Kuch log mar mar ke jeete hain to kuch log maarke.
—Inspector Narasimha in Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag.
Ram Gopal Varma definitely belongs to the second category. He takes his directorial sword and scythes off, in Gabbarian style, the two arms of “Sholay” (its script and its characterization) leaving behind a stump of a movie that is a bastardization of everything the original classic epitomizes, adds some shots of Nisha Kothari’s butt and Ajay Devgun’s chest as his own creative input, and finally with much fanfare excretes out the resultant monstrosity calling it “Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag” where you would think, that in the interests of fair labeling, a “gaand mein” should have been added before “Aag”.
It is nigh impossible to write a reasoned review “Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag” in the same way that is it impossible to de-construct a scene of a man urinating on a wall. The important question to ask instead is “why did RGV make this movie”? Was it because he gambled on the fact that if 50% of the audience who watched Sholay watched Aag out of nothing but sheer curiosity he would more than make a tidy profit? Or was the reason the artistic one that he claimed: to adapt Sholay for a new generation?
If it was indeed that, then what RGV has done is the cinematic equivalent of inserting “Yo yo whoos your daddy” into Moonlight Sonata or painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa and calling them “tributes” to the original. If nothing else, one would have hoped that with the advancement of cinema technology, the new “Aag” would at the very least technically trump the original.
Not even close.
While “Sholay” had dizzying camera work, ahead-of-its-times sound engineering (remember Gabbar’s belt dragging on the rock) and memorable action set-pieces (the train sequence), all that RGV’s Aag has is simple dizziness (the camera jerks around as if the cameraman had his leg cut off and was trying to balance himself), action sequences TLV Prasad would re-shoot, shots from below of Nisha Kothari’s belly and the done-to-death monotone look.
And the lesser said of the script and the actors, the better. It takes talent to seep out of the original Sholay script every bit of wit, every bit of subtlety, every bit of tragedy and every bit of greatness but RGV does it without breaking sweat—-because after all he is one talented guy. Prashant who plays Jai (now called Raj) seems to be straight out of an MTV spoof— with his slavish copying of Amitabh’s mannerisms, dress and voice (but alas none of the sardonic style). Mohan Lal, with his heavily accented Hindi and his unkempt beard that increasingly makes him look like an angry Inzamam as the movie progresses, lacks the silent underplayed intensity that Sanjeev Kumar brought to the original. Ajay Devgun finds Dharmendra’s boots way too big to fill and ends up pouting sullenly and showing his unshaven chest a bit too many times. Sushmita Sen, the brave widow who runs a clinic (ostensibly repairing silicion leaks in warranty-voided breast implants) is mercifully under-used. No respite however from Nisha Kothari whose overwrought hyper acting is as entertaining as nails grinding on chalk and her lame attempts at comedy is, to use her words, “too much”.
But the biggest turkey of all in a nation of turkeys is Amitabh Bachchan as Babban. A pale shadow of the legendary Gabbar, Babban looks like a war veteran fallen on hard times with a cocaine addiction, who hasn’t taken a bath since.. well… since when Sholay was released. He rolls his eyes, gnarls and gnashes like someone suffering from bruxism, whispers frequent references to Bush, the Iraq and the Al-Qaeda (he is intellectual), and as a show of undiluted avarice, blows air –a kind of phusssh verbal fart, presumably the smell being a primal weapon of fear.
So consistently bad is everything related to the movie that you ask yourself—did Ram Gopal Varma make a spoof of Sholay on the lines of Ramgarh ke Sholay (where Dev Anand’s duplicate joined the gay gang at Ramgarh) or Duplicate Sholay(the must-read synopsis here)?
Or is Aag, in the shell of Sholay tribute, actually a shout-out to the man himself–Kanti Shah (the director of Duplicate Sholay in addition to the cult classics Loha and Gunda)? Whether it be in lines such as “Loha garam hain” (a throwback to the original), “tum jaise gunda ko naheen doonga” and “shirt utarke chaati dikhayega” or in the use of the Kantian pentameter (“Rambha ko khamba pe latka dena”) or in the construction of sinisterly multi-layered sequences such as where Raj plays with three metal balls or the old blind gentle Imaam saheb (played with heart-wrenching pathos by A K Hangal in the original) drools and licks his lips as he touches Ghungroo (Meghna Kothari)’s shoulders, the “tribute to Kanti Shah touch” is unmistakable.
Still have doubts about the Kanti Shah influence?
In a display of originality, RGV has Babban cut off the Inspector’s fingers (as opposed to his arms). Why this change you ask yourself? Well here is why. As any keen student of the Kanti Shah genre would know that fingers and fingering is a recurrent theme in his works (the “Bulli kahan hain teri ungli” and the old man who asks women to suck his “ungli” ) and so this play on the original tale is nothing but a bit of Tarantionish “homage” to the guru.
Try as it might however, Aag fails to consistently touch even the nether regions of Kanti Shah’s world of rhyme and crime and outrageous hilarity. And how could it ? RGV takes himself way too seriously for that to happen.
Caption: Jahaan teri yeh nazar hain….
Caption: Babban sala mera yeh kaab kaat diya….
Caption: What the….oh my God. It’s a monster.
And so RGV’s Aag remains—a Titanic desecration of a celluloid monument, with not even potential to be considered a camp classic, a movie that “puri mitti main milaaye diye” any reputation RGV may have had remaining even after his mediocre offerings over the last few years, so much so that the great Gabbar would be tempted to say:
“Yahaan se pachas pachas kos door gaawon me jab bachcha raat ko rota hai to maa kehti hai beta soja ..soja nahi to Ram Gopal Varma aur ek movie banayega”.