Review: Ram Gopal Varma Ki Saag

1 September, 2007


Warning: Spoilers inside (Like you care!)

Man, this movie was touted as ‘Movie of the Year’, a ‘Remake of a masterpiece by a Master Craftsman,’ and God knows what not. Hell, I was waiting for this movie for a better part of the last six months. I even skipped work today to watch it, fought at the ticket counter, and almost got a tummy tonsil (ulcer) in anticipation till the movie started. I even liked the opening credits---the part where they show the star cast with cool graphics---but those ended soon, and all my fears came true.

I understand RGV’s penchant for low-angled cameras, dark settings, and a subtle style of storytelling. I really do. I also understand that the original Sholay is one of his favorite films (apparently one of the movies which launched him to where he is today, which is to say nowhere), and his passion for pretty, petite, and busty heroines with sharp canines and scowls (Urmila Matondkar, Antara Mali, and now Nisha Kothari).

All these things have worked for him in the past (albeit on and off), but annoyingly, it’s become repetitive, sad, and extremely predictable. This movie, in particular, starts with a very sorry premise, and when it ends (you WAIT FOR IT!) it leaves you with a headache (migraine attack in my case), and absolutely empty.

So here we go: Raj (Prashant Raj – good voice but no modulation whatsoever, funky hairdo, NOT beefy, but really DEAD eyes) and Hero (Ajay Devgan – someone please tell him that he looks like a eunuch with those highlights, and slapstick comedy is not his forte) are two guys (I say guys here because their professions are more or less left to our imagination, and if ever they discussed it in the movie, it was in a mumble. So we assume that these are small time crooks) who come to Mumbai looking for a job, and end up working for a gangster for a large sum of money.

Related: A non-Sholay-lovers take on RGV ki AAg

During one of their ‘missions’, they are arrested by a law-abiding Police Inspector Narasimha (Mohanlal) – surprisingly agile for his size, with a thick
southie accent, twinkling eyes--who tries to do an honest job, but there is nothing he could do, really. The interrogation scene is so weak and numbing that you know the fate of the movie there and then.

The dialogues go something like this:

Narasimha: Why does your master pay you so much money?

Raj/Hero: How do we know? We don’t care anyway. He can afford to.

Narasimha: What are your qualifications? Are you educated?

Raj/Hero: Why are you asking this? Let us go.

Narasimha: Did you know your boss is a gangster with a zillion murder cases on him?

Raj/Hero: (Stunned silence, quick exchange of meaningful glances, dumbfounded looks)

I mean, WTF? These two guys are supposedly street smart for crying out loud, they are petty thieves or whatnot, and they don’t KNOW they are working for a gangster? Come the #$%^ on!!!

Anyway, Inspector Saab and the petty duo shake hands and promise to bring the aforesaid gangster down. Inexplicably, in the very next scene, they barge into the Gangster’s hideout (yes, gangsters STILL have hideouts in mysterious settings, with lots of empty boxes, a cave or two, and miniature hilltops) in ridiculous disguises, and start shooting. After about ten minutes of insipid firing, string-boosted jumps, and astonishing fisticuffs which end with a TABAUSH sound, the gangster is killed, and our deadly duo end up in some Central Jail for a year or so (They were working for the now dead gangster, that’s why.)

On their release, they are taken at gunpoint, to some sea-facing barren land, and find Inspector Narasimha (Now ex-Inspector Narasimha) waiting for them in a dirty tattered kurta pyjama and an unkempt beard. He has lost not his arms, but his fingers (unlike Sholay, how original!) He has a
proposition for them: Kill Notorious gangster Babban (Amitabh Bachhan, very sleazy, pretty convincing) and take away Rs eight lakhs. Our heroes
ponder over this over an unfunny drunken melee’, and decide they have nothing to lose, and say Yes to all.

The next scene shows them at a rickshaw stand trying to persuade rickshaws to take them to Inspector Narasimha’s house in Kaliganj (supposedly some slum in Mumbai), and we are introduced to Ghungroo (Nisha Kothari, pretty in parts, but she needs to take voice lessons – she sounds like a schoolgirl throughout, but probably that’s why she is being seen in RGV movies lately…hmm) the woman rickshawalli. Ten minutes of mindless, unfunny banter later, we are in Kaliganj (Yes, she is a resident too).

It is of course a run down, filthy looking basti we have seen in countless movies from the eighties. To cut a long story short, they are given B&B at the Inspector’s house. We meet to Devi Ji (Sushmita Sen – she of the doped-on-two-valium face) clad in black something with big puffy eyes.

Anyway, Babban has an eye on Kaliganj, because its prime land (sea-facing, you see) and he generally is a greedy guy. Goons are dispatched to the local Pradhan, but our deadly duo beats the crap out of them, and sends them back. What follows next is a pathetic rendition of the famous “kitney aadmi the” scene from Sholay. I will recommend you carry a rubber squeeze toy with you, because you’ll want to hurt someone bad, but will end up making deep gashes in your own arm, since you realize everyone else in the cinema hall is as tortured as you are. Of course, Babban shoots the beat-up goons, turns around, and comes up with another gem “Diwali kab hai? Kab hai Diwali?"

Copy paste the Holi scene from Sholay. Only, the goons have rocket launchers and AK47s, in place of the more humble Lee Enfield 303s. Yes, it does show Hero firing with a Steyr Scout sniper rifle at close range, which makes this scene different. Yes, they kill a few crooks, beat the pulp out of a few more, but Babban manages to escape more or less unhurt. The entire sequence is studio-based and leaves you with no emotion. You just wait for it to end and get on with the next scene. Very unlike the original, which had many Oh-hell-what-now? moments.

Babban is mad as a hatter, but declares a fatwa over anyone who comes out of Kaliganj. Here, I’d like to ask Mr. RGV the following questions:

1. Where exactly is Kaliganj? Is it an island? If so, how does Ghungroo make a living? She drives an auto-rickshaw for heaven’s sake!

2. For that matter, what do the Kaliganj junta do for a living? Do they have regular jobs like the rest of the people in Mumbai? Is Kaliganj a self-sustained province? If so, WHY are the people poor?

3. Where is the Police chowky? If none exists, how is that possible?

Anyway, copy-paste again from Sholay. Gangly son of blind, old man (played by Gaurav Kapur and Virendra Saxena respectively) is picked up and killed when he leaves Kaliganj limits, and his dead body returned with a cryptic note: I am not Gandhi (!?)

Babban wants the locals to hand-over the deadly duo. A heated and endless argument ensues. They come up with a plan -- Babban’s sidekick
(Sushant Singh, wasted) is called, half-killed, and sent back. Another blow for Babban. We almost hope that this is the twist in the tale we’ve been waiting for. No luck yet.

Cut to the deadly duo’s headquarters. They have news about Babban’s hideout.

Cut to studio lake/waterfall/oasis. Half-naked Urmila Matondkar pouting almost as if she got stuck with a vacuum hose. Heavy breathing. Abhishek
Bachchan appears (why him!!!) as the slick gun dealer with a thousand side-dancers. This is the much-publicized Mehbooba song and dance. Bachchan senior and junior join in an uncomfortable hip shake. Song over, Bachchan senior returns with Urmila to the hideout for some quality time, and shots are fired. Deadly duos have attacked. Another embarrassment for Babban. It's time now.

Ghungroo is abducted, and Hero (he is her lover, and they have sung two songs, done the ‘suicide’ routine already, but its not worth mentioning) follows blindly. Hero is caught and chained. Raj comes to the rescue, kills half the gang, almost kills Babban, but misses and gets totaled. In a fit of
rage, Hero kills the remaining gang, almost kills Babban, but Inspector Sa'ab quotes the Holy Bible, and demands his right for blood. Babban dies with a meat cutter in his back, and everyone goes home. End of story, really.

Amitabh Bachchan does a good job, not a shiver-down-your-spine job like Aks but definitely watchable. He stands out in almost every scene he comes in – he plays with the camera, looks straight at you, spits on the floor, does a half-menacing laugh, his smile becomes a snigger, and goes dead-pan the very next minute. The entire getup suits him, and you wonder why doesn’t he do more negative roles. A delight to watch, when he is not mumbling his lines, which he does in a few scenes. Still, he simply cannot save the movie on his own.

Ajay Devgan is a disappointment. He should really realize that he is not cut out for slapstick. Plus, he needs to cover his midriff, like he used to earlier.
And oh yes, the blonde streaks in the hair…!

The female leads played by Sushmita Sen and Nisha Kothari are yawn inducing. Sen is getting extremely typecast in the woman-of-substance-type of roles. Nisha Kothari looks and talks like a school kid, and wears clothes, which leave nothing to your imagination (though they suit her, and I am not complaining). But that’s all she does.

Mohanlal is a cuddly bear. He sounds cute in his southie accent, has love handles, and a big moustache. Yes, he is a fine actor, but he is completely
wasted in the movie. He says little, and is reduced to a shabby, bearded, look-ma-no-hands guy in 80% of the movie. It really hurts, when they could
have easily hired Vikram Gokhle or S.M.Zaheer to play this part.

Except for the theme song, every song is completely forgettable, and looks and sounds forced. What do you expect anyway, if a movie has five music
directors, Bappi lahiri, Ganesh Hegde, Amar Mohile, Prasanna Shekhar, and Nitin Raikwar! Maybe, the Mehbooba number will live on, thanks to the
bare-chested video, airing on TV channels.

Cinematographically, the movie is somewhat satisfying – the RGV signature is everywhere. Good use of dark corners, low lighting, and nice eye makeup on AB. But yeah, that’s about it. The fight sequences draw on and on, they look staged, gunfights defy logic and gravity, and you can secretly take a short nap in between.

The tagline of RGV ki Aag, which claimed ‘Don’t compare it to Sholay, but watch it as an individual movie’ does not cut any ice. You can’t help, BUT compare. Even if I leave aside the original for a minute, and indeed watch it as any other movie, I’d give the same verdict. This is an atrocity.

 If indeed RGV needs to make another remake--this is his second, the first one being Shiva, which was a remake of James, which was a remake of the Nagarjuna-starrer Shiva, which had also been made by RGV--there are millions to pick from.

Why not make a Manoj Kumar remake, for instance? I can go on and on and on, citing examples of bad movies with good concepts, but that’s not the point. Leave the classics ALONE!




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