The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Carving a niche in the Jungle of films
By Aradhika Sekhon

WHEN one thinks of Indian cinema in recent times, there are invariably a few dog-eared themes that come to mind. Among these themes are: The rape-and-revenge theme, the love triangle, the family drama, and (special to this decade) the gangster theme and the pop love story. Unplanned, corny comedy popularised by Govinda, is another popular genre.

Urmila Matondkar and Fardeen Khan in JungleThere are of course a few talented filmmakers such as — Govind Nihalani and Mani Rathnam, who dare to experiment, but their films are few and far between. In the 80s, Mahesh Bhatt had emerged as a Messiah, a saviour, to rescue the movies from thematic predictability. However, Bhatt, too fell prey to the instant masala movie formula, churning out three to four low-budget films an year. Thus, a talented filmmaker sacrificed his art to mass production.

A director who has proved his versatility time and again, is Ram Gopal Verma. One hesitates to label any director as an "experimental" filmmaker, after seeing the track-record of those who’ve been hailed as being ‘different’ and then succumbed to the much-used (or abused) themes. Even conservatively speaking, Ram Gopal Verma has proved that he does march to a distant drummer. Each one of his productions, whether it is a box office success or not, has been distinct from the others, not only as far as the theme is concerned but also as far as plot , treatment and characterisation are concerned.


Verma seems to be the one Indian filmmaker who envisions the film in its entirety and then goes on to present a highly sophisticated and slick production, rather than taking the movie to be piecemeal. This results in a convincing, real film and the audience starts believing in Verma’s vision. In fact to see a Verma film is not merely to watch it but to experience it, so skilful is he is at projecting the mood of the film onto the audience.

Verma burst on the scene with a low-budget Boney Kapur horror film Raat while scaring the daylights out of the cine-watchers, it still engendered a sense of relief that here at last, was freedom from the ham-handed attempts at horror by the Ramsays. But Verma stood up to be counted among the premier filmmaker with his Rangeela in which he also featured for the first time, his favourite star, Urmila Matondkar. The film, which also marked A.R. Rahman’s entry into Bollywood was a delightful musical with lots of song-and-dance sequences. The speciality of the film was the naturalness of the song-and-dance sequences, which were vital to the film. Rangeela was a feel-good fairy story set in Mumbai which imparts a feeling of complete satisfaction to the viewer.

Daud was the next movie out of the Verma stable,it was experimental in that it explored a road adventure but the movie flopped terribly. Verma bounced back with Satya which made the underworld completely real and believable even to the jaded Indian palate which has seen thousands of gangster movies. Much-lauded, Satya spawned any number of ‘me too’ underworld films, made in the Verma style.

Soon after gathering accolades for Satya, Verma released Kaun. Again, though not successful in the box office, the critics went crazy about the novelty of the theme. Made without the mandatory pantheon of characters — four, if you count the cat, no songs to divert the audience attention, Verma manages a tight, chilling narrative of a psychotic killer. Urmila’s crazy, high-pitched giggle in the end is simply spine-chilling. Kaun was Verma’s attempt to explore another genre and he did so convincingly.

Kaun was followed by Mast and the movie was just that — Mast! Rooted in his own admiration for Sridevi when he was younger, Mast is a fun-filled sweet romance which looks at deep family bondings and friendship.

The last of Vermas offerings is the recently released Jungle, the Veerappan-inspired bandit saga. So topical that it actually had people wondering whether Veerappan saw Jungle and then decided to kidnap Dr Rajkumar, the southern superstar. Jungle is an exciting thrill-a-minute movie, which grabs the audience by the throat and only lets go in the end.

In addition to the plots and themes, the characters of Verma’s films are drawn with strong vibrant strokes, to the extent that they typify a particular kind of person. Munna, played by Aamir Khan in Rangeela must always bring to mind, the yellow-trouser clad Mumbai tapori with an attitude. Bhiku Mhatre made Manoj Bajpai a star, so convincing and complete was the characterisation. In Jungle the main protogonist is the jungle itself. Its amazing how Verma manages to personify it in a way that while the action is in and around the jungle, the forest itself seems to be a living presence, an active participant in the narrative.

For any actor who wants to be known as a serious performer today, the Verma seal of approval has major significance. Take Fardeen Khan whose debut in dad Feroz Khan Prem Aggan did nothing for him but after Jungle he was flooded with offers.

What’s next Mr Verma? We’re all waiting with bated breath!