of course). Nisha Kothari does a decent job (but I’m sure there are many who disliked her role and end up blaming her performance for it). I had issues with Ajay Devgan’s performance. Devgan doesn’t pull off the style of humor which Dharmendra managed to do so well in the original Sholay. He is miscast. Sushant Singh is good. Rajpal Yadav is extremely irritating and puts you off right at the beginning of the film.

The film does have a few things going for it but the abundance of flaws means that most critics haven’t even mentioned any of those. So here is my limited appreciation. The re-imagination of Gabbar as Babban is quite good. I liked the design of the character, his henchmen and the sets. It seems that Ramu has spent considerable time on this. Since the intent is different, the effect of this character is also quite different from that of Gabbar. I liked most of the sequences involving Babban. Many of the scenes featuring Inspector Narasimha are well executed as well. It is these sequences that make you sit through the film despite a lackluster start compounded by the boring romantic track and unfunny humor ending with a dismal climax. The Mehbooba song is well shot, choreographed (Ganesh Hegde), composed (Ganesh Hegde) and performed (Urmila and Abhishek). I especially loved the set for the song (Nitin Desai). The only other song that works to an extent is the Holi track while the rest of the songs are quickly forgotten. Technically, this film definitely has the RGV stamp all over it but technique alone isn’t enough for this film to appeal to even hardcore Varma fans.

Considering the dismal remakes of Shiva and Sholay, one would be tempted to assume that Ram Gopal Varma isn’t very good at adapting or re-imagining films. But you have films like Sarkar (inspired from The Godfather and Ramu’s own Gayam that was his first take on the classic), Bhoot (re-imagination of his own Raat/Raatri), Satya (a superb gangster film that was a much better reworking of his flop, Drohi/Antham) and on-the-run films like Anaganaga Oka Roju, currently being remade as Go (using the same formula as his classic, Kshana Kshanam that also inspired the dud, Daud) that show his versatility for the task. This time though he has gone horribly wrong and I would blame it on the fact that this is not so much a re-imagination (I had hoped it would be) as it is a remake with a few back stories, minor changes in characters and a change in tone (inconsistent one at that). RGV seriously needs to focus more on each of his projects instead of devoting his time to so many at once. One wonders what would be the fate of his other venture Darling that is releasing this weekend (some doubt if he actually directed it). I hope that his next project currently under production, Sarkar Raj is a worthy successor to Sarkar and brings back Varma at his best.