BAHUT LAMBI KAHANI HAI YEH
The idea of wanting to do something with Sholay came approximately around five to six years ago. One day I got a call from Sasha Sippy saying that his grandfather Mr. G. P. Sippy wants to meet me. As he is a respected man by all, as well as the producer of Sholay and a senior in the fraternity, I went all the way to town to meet him.
There Sasha Sippy mentioned that they are interested in making a sequel to Sholay. He also had a storyline already worked out in his mind. As per his story after the song of “Mehbooba” Gabber Singh sleeps with Helen, she bears the son of Gabbar Singh who was to become known as Junior Gabbar.
The big problem with the sequel of Sholay was that some of the cast or some of the characters have died. One of the main characters Jai died, and in reality Sanjeev Kumar and Amjad Khan passed away. Therefore one has to make do with the remaining characters and cast and possibly creating new characters.
Helen’s son wants to take revenge for his father Gabbar Singh who was behind bars because of Jai and Veeru. Veeru and Basanti keep coming to Ramgad village now and then to meet Jayaji’s character Radha who is still residing in the village. They are kidnapped by junior Gabber. Then both Veeru and Basanti’s sons come to the rescue. This was the basic plot line he had in his mind.
In the above plot he wanted me to create a character for Jackie Chan. I first thought he meant some local actor named Jackie Chan till I realized that he was talking about the Honk Kong superstar. Sasha Sippy’s Jackie Chan brainwave was due to the influence of “Rush Hour” where an American and an Asian actor together gave a big hit. I found the whole thing so bizarre and I declined it and came out laughing. Little did I realize that the last laugh will be on me…!
KYA SOCHA? KYA NIKLA?
Anyways cutting again to the flashback, on my way back from Sasha Sippy’s meeting a thought occurred to me what if the story of Sholay was set in contemporary times in a city. That felt interesting and I bounced it off to some people around me and all of them thought that it was a superb idea.
Then just for the heck of it, I started doing changes as simple as instead of ‘Kitne admi the’ Gabbar should say ‘Kitne’. I thought if Sanjeev Kumar doesn’t have hands so how could he have shaved everyday? So let’s have Thakur with a beard. So I basically went on this trip of literally having interpretations of shots and dialogues and scenes, and completely forgot the basic emotional aspect of the film.
So when I was talking about each of the shots and scenes, people around me were praising and getting affected so much with whatever I said, I started thinking may be over the years Sholay has completely broken up into audio visual bytes. You still remember lines from it, made characters from it, made cartoons out of it and so it is kind of fragmented into parts and you don’t look at it as a whole film experience and that’s how I think it became at least in my mind.
The people around me also went into that mindset primarily psyched by me. I know it sounds stupid, it sounds stupid to me too. So I can understand how others feel about it. I made a few people sit and started talking about for example Amitabh Bachchan’s character. In Babban’s introduction, I told them he will be drunk with power, hence a laidback stance. And he will have a characteristic laughter which will sound like a cough. Everybody around me thought it was a fantastic interpretation.
Now when the film released one particular gentleman told me Gabbar looks like he has fever as he is coughing in his introduction scene in the film. Now if one looks at it from that point of view, yes it sounds like he has fever. So everything what I thought so seriously went seriously wrong.
One day when I was sitting with 4 to 5 people, this commercial poster designer came with the poster of how Gabbar should look. My first instinct was ‘why would any city dweller wear such clothes’ because my idea still at that point of time was to make it very realistic but the people around me said it was fantastic.
When I said that it didn’t look real, the designer said “In the old Sholay Gabbar was a normal guy and over the years he has become a legend. So Gabbar should not look realistic, he should look very stylized and very fantasy oriented.” They all said he was perfectly right. Now the point is that they didn’t know what I had in my mind. They were reacting to a still image but just under the influence of that particular moment of so many people seemingly so excited about it, I thought that may be I was missing on something. Maybe he is right in what he meant by legend, so I thought let me just not get stuck to my original thought and I should be flexible.
Then I took it over and showed it to Mr Bachchan and he also said it was fantastic. But Mr. Bachchan also didn’t know what I was doing. He also was just reacting to a still image. He took it for granted, a professional that he is, that I know what I am doing. And he has developed so much of trust in me as a director post Sarkar, he thought I must be having some reason behind why I would evocate such a look. The fact that Amitabh Bachchan also thought it was fantastic and people around also found it fantastic I took it for granted that may be this was the right one.
Then keeping a reference to that I started changing the look of each of the characters and situations, what kind of a place he will stay in etc…. So I went into the technical aspect of trying to match up to this design which somebody gave and I got completely carried away after that.
So everything I was trying to match to that and it obviously can’t because the scenes and the characters and emotions were at loggerheads. So I started manipulating it or psyching myself and whoever was there. So now each of the actors, when I spoke to whether Ajay Devgan or Sushmita Sen or Mohanlal or Mr. Bachchan or Nisha Kothari or Prashant Raj, all of them were completely convinced primarily because of the analysis I was giving. So they were also not able to look at the film in totality. Also by that time the hype of the film was so much that I was making Sholay, it was almost impossible for me to detach and re-look at it in totality.
To complicate this whole thing, another thing that happened was that initially the lawyers told me that there is no problem the way you are interpreting it, you don’t need to take rights. After I started, they said you can’t do this and you have to change this character, you cannot have these many scenes in a sequence, so I constantly started changing scenes and characters. It is very dangerous to start changing scenes once you start the film because you don’t know which and where what is going to be affected in the final cut.
ISKE PEECHE BHI EK KAHANI HAI
I could not get the title Sholay. I said like Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, so let us call it Ram Gopal Varma Ke Sholay. What is the big deal? Then by the time it came for release, the court gave an order not to use the word Sholay. So I had no choice but to change, but I wanted a sound which has got a meaning like sholay. This is how the word Aag came in, so the publicity guys just took the name Sholay out and put Aag in. So that’s how Ram Gopal Varma ki Sholay became Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag. So in one sentence everything whatever could go wrong, went wrong with Aag.
But all these are still minor things in comparison to the most dangerous thing that any filmmaker can be subjected to. It’s to be surrounded with people who will not tell him the truth or lie to him. Not necessarily by intention to harm him but it could be just to please him or are scared of him or psyched by him or in cases they take it for granted that the filmmaker knows what he is doing.
Also it came as a shock to me that most people in the age group of 12 to 30 haven’t seen Sholay. They have seen parts of it or at least their knowledge of it was a vague memory. So they couldn’t make head or tail of the film and people who remember the original Sholay didn’t like the intrusion of these new characters and a new way of telling the story. So to all of them Aag looked like a ridiculous collage of scenes going nowhere.
To sum it up thinking of ‘kitne admi the’ to ‘kitne’ as my interpretation… the tremendous reaction that I got from various concerned people was the first nail in the coffin. Second is this publicity designer getting that poster of Babban’s look and me getting carried away again, third is the court cases and fourth is the way I was changing everything and having as ridiculous a title as ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag’ completely prepared the ground for the disaster.
When people ask me if I got hurt by the brickbats, I was not because I learnt a lot from the experience both in terms of the making and its aftermath and I truly believe that today I am a better human being and director because of Aag, but yes I feel terribly guilty because I made so many people, actors, technicians, investors party to a blunder I committed. They put in their time, money, hard work and trusted my vision and suffered for no fault of theirs.
– Ramgopal Varma
P.S: This piece I wrote is just a trailer of how ‘Aag’ happened. In future blogs I would get into many more details of the same from time to time.