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Book excerpt: Ram Gopal Varma opens up about working with Big B

Amitabh Bachchan has been one of the strongest influences on RGV. But he discovered far more about the person after working with him, realised that there is something about him that he hates too. Read an excerpt from the book

Chapter 12: When I called Amitabh Bachchan an idiot

Ram Gopal Verma at  his Lokhandwala office.  Pic/Rane ashish
Ram Gopal Verma at his Lokhandwala office. Pic/Rane Ashish

From the time of being awestruck with him in Zanjeer, Deewaar, etc., to consciously understanding his screen prowess post Khuddaar, my biggest desire cinematically was to do a film with him, which I eventually realized in Sarkar. In the run-up to the making of Sarkar, in my several meetings with him, I started seeing a very different side of him too. Behind the obvious power and intensity, was a sensitivity and vulnerability. Listening to his thoughts made me see his incredible versatility both as a human being and as an actor. By that time my proximity to him had blunted my sensibilities as a viewer of his star performances, and the filmmaker in me got greedy and dumb enough to experiment with him as an actor, resulting in Nishabd and Aag. It's not so much the quality of those films that I am talking about here, but the idea of casting him in those roles.

Also read: Sridevi's chapter in my book is a love letter, says Ram Gopal Varma

Guns & Thighs: The Story of My Life, Ram Gopal Varma. Rupa Publications, Rs 500
Guns & Thighs: The Story of My Life, Ram Gopal Varma. Rupa Publications, Rs 500

Amitji's make-up man told me on day one of the shooting of Nishabd that the film wouldn't work, because no one was going to accept Amitji in a role like that. Whether that was the reason or not, I myself as a viewer probably wouldn't want to see him in a role like that. I think Nishabd is Amitji's finest performance as an actor, mainly because of the sheer complexity of the role and the subtle nuances of reactions it demanded, which most of the so-called art-house actors won't even begin to understand, let alone portray. But the question is, does one want to see Amitji just as an actor? I for one don't, unless the acting is coming from a certain larger-than-life perspective.

Verma calls Amitabh Bachchan a rare art form
Verma calls Amitabh Bachchan a rare art form

Similarly in Aag, there will be a difference between a viewer's reaction and my reaction to his performance. As a director, I judge an actor by seeing what he does with what is given to him. The viewer sees the final effect of that in the context of the film and hence, he cannot have any idea of how I could have screwed it up in the screenplay or edit, or of the various other blunders I could have committed. People seeing the film react to the effect, whereas as a director I know the cause.

On the other hand, if somebody argues that Amitji had no business doing those films without knowing what he was getting into, yes, he was guilty of misplacing his trust in me, but he was not guilty of not doing his best.

Aamir (seen here with Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela) is a completely non-interfering actor, according to Verma
Aamir (seen here with Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela) is a completely non-interfering actor, according to Verma

I gathered from my association with him that being the ultra-professional that he is, once he agrees to do a film, he completely succumbs to the director's vision or lack of it. The end product can sometimes look a mess, but the inside secret is that he would always have given much more than was expected of him.

Also read: RGV dedicates autobiography, 'Guns & Thighs', to actors, gangsters and pornstars

While standing in a queue to buy a movie ticket, Verma would stare longingly at Sridevi in the posters
While standing in a queue to buy a movie ticket, Verma would stare longingly at Sridevi in the posters

When he stands on the steps looking at Aftab taking Jiah away in the climax of Nishabd, his close-up shot calls for an extraordinary understanding of human emotions and hence, it is a far superior performance compared to him saying 'Tujhe bhi karne nahin doonga' in Sarkar which he would have done hundreds of times before. But sadly the effect of that line in Sarkar will become cinematic history whereas the Nishabd close-up shot might go unnoticed.

When he first met Jiah Khan, Verma thought she was the most innocently sexy girl he has seen
When he first met Jiah Khan, Verma thought she was the most innocently sexy girl he has seen

The point I am trying to make is that he has never ever failed as an actor and he never will. It's only directors, myself included, who frequently fail to capture his art in the right context.

Karan Johar's favourite films of his are Kabhie Kabhie and Silsila, which I don't care for much compared to my favourites like Deewaar and Zanjeer. I don't like to see him in films like Last Lear, Black and Bhoothnath. But that's what he is all about. Amitji is an artist, who can and will allow himself to be moulded and shaped in any which way one wants, and he will leave the final result in the hands of the director he is working with.

In all my association with him, I can recall any unpleasantness on only two ocassions. One was when I was shooting the confrontation scene with him and Kay Kay, who played his son in Sarkar, and he disagreed with me on a certain reaction I wanted him to give. Inspite of my trying to explain, he insisted that I do it his way and I had to relent. But after the shoot, late at night he called me and said, 'Ramu, I have been thinking about it and I think you are right. Let's do it again.' Once I re-shot it and showed him the edit, he was very impressed. The good thing about it was that he developed implicit trust in me after that, and the bad thing was that it was misplaced it in the context of Aag.

The other famous or rather infamous incident was when I tweeted something very abusive about him on Twitter. I called him an idiot (the politest translation I can find for the actual word I used) for not continuing to do certain kinds of roles. After seeing him playing old-man, Alzheimer's-patient kind of roles for many years, I flipped on suddenly seeing the vintage Bachchan again in Bhuddah Hoga Tera Baap. In that frame of mind, and under the influence of three-four vodkas, I tweeted, 'Amitabh bachchan is a c*****a for not doing more roles like this and directors like me are l****s, for not realizing this.' Understandably, all hell broke loose. People and media gave me so much flak without even bothering to understand what that tweet meant. They just went by the words used without seeing them in context. The only man who immediately understood it to be a compliment was Amitji himself.

All things said and done, there's just one thing I hate about Amitabh Bachchan and that is his birthday. Every birthday of his reminds me that he is getting older and older and I hate that.

I just wish that God would realize that Amitabh Bachchan is a rare art form that even he himself can create only once in a million years and so just put him on a pause button and make him live forever.

Excerpts reproduced courtesy Rupa Publications India Pvt Ltd.

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