Ram Gopal Varma Biography
Ram Gopal Varma (Telugu: రామ్ గోపాల్ వర్మ, Hindi: राम गोपाल वर्मा) is an Indian film director, screenwriter and producer. Varma has directed, written and produced films across multiple genres—psychological thrillers, underworld gang warfare, politician-criminal nexus, and musicals—and in multiple languages—Telugu and Hindi.
Shiva (1989) was his first film as director and Phoonk (2008) is his most recent one. He gained recognition in Hindi cinema, also known as "Bollywood", with Rangeela (1995). The next film he directed was Satya (1998), which won six Filmfare Awards, including the Critics Award for Best Film. Satya, together with his 2002 film Company (which he directed and which won seven Filmfare Awards) and 2005 film D (which he produced), form an "Indian Gangster Trilogy", comparable to the Godfather Trilogy or Infernal Affairs trilogy. Other successful films Varma directed include Kshana Kshanam (1991), Kaun (1999), Jungle (2000), Bhoot (2003), Sarkar (2005) and Sarkar Raj (2008)
Ram Gopal Varma Penmetsa was born in Hyderabad to Krishnam Raju Penmetsa and Suryamma. Varma was not a good student in school and use to skip classes regularly, something that strained his relationship with his family, particularly his father.
In an interview to Tehelka, Varma talked about that phase of his life, his relationship with his parents, and the reasons behind his decision to become a filmmaker-
“ "From my parents’ perspective, I looked like a useless bum. It was the truth. I had no objective. I was just fascinated by people, so I used to study their behaviour. I was most fascinated by the bullies in my classroom. They were like gangsters for me. They had the guts to push around people, do things I couldn’t— perhaps did not even want to do myself. But I’d want a friend like that (laughs). I used to adulate them like heroes. That was my first touch with anti-socialism. Over a period of time, I developed a low-angle fascination for larger than life people. I was always a loner — not because I was unhappy, but because I live away from myself, not just others. I like to study myself — the way I am talking, behaving. My constant obsession with studying myself and other people is perhaps the primary motivation for me to be a filmmaker."
Varma is a Civil Engineer by profession and graduated from the V.R.Siddhartha Engineering College, Vijayawada. Even during this period, Varma remained a film buff. He would skip classes often and go and watch films instead - 8-10 films a week. He would watch the same film repeatedly "just to watch certain scenes which interested him." According to him, that is how he learned film direction..
After graduation, Varma tried entering the film industry, but couldn't manage it. He then put his dreams on the backburner and decided to go to Nigeria to make some money. It was at this moment that he visited a video rental library in Hyderabad. He loved the idea and decided to start one of his own, all because of his craze for films.
Career in Telugu cinema
Varma started his film career in the Telugu film industry as assistant director for the films Raogaarillu and Collectorgari Abbai. His father was a sound recordist at Annapurna Studios, Hyderabad which is owned by Akkineni Nagarjuna.Varma managed to meet Nagarjuna on the sets of a film and narrated a scene to the actor which impressed him so much that Varma's dream of becoming a director came true. The result of their collaboration was a film on the criminalization of student politics - Shiva. The film was a blockbuster with Varma demonstrating his technical expertise and story-telling skills. The success of the film in Telugu led to a Hindi remake with similar success.
Varma's next film was Kshana Kshanam, another Telugu blockbuster which got him noticed by Bollywood critics. The film was also redubbed in Bollywood as Hairaan. Then came a lean patch with films such as Raatri / Raat and Antham / Drohi. WhileGaayam was a moderate success, Govinda Govinda was not so much. During this period, Varma also produced films such as Money and Money Money, and wrote the script for the Mani Rathnam film Thiruda Thiruda.
Varma then moved to Bollywood and started his own production company, Varma Corporation Limited (which later became the Factory), to produce and direct Hindi films, while continuing to direct (Anaganaga Oka Roju, Deyyam and Prema Katha) and produce (Gulabi and W/O V.Varaprasad) the occasional Telugu film.
Career in Hindi cinema
While Varma's first successful Hindi film was the remake of Shiva, the film that really put the spotlights on him was the blockbuster Rangeela. With great acting from the lead trio of Aamir Khan, Jackie Shroff and Urmila Matondkar, a fantastic soundtrack by composer A. R. Rahman (this being his first original score for a Hindi film), and with Varma at the helm, it was no surprise that this romantic musical drama was a runaway success. The film won Filmfare Awards for Rahman and Shroff. The film, according to Varma, was dedicated to Bollywood actress Sridevi. His next film Daud (1997), however, was a failure and sank without a trace.
In 1998, Varma was an executive producer for Dil Se, directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Shahrukh Khan, Manisha Koirala and Preity Zinta. The film won the NETPAC Award for Special Mention at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as two National Film Awards and six Filmfare Awards.
Indian Gangster Trilogy
In 1998 came his masterpiece, the critically acclaimed Satya, a film based on the Mumbai underworld. A script written by Anurag Kashyap and Saurabh Shukla, music by Vishal Bharadwaj and Sandeep Chowta, acclaimed performances by Manoj Bajpai and Urmila Matondkar, and Varma's directorial and technical brilliance, contributed to a film that was a landmark. The film won six Filmfare Awards, including the Critics Award for Best Film.
In 2002 came his greatest commercial as well as critical success, Company, again set against the backdrop of the Mumbai underworld, in which he cut out song-and-dance sequences commonplace in Bollywood films at the time. It was based on the real-life underworld organization, the D-Company. The film won seven Filmfare Awards and earned him a Filmfare Best Director Award nomination.
A prequel to Company was made in 2005, entitled D, produced by Varma and directed by Vishram Sawant. Varma's three films Satya, Company and D are together considered an "Indian Gangster Trilogy", comparable to the Godfather Trilogy or Infernal Affairs trilogy.
Satya and Company in particular were cited by British director Danny Boyle as influences on his Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008), for their "slick, often mesmerizing portrayals of the Mumbai underworld", their display of "brutality and urban violence", and their gritty realism.
During the years between his "Indian Gangster Trilogy", from Satya in 1998 to D in 2005, Varma experimented with several different film genres in the intervening years. In 1999, he directed Kaun, a suspense thriller set entirely in one house and featuring only three actors, and Mast, a subversion of the Bollywood masala musical film genre. In 2000, he directed Jungle, a film set entirely in a jungle, for which he was nominated for the Star Screen Award for Best Director.
Following the success of Company in 2002, Varma's next film as director was Bhoot (2003), a psychological horror film, which was a major success. It starred Ajay Devgan and Urmila Matondkar, who earned a number of awards for her performance. Varma himself was nominated for the Filmfare Best Director Award for the film.
Following the success of Bhoot, Varma was a producer for two other experimental films: Sriram Raghavan's Ek Hasina Thi (2003), a psychological thriller, and Shimit Amin's Ab Tak Chhappan (2004), a film about an inspector in the Mumbai Encounter Squad famous for having killed 56 people in police encounters. In 2005, Varma was nominated for the Zee Cine Award for Best Producer of the Year.
Varma's next film as director was Sarkar, released in June 2005, starring Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek Bachchan. Amitabh played the character of Sarkar who is a self-righteous and powerful politician, while Abhishek played his son in the film. Sarkar was a loose adaptation of Mario Puzo's 1969 novel The Godfather in a Mumbai underworld setting. Sarkar went on to become a critically acclaimed box office hit.
In 2006, his next film as director was Shiva, which premiered at the New York Asian Film Festival, where a retrospective featuring several of his previous films was also staged. Alongside Shiva, the festival screened his earlier successful films Company, Ek Hasina Thi and Ab Tak Chhappan. While these three earlier films were praised, Shiva itself was a critical and commercial failure. In 2007, he directed the ambitious Sholay remake, Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, as well as Darling, both of which were critical and box office failures.
He was written off by the media and public until June 6, 2008, when he bounced back with his grand and much hyped venture, Sarkar Raj, a sequel to Sarkar; it was a hit and met with good reviews. The primary cast features three members of the Bachchan family, with Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan reprising their roles from the prequel alongside new entrant Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Supriya Pathak, Tanisha Mukherjee and Ravi Kale also reappeared in their respective roles from Sarkar. Unlike its prequel Sarkar, which was loosely adapted from The Godfather novel, the sequel Sarkar Raj had an original plot of its own.
His latest film, Phoonk (2008), was of the horror film genre and met with mixed reviews, with more of them leaning to the negative side. However, the film was a major hit in comparision to its minuscule budget. Varma is currently working on a film about the media called Rann. It has a major star cast with Varma's favourite male actor Amitabh Bachchan at the helm as the owner of a television channel. It will be released in 2009. Varma is also working on another film, supposely in the monster horror genre, entitled Agyaat.
Varma is divorced and now single. He has a daughter.
Varma, along with the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Deshmukh's son Ritesh Deshmukh visited the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel soon after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. This invited a lot of criticism that the Taj was no more a place for VIP visits. The protestors suspected that Varma wanted to make a film on this, as he has created several real-life based thriller movies. Despite these claims Varma has alleged that he was not at the hotel just after the attacks. He stated that this rumour may have come from the fact that he was in a meeting with Deshmukh's son, Ritiesh, just before the attacks.