Ram Gopal Varma (born April 7, 1962) is an Indian film director, writer and film producer from Andhra Pradesh. He is popular for his slick, grisly films and his penchant for horror and gangster films. He owns a production house which churns out a large number of small budget bollywood indies every year, with great success. He has a cult like fan following in India and abroad. His most successful films include Shiva, Rangeela, Satya, Company and Sarkar.
Ram Gopal Varma was born to Krishnam Raju and Suryamma. He was a dropout from Siddhartha Engineering College in Vijayawada before taking up a career initially as the owner of a video shop and then became one of India’s leading film directors. He was not a regular at classes, but was known more as a big movie buff during his college days and used to analytically watch both American and Indian films through repeat viewings. He and his uncle were crazy about movies and would often skip classes to watch them in spite of beatings from his mother. He used to get very excited each time he saw the ‘Directed by’ and ‘A Film by’ title card and had the same passion when he saw his own name on the title card of his debut Shiva. There was no support from his family and even his uncle thought he was crazy.
Ram Gopal Varma believes that there is currently much more talent in Mumbai than in the southern film cities like Chennai and Hyderabad. He is a great admirer of directors Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihlani, Basu Chaterjee, Gulzar and the Ramsay brothers. He considers Kalyug, Ardh Satya, Rajnigandha, Mere Apne, Angoor and Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche as the greatest Indian films of all time. He however has his own style, and doesn’t have any influences. He doesn’t bother with reviews and says, “Why should I worry about what the faceless reviewer thinks about my film? If he doesn’t like it, there is nothing that I could do about it.” Varma also does not respect any film awards and never attends award functions, regardless of whether he is nominated.
Ram Gopal Varma started his film career in the Hyderabad film industry as an assistant director for the films Raogarillu and Collectorgari Abbai produced by S.S.Creations. Ram Gopal Varma made a huge mark in the telugu industry with his debut film Shiva , a violent stylized crime drama with a college backdrop. At the age of 28, with no film background and training, he was able to convince Nagarjuna, then a young telugu star to do his debut movie. Nagarjuna liked the narration of the script and energy displayed by Varma, and produced the movie himself. Shiva became a landmark film for the telugu industry and was later remade by Varma in Hindi, but was not able to repeat the same commercial success as that of the original.
His next bilingual (Telugu/Hindi) film Kshana Kshanam (starring Venkatesh and Sridevi in the lead) was loosely based on a Hollywood flick Romancing the Stone and was another huge blockbuster for the young Varma. Raatri (a bilingual horror flick with Revathi in the lead), Antham (a hard hitting bilingual crime drama with Nagarjuna and Urmila Matondkar in the lead, all failed to repeat the commercial success of his first two films.
Govinda (with Nagarjuna and Sridevi in the lead) became controversial because the villain of the film steals the diamond studded crown from the sacred Lord Venkateshwara idol. Despite it being purely fiction, the scene was considered sacrilegious. Indian censor boards asked Varma to delete this scene and the movie became a dud at the box-office.
His next release Gaayam with newcomer Jagapati Babu and Urmila Matondkar was a violent underworld epic. The screenplay was provided by popular Tamil film director Mani Ratnam, and Ratnam wrote the script based on The Godfather. It became a huge success and put Varma back on top. He would go on to repeat the casting of Urmila Matondkar as the female lead in many of his films as the two would share a long and close relationship, with the couple even rumored to have gotten married on several occasions.
He would then start his own production banner Varma corporation limited and produced Telugu films such as Money, Money Money, Gulabi, Wife of Mr. Vara Prasad, Anaganaga oka roju, Deyyam (with the last two directed by Varma himself). His assistant directors Krishna Vamsi, Shiva Naageshwar Rao and Teja who worked as a cinematographer for his movies, later became big names in the telugu industry.
While popular Indian Cinema was either over the top action films or glamorous love stories, his movies were more deep and realistic. Though Indian Cinema has always produced ace movie-makers who reveled in the portrayal of realism, he is credited for bringing realistic films into the mainstream and creating his own niche as a maker of stylish yet realistic commercial cinema.
His first success in Bollywood started with the commercial blockbuster Rangeela, a romantic drama. Urmila Matondkar became a big Bollywood star overnight. A. R. Rahman also became a star in Bollywood with this film. Attempting to recreate the success of Rangeela, Varma followed Rangeela with Daud, a romantic adventure, and was a huge dud.
Varma decided to switch tracks and released the ground breaking film Satya, a violent epic based on the Mumbai underworld. The film was brutally realistic as Varma did extensive research on Mumbai organized crime and shot the film documentary style along Mumbai slums, chawls and streets. Made with a shoe string budget and non-stars, this film made famous actors like Manoj Bajpai, J.D Chakravarthy, and writers like Saurabh Shukla and Anurag Kashyap and music composers like Sandeep Chowta and Vishal Bharadwaj. The film was widely considered Varma’s first true masterwork, and with the film Varma single-handedly created a genre which would be popularly known as the ‘Mumbai-noir’. Some critics bashed Varma for his glorification of Mumbai hoodlums, causing Varma to add a cautionary message during the end credits of the film. Varma decided afterwards to only direct films in Bollywood from then onwards. The mega blockbuster film spawned many imitations in Bollywood, but all were largely inferior.
Another hard hitting masterpiece followed shortly after with ‘Shool’, written and produced by Varma. The film looked into the life of a police officer, in the harsh rural setting of Bihar. The film repeated Varma favorite Manoj Bajpai and was a commercial and critical success.
With movies like Kaun, Bhoot and his award winning masterpiece Company he cut out song and dance sequences commonplace in Bollywood films, so as not to interrupt the flow of the narration. He is also known to be very particular about the background scores and for a long time collaborated with composers Sandeep Chowta and Vishal Bharadwaj.
Ram Gopal Varma often criticises the popular Bollywood film fraternity. He does so with sarcastic humor. His films almost always deal with the contemporary and urban. The scheme is mostly set in the city of Mumbai, however, the scope is allowed to expand as per the story. He is also known for introducing new actors and technicians in his films, rather than using established actors and technicians. He often uses Indian stage actors in his films rather than Bollywood stars. Critics say his movies don’t just sketch a macro perspective but go deeper into the minds of the protagonists attempting to uncover their motivations.
His recent release Naach, which Ram Gopal Varma called his best film yet, was a self reflective piece and was an intense drama about the relationship between an idealistic choreographer who wants to revolutionize the film world and an ambitious actor who just wants to become rich and famous. The film did not do well commercially but was a critical success. In a recent interview with the Indian Express newspaper the filmmaker criticized Indian audiences saying “I gave Ayn Rand to a Municipal School.”
His next film as a director was Sarkar and released in June 2005. The film had the father-son Bollywood superstar duo Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan playing a father-son role in the film. Varma had said that Sarkar was a mix of Marlon Brando from the The Godfather, and the real life tale of respected Mumbai politico Bal Thackeray. Amitabh Bachchan played the character of Sarkar who is a self righteous and powerful politician. This film was a moderate commercial success yet a critical failure. Varma later admitted he made the film simply to cash in on the star power of the superstar cast.
He spends most of his time these days producing small budget films for his production house Varma Corp, for most of which he often is the ‘ghost director’. He produces films at a fast speed that is unfamiliar to the Indian Film Industry. He has had many successes including Ab Tak Chhappan – based on the life of infamous Mumbai police officer Daya Nayak, ‘D’ – a prequel to his earlier hit “Company” based on real life Mumbai ganglord Dawood Ibrahim and Ek Hasina Thi. Also with the Darna series, ‘Darna Mana Hai’ and ‘Darna Zaroori Hai’, he created an innovative path breaking Bollywood horror series but unfortunately both met with critical and commercial failure. Varma is still primarily known for his ‘Mumbai noirs’. His Production company – popularly known as “Factory” recently started making a remake of legendary hindi movie (King of all remakes) – Sholay starring Amitabh Bachchan (for the role of Gabbar Singh) and many other Bollywood stars.