Mayank Shekhar: Why Vodka with Varma is so much fun
When political correctness is progressively becoming the fascism of our times, it’s refreshing to come across a man who simply doesn't care how he's judged. FILE PIC
Given that we were still up for a few for the road, while the bar in Versova we were at (where WTF is now) was shutting down, producer-director Ram Gopal Varma, more fondly called Ramu or RGV, suggested we move to his office to continue the night. Who frickin' drinks in an office, you might think. Well, whose office is bloody buzzing at 1.30 am, with such frenzy, scores of visitors sitting at the reception hoping the owner might just drop in anytime, and accidentally turn around someone's luck? That's what I saw and thought.
While we were taking a U-turn to get to his workplace, then called the Factory, Ramu said there was a fellow, possibly a dumb-bell, suffering from Lokhandwala complex, who would stand at the divider all day, hoping to catch the filmmaker's Kathakali eyes. He wasn't there that night. The fellow needn't have been a buffed up vampire slayer.
The fact is that a whole lot of actors, without the typically great looks to be leading men, whether Nawaz or Irrfan, somewhat already owe their destiny to Manoj Bajpayee's success in Ramu's 'Satya'. He'd even made a hero out of Rajpal Yadav (a great actor, no doubt), if you recall!
Ramu and I negotiated the crowd on the pathway to his room. Two musicians sitting with their box guitar caught Ramu's attention. He asked them to come in. They played an original composition while we poured stiff Vodka on soda.
By the time I had three sips, Ramu had already loved a song — it was a nice, mellow number — and picked it up for his next film. I actually heard/recognised that track few months later in a movie called 'James'. This is about a decade ago.
Filmmakers are artistes per se, yes. But, a film is a culmination of so much capital and workforce, besides talents from such varied fields, that the person with the ability to organise all of it on the back of his network, and an idea, commands a concomitant power that is unheard of it in all other arts. This power, as it wont, can be an aphrodisiac. And that in itself can be the reason to make movies.
Or so I suspected was the case with Ramu, outside of his first few films ('Shiva', 'Satya', 'Company', 'Rangeela') where he had something unique to say that turned me into his fan-boy.
The smartest debuting talents gravitated towards him. After that, he had far more to give — chance, that is, to people (daredevils in my eyes) who, like him, came from nowhere, to test their skills in a film industry that has largely lived within a gated community of friends, friends of friends, and family. What you thought of those movies is another matter. So long as the movies made money. And so Ramu could make more movies!
I've also never come across someone who so literally lives movies, for movies' sake, staying in a fairly tiny duplex by himself, with a large hall, and a bedroom upstairs. Once, when it seemed like his bedroom wall could be cracking because of an earthquake, he was more interested in the sound design of that moment than the possibility of his building collapsing.
Clearly he sees life in cuts and motion, as he told me once about glancing at a far-off mirror while he was having dinner with a beautiful woman. He wondered for a second if he could edit himself out of that scene!
As you can tell, he's also a consummate raconteur. For years I've dined out on his stories — whether about underworld tape, Bal Thackeray, Amitabh Bachchan, Nagarjuna or the female construction worker he had the hots for while he was a civil engineer (I guess). Some of the stories I can't directly write here. One of which I wrote about and that sort of got him into trouble. When political correctness is progressively becoming the fascism of our times, it's shockingly refreshing to come across a man who simply doesn't care how he's judged.
This allows him to have far more fun in the process, to the point that while watching some of the lunatic 'Jackie Shroff with a random bikini model' scenes in 'Sarkar 3', all I could sense was Ramu sniggering at the audience, sniggering at him, through it all. Since everybody has an advice to give on how he should shape (or reshape) his career, I have none.
He once showed me a trailer of a forthcoming film that perhaps I didn't like very much. When I got home, he called to ask which was the best film I had seen lately. I told him about Sabiha Sumar's 'Khamosh Pani'. I don't think he was interested in the movie. "You've met that director," he said, "Is he or she as entertaining as I am?" I had to give to him: "No, obviously not," I said.
It's true. Ramu remains the most entertaining guy I've ever met in Bombay. Think I should get a Vodka with him soon.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org