MUMBAI: Neither his cast nor his producers – Viacom 18 were able to understand what Ram Gopal Varma tried to achieve through his strange positioning of camera and unconventional lighting in ‘Department’.
Explains Ramu, “For too long our cinema has been stuck in a particular visual language. ‘Department’ changes the visual imagery completely. It is the most expensive film I’ve made. The kind of technology I’ve used made it possible for me to re-invent the cinematic language. I’ve used 5-6 cameras, not to cut costs as people believe, but to shoot my characters in angles and positions not seen before in films. In ‘Department’ I want to change the complete image of the visual medium and how audiences look at the characters. The audience would feel the enhanced impact of what the characters are trying to express. What I’ve tried to achieve in the visual style of Department is beyond anything attempted in our cinema.”
Ramu feels novel technique can never fail. “Story can fail. Genuinely innovative technique can never fail. When they made The Blairwitch Project with hand-held cameras the Hollywood studios felt the audiences would be put off. When Steven Soderberg shot Traffic with hand-held cameras without using lights the producers felt audiences would get put off…Technical innovation can never go wrong.That’s what I feel.”
Apparently Ramu had a hard time convincing his producers Viacom 18 and his leading man Sanjay Dutt about his technique. Ramu protests, “Not at all. At the end of the day everyone I work with knows my work experience and my passion for innovative technique. My story-content may have failed in the past. But not my technique. In fact when I told Mr Bachchan about my new technology I warned him it would be unlike anything he has done. But he caught on so fast that in no time we were on the same page. I was amazed at the speed with which all my actors understood what I was doing.”
He refutes all reports of differences with Sanjay Dutt. “All the differences were just discussions, nothing at all. In fact very often I asked him to help me with certain things. For example when I needed a Punjabi song I sought his help because of my limited knowledge on the subject. Sanjay came up with the track Kammo because he is heavily into music. He’s an actor of long experience. I feel the same collaborative spirit with Mr Bachchan and Nana Patekar. However let me clarify before you ask that including ‘Thodisi jo pee hai’ from Namak Halaal in ‘Department’ was my idea. But Mr Bachchan is not part of ‘Thodi si jo pee hai’. It’s filmed on Dutt and Ran Daggubati. So I don’t know where reports of Mr Bachchan re-doing his own Namak Halaal song came from. I don’t attempt anything for nostalgia’s sake.”
Incidentally ‘Department’ would be the Big B’s only release in the next one year.
“So?” retorts Ramu. “Why should that thought give me a kick? At the end of the day, no one is going to come to watch the film just because he won’t be seen for a while. When we planned ‘Department’ we didn’t plan the long gap between this and the next film.”
We then get down to talking about Ramu’s special interest in item girl Nathalia Kaur. He counters, “What do you mean special interest? I was shooting an item song with her and I was excited about it. The joke about me being shorter than her and hence getting a better view of her came from the fact that Nathalia and I have been joking about her height. It doesn’t mean I am too short. It just means she’s very tall. I think she has a very bright future and I’ve planned another project where she will co-star with Rana Daggubati.”
Rana according to Ramu will be the surprise packet in Department. “He will come out really effective and he speaks fluent Hindi because he’s from Hyderabad. Most Hyderabadis barring me speak Hindi. So he has spoken his own lines. I think he is star material. Among Mr Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt and Rana, my film got exactly the vision it needed.”
The characters in ‘Department’ are based on real-life cops. “Sanjay Dutt and Rana Daggubati are an amalgamation of several characters. I know at least 50 cops very closely. I took bits of many personalities to create Dutt’s and Rana’s characters.”
In the meanwhile, Ramu shot one sequence for his 26/11 film, then went to ‘Department’ and now he intends to return to the 26/11 film from June 1. Says the restless director, “I shot the introduction sequence. I plan to shoot the entire sequence of events that happened on 26/11 chronologically to capture exactly what happened that night.”