Ram Gopal Varma on Amitabh Bachchan…Why B is big?

RGV has a habit of expressing himself bluntly and sometimes virally too. An interesting piece from the Director on Amitabh Bachchan. He is quite candid about his own directorial views and believes that Bachchan never fails as an Actor, only the Directors do. I tend to agree.

Why B is Big

In a very bad and not totally darkened theatre (because of the light leaking through some vents and gaps in the closed doors) called Ramapriya in Vijayawada town in Andhra Pradesh, for the first time I consciously began to understand the phenomenon of Amitabh Bachchan.

The film that was playing was Khuddaar and the scene which was going on at that precise moment was, when Amitji learning the lie his own brother told him, barges into the discotheque where his brother is grooving away with a girl. As he shouts at the DJ to stop the music and looks at his brother at the far corner with hurt filled eyes, a gang of vicious looking bouncers move towards him. He looks at them and with an emotion choked voice says that he will break their legs if they try to stop him. There was an audible gasp in the theatre from the viewers as he said this. The interesting point is that none of the guys in the theatre could speak Hindi as Vijayawada is a Telugu speaking town. So what did they connect to? It is just the raw emotions of anger, betrayal, helplessness and above all the hurt he managed to communicate through his body language, his voice and his eyes.

As I looked at the faces of the people sitting in the theatre I could see a tremendous sense of awe, admiration, respect and above all a connectivity in their faces. Each and everyone of his viewers connected to him deeply through the characters he portrayed in his various films. Each and everyone wanted a brother or a friend or a leader like him.

Even after volumes spoken and big fat books written on him, I think it is still very easy to underestimate his incredible influence and his unimaginable impact not only on cinema but also on at least on a couple of generations conscience.

For me Amitji is raw, real and gritty and he hit me like a thunder bolt both as a viewer and as a director. His charisma, his screen presence, his personality made such an impact both on me and millions of others like me unsupported by today’s so-called massive production values. Unlike today’s superstars he never had to hide behind catchy songs or lavish sets or exotic foreign locales etc.

Any random man you pick on the road anywhere in the country, and if you ask him what you remember of Amitabh Bachchan, he is bound to come up with at least a hundred of his favorite scenes, dialogues or moments from Amitji’s various films whereas if asked about any of today’s superstars I doubt that they will remember beyond their hit songs and their films box-office collections.

My biggest desire cinematically was to do a film with him which eventually I realized in Sarkar. In the run up to the making of Sarkar in my several meetings with him I started seeing a very different side of him other than what I only perceived through his films. Behind the obvious power and intensity was a sensitivity and vulnerability and also listening to his thoughts made me sense his incredible versatility as an actor. By that time my proximity to him blinded me as a viewer of him as a star and the filmmaker in me got greedy and dumb enough to experiment with him as an actor which resulted in Nishabd and Aag. It’s not so much only about the quality of those films that I am talking here but it is just the idea of casting him in those roles.

Amitji’s make-up man Deepak told me on day one of shooting of Nishabd that the film will flop because no one is going to accept Amitji in a role like that. Whether that is the reason or not, I for myself as a viewer wouldn’t probably want to see him featured in a role like that. As an actor I think Nishabd is Amitji’s finest performance mainly because of its sheer complexities and it demanded such subtle nuances of reactions, which most of the so-called art-house actors won’t even begin to understand in their life-time let alone portray them. But the question is does one want to see Amitji just as an actor? I for one don’t want to, unless the acting is coming from a certain immensely larger than life perspective.

Similarly in Aag there will be a difference between a viewer’s reaction and my reaction to his performance. As a director I judge an actor by seeing what he does with what is given to him. The viewer sees the final effect of that in the context of the film and hence he cannot have an idea of how I could have screwed it up in the screenplay and how badly I edited it or various other blunders I could have committed. People seeing the film react on the effect, whereas as a director I know the cause.

On the other hand if somebody argues that he had no business to do those films without knowing what he is getting into, yes he is guilty of misplacing his trust in me but he is not guilty of not doing his best which he does invariably better than any other actor can ever even hope to do.

From what I gathered from my association with him, I understood that by being the ultra professional that he is, once he agrees to do a film based on whatever reasons he has, he completely succumbs to the vision or non-vision of the director. The end product sometimes can look a mess but the inside secret will be that he would have always given much more than what was expected of him.

The close-up of his when he stands on the steps looking at Aftab taking Jiah away in the climax of Nishabd calls for an extraordinary understanding of human emotions and hence a far superior performance, compared to him saying “Tujhe bhi karne nahin doonga” in Sarkar which he would have done a thousand times before. But sadly the effect of that line in Sarkar will become cinematic history whereas the Nishabd’s close-up might go unnoticed.

The effect of Sarkar’s performance as compared to Sarkar Raj is probably higher for many primarily because of the shock value of seeing Amitji in such a role after a very very long time but if you look deeper you can’t find a single shot in Sarkar which is comparable to, for an example the expression he has when he shows Sanjay Somji’s body to Raosaab. There are many many such moments in Sarkar Raj.

So the point I am trying to make in summation is that he never ever failed as an actor and he never will. It’s only directors, both other’s and me who frequently fail in framing his art in a given context.

Karan Johar’s favorite film of his is Kabhie Kabhie and Silsila which I loathe compared to my favorites like Deewaar and Zanzeer. I dislike seeing him in movies like Last Lear and Black whereas Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rituparno Ghosh might not want to make films like Nishabd with him.

But that’s what subliminal art is about. You can take whatever you want from it and interpret it in any which way you want to.

Amitji is an artiste who can and will allow himself to be conformed, adapted and shaped up in any which way one wants to mould him and the final result he will leave it in the hands of the director he is working with.

But irrespective of what on a personal level he might think of the result, the effort he puts in and the passion he brings in to elevate even the most mundane of scenes, the performances he brings and the way he speaks his lines is for me my personal proof of what Amitji truly and really is.

Amitabh Bachchan is that rare art form which takes birth just once in several life times.


29 Responses to “Ram Gopal Varma on Amitabh Bachchan…Why B is big?”

  1. Sharmila,

    In a court of law, an accidental confession by an accused merely reduces the time needed for the trial to come to its logical conclusion. The judge cannot waive the sentence that is applicable to the crime just because the convict has confessed.

    Ram Gopal Verma is a third rate film-maker. We know that already. He doesn’t have to tell us.

    His candid admission of the truth does not purify his dirty soul. It has to be sent to the dry cleaners for a complete re-haul.

    It is not fair to speak of Amitabh Bachchan and RGV in the same comment. Not fair to AB, I mean.


    AB is a phenomenal actor, par excellence within his portfolio of negative emotional characters. He makes a B-grade action thriller look like a classic. He was the Indian version of cowboys in spaghetti westerns. The Yule Bryner, Clint Eastwood, Brando all wrapped into one colossus.

    Good and great filmmakers presented his rebellious talent with superlative finesse, though he could not work with them as the protagonist for their themes. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s central characters were played by Rajesh Khanna, Jaya Bahaduri, Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra, Amol Palekar, Nutan etc. AB was usually a supporting actor in his films.

    In fact, filmmaker Satyajit Ray used only AB’s voice for one of his films, Shatranj ke Khiladi. He signed Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey and Shabana Azmi in the main roles. He never cast AB as an actor, even though AB has a perfect lean hungry looking face that was Ray’s signature for poverty and squalor which he showed in his films as his own depiction of rural India.

    Even big budget action-thriller makers like Ramesh Sippy (Sholay, Shaan), Yash Chopra (Deewar, Kaala Patthar etc) made multi-starrers, where two or three stars catered for different sections of the audience. One of them would be Amitabh Bachchan.

    I feel, AB’s outstanding acting prowess was most profitably used by just 2 or 3 of those who were already established in the world of commercial cinema in his time; Like, Manmohan Desai, when he parted with Rajesh Khanna after Saccha Jhoota and started his own banner MKD films and Salim-Javed the writer duo who were exceptionally powerful in urdu scripts.

    All the others who successfully used AB’s talent were start-ups. Yash Chopra, Prakash Mehra, Tinu Anand, Mukul Anand, Kader Khan and the whole lot.

    (More later…)

    PS: May be we should have waited for AB’s forthcoming birthday to discuss this.

    • We can restart the AB thread even then.. interesting view you have on RGV. He is certainly not a favorite of mine, but, I do marvel at his attempt on AB’s emotive nuances in Nishabd. Period.

  2. Tomorrow’s headlines today

    India October 3, 2040

    A notice board in BJP conference room: “Please keep mobiles in MANMOHAN SINGH mode”

    Kasab dies in jail at 70 due to high cholesterol

    Golmaal 27 released. Tushar Kapoor, still can’t speak or act.

    A. Raja’s grandson arrested for 16G scam

    Amnesia is passed on. Kalmadi’s family say they dont know who Kalmadi is.

    Girl in Delhi walks 25 feet safely, without getting molested.

    Lakshadweep Lions are the 63rd team in IPL.

    Pawar’s grandson who became a Malayalee in 2011 resigns from the Trustee-ship of Padmanabha Swamy temple, says there is nothing left.

    Pakistan says Tamil Nadu & Karnataka were always part of Pakistan.

    Manmohan Singh Ratna award announced for the dumb and speechless.

  3. Somewhere in the silence earlier, there was still a lurking hope that RGV is not aware of how bad he is. With this frank disclosure today he has removed even that little bit of doubt.

    The next time he talks about Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Hegel and Aristotle we’ll know what he doesn’t mean.

  4. Aishwarya Says:

    ‘Why B is big…and R is a rat’ would be a more complete title.

    If RGV has any hidden talent, it’s hidden, deep in the hole where he lives.

    Seven films together! What does AB see in RGV??

    • I propose we have a video run on Rekha and Amitabhs birthdays. Rekha celebrates her birthday on 10th of October every year and AB is born on 11th. It’ll be fun to see how they’ve made their places in the film industry. Both are exceptionally talented entertainers.

    • I am sorry I didn’t get that. What is the connection between 7 films and seeing something in RGV?

      AB did 7-9 films with Rekha, he still denies their is anything to report.

      Similarly he did 7-9 films with Jaya Bachchan and he has got Sweta and Abhisekh to show the world.

      I mean the number of films shouldn’t mean anything.

      • Oops.. para 2: there not their… (I get edgy when writing about Rekha and AB in black and white. Sort of risque’ zone)

      • Besides, as far as RGV and his films are concerned, one film is as bad as seven. Its part of his consistency.

      • Aishwarya Says:


        In AB’s words…”RGV has turned out to be the one that I can now confess is the one that I have most worked with – seven films! Even Hrishi Da or Manmohan Desai or Prakash Mehra, or Salim Javed do not measure up to that number! Quite surprising is it not ?”

        Surprising it is. Surprising that the movie numbers with other great directors ‘do not measure up’ to the number of movies he has done with RGV. Surprising that RGV deserves mention in the same sentence as the legends of Hindi cinema. Surprising that there may be more projects in the pipeline…

      • Aishwarya Says:

        I wondered what AB sees in RGV to be inspired enough to sign movie after movie with him.

      • I can’t be sure.

        I read AB and his words differently many times. Get into conflicts very often with Milind, Chandrakanth and Co who are devoted to Aamir and Shahrukh.

        The other day, when Anna Hazare was on his diet in Delhi, Milind broke into my old Wodehousian twitter account and sent a series of texts to AB for not supporting Anna. Luckily he doesn’t have AB’s mobile number. I had to rough it out with Milind and change the password etc. I don’t support Anna and I am the last person to ask AB to change his diet of Khus Khus to Mineral water.

        The way I read the lines quoted by you, I think AB is surprised that he has suffered RGV for so long. The ‘measurement’ he speaks of is only the count, i.e. seven films.

        Given his families present condition – Jaya has no work, Abhishekh is going through a phase leaner than ever before and Aishwarya is losing her lean figure which brought home the bacon earlier – AB is the only earning member in the family with three estates in Mumbai, one in Pune, one in UP, one in Delhi, a fleet of imported cars and a host of staff and offices to maintain.

        AB will have to suffer the likes of RGV if thats all that is coming his way.

      • No more to add.

      • You might well ask why does he need money after 45 years of a successful career.

        All the net worth of an individual does not account for a positive cash flow required for expenses.

        He may be worth more than 1200 Cr but like any company he cannot convert his capital into cash unless he has no other means of income.

      • Like AB quoted his father’s words to Rajdeep Sardesai or someone in a TV clip, “Paisa badi mushkil se milta hai”

        Don’t get me wrong. AB is clean. That is why he struggles. Unlike the Khans.

    • Hmmm. and Balki has done a better job with AB in just 2.

  5. Should be a day of relief for this space tomorrow. I’ll be away for most part of the day, conducting a training program on Business Case Incident Investigations.

    Shall fade out early tonight.

  6. Muraliraja Says:

    There are enough good directors & great stories AB can choose from. But every time I see him in RGV movie, I really wonder what could be the reason AB does this. AB has both money & power to choose his director, story, production house etc.
    As such History of our country gives scope for 1000s of stories. You can also re-interpret those stories & create your own version. We also have 1000s of stories , plays etc to choose stories from. Then we have remake formula. There are 100s of good movies releasing every year across the world which can be suitably remade here. With so much of potential, Why AB choose RGV?
    Is production houses not ready or fans not ready to see him in a meaningful yet entertaining story/role or there is no one capable of giving a role of that kind to AB sir.
    How a seasoned actor with more than 4 decades of experience can go wrong? Once or twice…okay..but…
    I never doubted AB acting. NO ONE could. But choosing subject/director I really feel he is letting down his fans.

    A good Chef is not the guy who cooks tasty food, but also a guy who knows what his clients like. In fact he should introduce his clients to new taste & lead them to whole new experience. And if you fail in those attempts, an attempt to take your fan to next level of experience, then the fan will be really proud.
    AB should have took the industry which he ruled for decades to next level now. I see no such efforts from him. All I get is RGV ki AAG!
    If money is the primary reason, then we should not talk about greatness of any kind.

    I feel AB has let down this generation fans. Not only fans but also this generation directors/writers..in a sense cinema.

    PS: In future RGV might even come home with an Oscar. But one Oscar is not equal to 100s of torture.

  7. Lunch break. Logging in in the middle of the day. Heres a chain mail

    Why Some Men Have a Dog And No Wife:

    1. The later you are, the more excited your dogs are to see you.

    2. Dogs don’t notice if you call them by another dog’s name.

    3. Dogs like it if you leave a lot of things on the floor.

    4. A dog’s parents never visit.

    5. Dogs agree that you have to raise your voice to get your point across.

    6. Dogs find you amusing when you’re drunk.

    7. Dogs like to go hunting and fishing.

    8. A dog will not wake you up at night to ask, “If I died, would you get another dog?”

    9. If a dog has babies, you can put an ad in the paper and give them away.

    10. A dog will let you put a studded collar on it without calling you a pervert.

    11. If a dog smells another dog on you, they don’t get mad. They just think it’s interesting.

    And last, but not least:

    12. If a dog leaves, it won’t take half of your stuff.

    To test this theory:

    Lock your wife and your dog in the garage for an hour. Then open it and see who’s happy to see you.

  8. Good video. Worth sharing.

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