Mar 23, 2023
Mar 23, 2023
To all those unkind souls who thought that box office death by fire - "Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag" - had a sense of finality about it, the filmmaker has some wisdom to impart. The vicious cycle of violence is never ending, thankfully. Varma's factory is humming again with high-powered equipment - the Family of Bachchan father, son and daughter-in-law in "Sarkar Raj".
Assembly line Varma is back, in the spirit of Luca Brasi in "The Godfather" who says, "Some people in this world are just asking to be killed. Luca Brasi obliges them." It's Ramu's favourite line.
Naturally. For, doesn't his film empire rest on the strong foundation of ever reeling, keeling bullet-ridden bodies?
In the past decade, Varma seems to have wanted to confront the saccharine, 'love your family' Bollywood fare with Family fare of the mafia kind, packaged in dirty realism.
Consider the remakes and re-remakes of the desi gangster formula, inspired by the Godfather theme, following the success of "Satya" (1998) and "Company" (2003) -- many of which had the force of blank cartridges.
"Sarkar" (2005), named after its protagonist, Sarkar, was a hit, fuelling expectations for its sequel, "Sarkar Raj" (2008). Except, with the Sarkar formula, director Varma has copped out of his craft.
No more taut presentations of the underworld lurking in the ordinary world, with clinical goriness. No more following the spiral of crime and violence to the characters' self-destructing end, without taking sides.
A fascination for the cold, metallic feel of a pistol is all right early in one's career. A mature filmmaker must engage with the political philosophy of power and its intricate relationship with violence in what is a dimly recognisable democracy, circa 2008.
People, as we know well, are helpless in a venal parliamentary system. Who clears up the mess? Sarkar, who rose from the lanes of illegality to acquire the piety of a bhishma pitamah and the cultured mien of a philosopher-king.
He is the sainted one minus any black shades - excluding the black designer lungi-kurta, of course. He is never the aggressor but responds in full measure as per Hammurabi's code of an eye for an eye. Nothing black about that. Varma's icons for 'democratic' development are Sarkar, Sarkar baba and the representative of an Enron-like foreign power plant company: broad-based enough decision-making.
Sarkar baba, whose surname Nagre somehow has a familiar ring, points out sapiently, "Since the people have given us so much trust, we should take the right decisions for them." That's only fair in a democracy.
Here Varma is at his insidious best. Step one: portray an authoritarian, political power broker with a vast illegal empire as the noble fount of power -- not as a 'parallel' power centre - and democracy's only hope.
Step two: make the villain a political persuasion - 'Gandhian' ideas - Luca Brasi style.
Step three: paint people's opposition to a power plant estimated to displace 40,000 villagers, as an ignorant, violent lot - the only act of violence Varma seems to be critical of in the movie.
The camera captures the 'people' as a faceless mob. The city, an all-embracing 'character' in such films, is non-existent. Of the caricatured constitutional system or Sarkar's opponents, the less said the better.
There must be no dilution in focusing on Sarkar, even to the point of sabotaging your script by creating a vast imbalance in it. Clearly, Ramu is a man in awe of the character of Sarkar as well as Bachchan senior. The politics of close-ups and tilted camera angles is great for the personality cult.
The director has a flair for psychological drama visited on the audience. By casting father and son in real life as God-`father' and dutiful son in the "Sarkar" films, Varma tries to create a successful transference of the family's tremendous personal fan base on screen to extract a deeper allegiance for his characters.
In "Sarkar", it seemed only proper that the 'real' son saved his father's life twice, once from his elder sibling's murderous strike.
"Sarkar Raj" boasts the real bahu as well. The audience wonders if Sarkar baba's idyll with reel wife will get disturbed by real life wife who is a collaborator in reel life. These are tactics an ace must have up his sleeve, for too many filmmakers have grasped the knack of telling the story as he managed to, a decade ago.
Last heard, the indefatigable Ramu has asked ballistic experts to help him screen the latest stuff in the field. Using the right equipment is so important.
(Chitra Padmanabhan is a Delhi-based journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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