The madness of Ram Gopal Varma?
Ram Gopal Varma has been panned and flamed by critics for his mediocrity (here), being hysterical and gimmicky (here), and like the prodigal son who has lost his way (here). There is also the reported trading of insults between Karan Johar and RGV (here). The proverbial dirt from the laundry is all over the web for interested voyeurs to unravel. This post is not about what are considered RGV’s failures. While we are aware of his abilities to make thrillers and cult characters (Shiva, Satya, Company), his abilities in directing films that subtly poke fun at the “Indian film” without upsetting the “average viewer” are perhaps under-explored and with good reason. The background noise from his many films with the B conventions obscure his record in making some interesting comedy films that do not reduce filmmaking to a series of skits. Three films that come to my mind are Kshana Kshanam (Dir, Telugu) and Rangeela (Dir, Hindi) and Money (Prod, Telugu).
Interestingly, all three films deal with ambition and money and it is not surprising that the timing of these films should relate to the turn towards the economic right. All three films deal with petty criminals, ambitions and ordinary people either caught up in, or completely oblivious to, the goings on. In particular, these films rely on solid scripts that are underpinned by farce and that staple fare of humour — tragedy. In Kshana Kshanam, Satya (Sridevi), a nescient and giddy woman and Chandu (Venkatesh) a petty criminal come across heist money and get entangled in the ensuing turn of events. In Money, two unemployed graduates kidnap a rich woman at her husband’s behest. In Rangeela, Mili (Urmila), an extra gets a shot at stardom and is torn between her feelings for Munna (Amir Khan), a hustler and Raj Kamal (Jackie Shroff), the matinee idol. Both men love her equally but one comes with the keys to the vast opportunities in filmdom.
Unlike many Indian films where comedy is often a bolted on series of skits that dip into the creative bag of stereotypes, insults, slapsticks, humiliation, misogyny, casteism and such, RGV saw comedy as an opportunity to tap into deeper recesses of his characters and the overall story. Without condemning the “average viewers'” expectations, the films explored the terrain of extraordinariness in the leaden everyday. The “average viewer” can relate to and yet be dazzled by the way the films creatively take us through the delightfully absurd humanism. RGV and the script presented us with moden women with agency, who have to deal with fairly hapless and ineffectual men. They are not the kind of binary characters you have expected from popular cinema. The relationship with men is one of equality, where both struggle to navigate the new and emerging socio-economic landscape in which they need to chart their own destinies. You can watch the films here:
Kshana Kshanam (Watch on Youtube.com)
Rangeela (Watch on Youtube.com)
Money (Watch on Youtube.com)
Unfortunately for non-Telugu and Hindi speakers, the above films do not come with sub-titles.