The first reaction to Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, is "What has Ram Gopal Varma done?" However, after pondering on the film post leaving the cinema hall, you realize that the biggest overall flaw is that Varma consciously attempts to remake Sholay, which invariably leads him away from his strengths. In reality, the original elements of Aag are what work the most, and everything that has been aped from Sholay is what falls flat, making the flaws glaring. Ram Gopal Varma has always succeeded when he has taken a look at the dark side of the underworld in a truly original manner. In fact, his only film from this genre which really didn't do well was his recent remake of his own classic Shiva, whereas all his originals from Shiva to Satya to Company have always worked extremely well with audiences and critics alike. The main problem with Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag is that here Varma has tried to merge his own sensibilities and characterizations with that of someone else's and in the process, both have gotten lost. Had the film been about two men who after their run in with the law, decide to take on an underworld gangster, without any of the preconceived notions that come with the characters of Jai and Veeru (although they have been called Raj and Heero, it is very clear that they have been modeled on the original pair), without the love stories being carried forward in the same manner as the original, then one cannot help but feel that Varma would have succeeded in making a great film. Alas, he attempts to recreate the chemistry shared between Bachchan and Dharmendra as the original pair and fails in the process, unable to delve into the depth of the friendship between Raj and Heero, and hence the climax seems extremely contrived. There are actually no memorable scenes or interactions between the lead characters. The same can be said of both romantic tracks, which seem to happen because they happen in the original, but in Ramu's version they are forced, underdeveloped and leave the viewer wondering when the characters fall in love to begin with. The result is that the film completely lacks emotions, which is a major flaw in a film where the storyline is already known and hence you are not expecting to keep the viewer hooked with the originality of the story. There is not a single scene which evokes any emotional response from the audience and hence you are left watching a film without a heart or soul. When and why Raj falls in love with Durga and she with him, is a mystery left unresolved throughout the film and even after all the bickering, Ghungroo's change of heart towards Heero is as sudden as is the emergence of the songs in the film which once again are unnecessary and seem to be thrown in as a means of paralleling Sholay. Inspector Narsima's characterization is also extremely weak and hence as a viewer you never really feel for him or his cause. Furthermore Narsima's Hindi (Mohanlal not in usual form as in Company) irritates after a while as do Ghungroo's repeated "too much" and Heero's "yes" dialogues. The less said about the Mehbooba track picturized on Urmila and Abhishek Bachchan the better. Once again it adds nothing to the mood of the film, and in portions Abhishek's lip sync looks like he is whispering while Sukhvinder's voice is at his loudest best. What works in the film to a limited extent is the characterization of Babban, because here Varma tries to ensure that Bachchan's character is not an exact copy of the Gabbar portrayed by Amjad Khan. He has added certain nuances like the "phew" and the laugh which make the character slightly eerie, yet he doesn't succeed in imitating the formidable power of the original Gabbar. One saving grace of the film is Amit Roy's cinematography which stays true to Ramu's style of filmmaking. The film is mostly shot through extremely low angles with the camera tilting up and then with extreme close-ups and some hand-held shots, which combined with the dark colour palette is perfect. However, the low angle shots are also over-used as the Holi song could have been picturized much better with more wide and top angles to get the ‘basti' celebration feel. Another plus point is the background score, but only in parts; where Ramu has tried to introduce music inspired from Sholay, the background has gone a bit haywire. In terms of the songs, there is not a single tune which remains with you after the film, which says a lot considering every song from Sholay is popular even today. Performance wise, the only performance which is truly noteworthy is that of Amitabh Bachchan, which unfortunately is a double-edged sword. His portrayal of Babban is truly magnificent and the character is of a kind never really attempted by Bachchan before, in spite of playing the negative lead in the past. However, the problem with the audiences may be that it will be difficult for them to digest Bachchan in such a negative portrayal, especially with some of the character's mannerisms. Yet, Bachchan has delivered a superb performance. None of the other performances are really anything great, although remarkably it is Nisha Kothari as Ghungroo who shows marked improvement from her past performances and is almost believable as a "tapori," that is until she breaks into song and dance. Heero's "suicide" speech is one scene which makes you cringe when you remember how funny the original was and how uninspiring this similar scene is here. Prashant Raj is decent as a debutant, but when you think of the power of Jai's character as a silent, brooding man who has his streaks of "masti" (recollect his interactions with Basanti and Mausi), you realize where Prashant's Raj falls short, although part of the blame is also on the weak characterization. The scene where he takes Durga to convince Ghungroo's parents to give their daughter's hand to Heero lacks spark and if the intention was for it to be funny, well then the attempt failed miserably. Sushmita Sen as Durga is passable yet somehow once again she is unable to pull at the heartstrings the way Jaya Bachchan's portrayal of Radha did. One can only wish that Varma's own natural flair for this genre of cinema would have taken over, rather than being adamant on remaking a classic. Varma is a great filmmaker when he stays true to himself and builds his characters and storyline the way he sees them, not the way someone else has seen them before.
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