When Ram Gopal Varma decided to remake SHOLAY I was sceptical; the film is the epitome of 70’s masala cinema and undeniably an outright classic. To this day, SHOLAY remains a film which remains firmly etched in my memory scene for scene, character to character and dialogue to dialogue. However when Ram Gopal Varma later said in interviews that his version was a mere homage to the genre that evolved as a result of SHOLAY and not a direct copy of SHOLAY by any means, I was somewhat relieved as Varma had done a superlative homage earlier with his immensely entertaining SARKAR which was adapted from the classic THE GODFATHER.
So does RAM GOPAL VARMA KI AAG live up to expectations? Does the movie pay a homage to not only the original SHOLAY but to the entire 70’s and 80’s “masala” action genre? Being brutally honest, NO! The movie is a colossal letdown and quiet easily one of the biggest disappointments I’ve seen in recent years.
The story of the movie hasn’t been credited to anyone as the entire storyline is almost identical to SHOLAY; sure the sequence of the scenes have changed, the contemporary setting of the movie has changed, and a number of characters have been amended a little, but the basis of the story remains identical. Inspector Narsimha (Mohanlal) hires two street smart goons Heero (Ajay Devgan) and Raj (Prashant Raj) to exact revenge on the man who ruined his entire life and killed his entire family; a man who rules over the town of Kaliganj with an iron fist by unleashing terror and mayhem. The man in question, is Babban Singh (Amitabh Bachchan), Mumbai’s number one underworld kingpin. How Heero and Raj put an end to Babban’s terror and how Narsimha extracts his revenge on Babban forms the crux of the movie. Along the way there is some romance as Heero falls in love with the tomboyish, loud-mouthed taxi-driver Ghungroo (Nisha Kothari) while Raj develops a soft spot for a widow Durga (Sushmita Sen) who used to be married to Narsimha’s brother.
The screenplay by Rahil Qazi is a mere cut and paste job at it’s worst with some of the sequences in the movie being moved around in a different order, but the entire structure of the movie stays exactly the same, and almost all of the important scenes remain in the movie minus any form of impact. The movie starts off on a slow note, and the sequences with Rambha Bhai (Rajpal Yadav at his absolute worst) gyrate on the viewers nerves. The flashback sequence where we find out how Heero and Raj met Narsimha is absolutely pathetic. From there on the rest of the movie basically follows the exact same plot line as SHOLAY.
The climax is the biggest culprit and comes as the rudest shock in the entire venture. The movie ends so suddenly without any impact at all. The climax of the original SHOLAY remains etched in the viewer’s memory as Thakur takes on Gabbar one-on-one.
As a director, Ram Gopal Varma has clearly lost the plot here. The characters poorly shadows of the originals in SHOLAY and the impact of the characters have been diluted for the most. Varma relies entirely on the public’s memory of the original characters in SHOLAY to help see his characters through; however this doesn’t work as he has also changed his characters to an extent, and again the effort is simply confused.
Any redeeming factors? Well, yes! Individual scenes in the movie stand out e.g. the introduction of Babban, the face-off between Babban and Narsimha in their few scenes together. However these scenes are too few and far in between to really leave a mark and there certainly weren’t enough of them. Also Babban’s reaction at the death of his brother and Tambhe are superb. The dialogues by Farhad-Sajid are good on the whole, except those delivered by Babban which are just fantastic.
Amitabh Bachchan stepping doing a take-off on Gabbar Singh raised a lot of eye brows and a lot of speculations. However, Bachchan does the unthinkable and makes Babban Singh a character of his own stepping out of the shadows of Gabbar Singh. This performance works simply because Amitabh has been very careful not to imitate or copy Amjad Khan’s legendary performance in any way, shape or format. Right from Babban’s fantastic entry Bachchan lends the character the right amount of energy, menace and surprisingly humour which makes the character work. His larger-than-life persona, electric screen-presence, powerful and original body language and amazing delivery and diction are put to full use and Bachchan clearly gives this role all that he’s got within the confines of what he’s been given and he comes out with flying colours.
The movie lights up for the better every time he’s on screen and his performance is truly an enjoyable one as he plays the evil Babban with absolute relish and passion. The dark humour, the hilarious one-liners, and his sadistic nature combined elevate not only the character but the entire movie as without a doubt Amitabh Bachchan is one of the biggest USP’s of the movie, and this is a performance that surely deserved a better film.
Mohanlal is the perfect choice for this part. His looming presence, powerful eyes and expressive delivery are in sync with the character of Narsimha. However again, Varma has made a fundamental flaw. Varma has missed the point of revenge and his vendetta takes a backseat in the second half. Unlike Sanjeev Kumar in SHOLAY, Lal hasn’t been given enough mettle to really sink his teeth into (despite been given some of the same like as Thakur in SHOLAY e.g. “loha garam hai”) and shine and this is a total disappointment.
Ajay Devgan springs a surprise. In a role which is completely against the type of characters Devgan usually plays, he enacts his part with utmost confidence and conviction and comes out flying colours. His get-up is fabulous, and his delivery spot-on. However it’s Devgan’s comic scenes which leave the viewer surprised as he comes across as natural as ever and hits all the right notes evoking laughter and relief at the right moments. Be it the scene where he pretends to be the “baba” or the infamous scene where he does the big “naatak”.
Prashant Raj makes an extremely confident debut. The boy has a striking screen presence, looks good on-screen, has a fantastic voice (though monotone at times) and delivers his lines with utmost confidence. He holds his own against a cast of veterans which is a big enough compliment and leaves his own mark. The chemistry he shares with Devgan is good too (though there’s not enough of it), though not a patch on Jai and Veeru.
Sushmita Sen is restrained, and the she delivers a completely natural performance which is perfect for the part she is playing. There is a lack of chemistry between her and Prashant who simply looks too young to be opposite Sushmita, but thankfully their relationship is not the run-of-mill stuff either.
Nisha Kothari does well in her initial sequences, though after a point her performance starts to gyrate as it comes across as artificial and too forced. Her delivery is poor, and though she tries her absolute hardest here, her biggest fault is that she tries too hard. To give her credit, she does look cute as a button and is consistent throughout. There is a lack of chemistry between her and Ajay which doesn’t help proceedings either.
Sushant Singh doesn’t have much to do here and fails to leave much of a mark. Rajpal Yadav gives his most irritating performance to date. Virendra Saxena is excellent. His scenes are fantastic. Gaurav Kapoor is good. Ravindra Kale is okay. Sanjay Navrekar doesn’t have much to do. Chakravarthy and Suchitra Krishnamurthi play their small parts well. Sachin fails to leave a mark in his small role.
The music in the movie is plain below average. The ‘Ruk Jaa’ track is catchy, but nothing great. The ‘Holi’ song has been well captured but the tune is a total letdown. The sole redeeming factor musically is the ‘Mehbooba’ track. The entire track has been superbly canned; the choreography by Ganesh Hedge is stunning and Urmila Mantondkar looks absolutely gorgeous here. Abhishek Bachchan is alright in a small part; though not a patch on Jalal Agha who did a far better job as Abhishek’s “cool” persona just doesn’t work here.
Amar Mohile’s background score is effective on the whole, though one wishes it wasn’t so jarring at times. Also Varma’s penchant for repeating the same background score he used in SARKAR seems shoddy.
Technically, the movie is surprisingly average for a RGV film. Amit Roy’s camerawork is good, though it’s the usual stuff he does for Varma and it’s becoming a bit overdone. Pradyuman Kumar’s action is completely uninspired. Varma’s aim was to capture the “feel” of those action films from the 80’s and he manages to do that but for the worst. The action is devoid of any excitement, and all the gun fights are a bore to watch. The worst culprits are Amit Parmar and Nitin Gupta who make an absolute mess out of the editing. It looks tacky.
In a nutshell, RAM GOPAL VARMA KI AAG is a colossal disappointment! Ardent fans of Amitabh Bachchan, Mohanlal or Ajay Devgan should catch this once, but on DVD only. With this movie, it’s evident that Ramu’s indulgence has finally got the better off him and it’s high time the man sat down and had a long (very long) hard think: the “factory” needs to go on “strike”!