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Some Ramblings - Sarkar
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

This time, it is official - even after all the different ways Ram Gopal Varma used the movie, The Godfather, sometimes in large chunks and sometimes just for inspirational purposes, for most of his ventures focussing on the underworld, he felt that something else was left untold, something else was left uncovered; his fascination with the movie finally came a full circle, at last, when he announced a movie that is completely based on The Godfather - not in bits and pieces, not in any inspirational way for the thematic elements, but in a total, complete and comprehensive reworking, rehashing of the material from start to finish....or so he announced. The announcement was as bold as it was unnecessary. In Gaayam, when Jagapathi Babu lodges his written complaint with the police commissioner, and the scene is intercut with the killings of his opponents, there was no mistaking that the scene was a direct lift from the baptism scene from The Godfather. Or the modeling of the Bhiku Matre character around Sonny Corleone, the volatality, his friendship with Satya indicating a near sibling relationship reflecting the Sonny-Micahel relationship, the cold-heartedness of any lucrative business, even if it is the underworld dealings, that forms the basis of Company, which again reflects the strict code of conduct in matter relating to business affairs of the Corleone family - Varma based his entire career making and remaking The Godfather that it came as a definite surprise learning that he was remaking Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather again - and this time, the official, definitive way.....wherein the fundamental problem lies with Sarkar. What Varma set forth was remaking Coppola's The Godfather, completely ignoring the obvious, that he should have remade Mario Puzo's The Godfather and not Coppola's The Godfather. Puzo's Godfather's wasn't merely a family, its members, their enemies, guns and bullets, killings and maimings. It was about a family trying to run a business, struggling to keep its head afloat amidst the growing competition closing on them from all corners. It was about a high profile family, trying to maintain a steady low profile, shunning all the possible glitz and grandeur that accompanies a typical mafioso family, for the simple reason that "it is bad for the business". It was about the gradual demise of the old school ways of dealing with power struggles, through reason and mutual respect (even if it was honor among thieves), and the gradual rise of new ways of clinically clearing out the adverse fields, through ruthlessness and cold-heartedness. In the end, it is all about the family and its business, the way Puzo envisioned it. What Coppola did with the book wasn't mere adaptation to the screen - he set a tone to the words, he brought a mood to the scenes, he created an environment where the Corleone family operated like a regular family - the huge family dinners, the abusive husbands, the battered wives(even if it involves Don Corleone's dear daughter herself). Coppola created a framework where Puzo's family could live and breathe their words, so that when the words like "It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" were spoken, the words resonate with greater impact that they did in the printed word.

Sarkar is blunder redux. The first time, it happened with Company. To start with, the issue is never about his constant backdrop of the underworld. Many great directors all over the world made good movies, dealing with the same/similar themes but focusing on something different everytime within the same canvas. So the problem is never reusing the same mileu over and over again. The problem is with the perspective. After having made around 10 movies in the same genre, what different perspective does Varma try to bring forth in his subsequent venture, without falling into the same old rut of guns, goons, steadi-cams and nonchalant killings. Company was based on an interesting premise of treating the underworld dealings like any other corporate enterprise and that the power struggles within it are not too much different from the boardroom squabbles of men dressed in 3-piece suits inside any tall rise buildings. The unfortunate part was, though the premise was promising the script quickly forgets its ground rules and gets mired in same old guns, goons.... rut. Sarkar is no different. With the (casual) mood and the (grim) tone firmly in place, the script has no where to go, totally ignoring the great material from The Godfather, while engaging in the typical Varma's mafia movie past time - stare endlessly into the camera, while it either zooms in or zoom out on their faces (which should come as no big surprise, as there is nothing worth talking about to accompany the constant stare). Silence, particularly in a visual medium, HAS to mean something. If in the printed word the reader comes across the line "he fell silent for a second", the reader moves on to the next line, without completely registering the impact of that statement. But on the visual medium, if a character is lost on deep thought and the shot lingers on him for more than the normal time, it indicates that the director is making a conscious choice of requesting the viewer to join the character in his silence, share it and experience his solitude. Silence, thus, has a purpose. But a constant gaze for no apparent reason (or just for a flimsy reason) strongly indicates, that there is not enough material at the disposal of director, which prompted him to substitute dialogue with the lack of it.

Compare Subhash Nagre with Velu Naiker (from Nayakan, another remake of The Godfather). Velu doesn't consider himself an extra- constituional authority by any stretch of imagination. Even when Nazar, a police officer, comes into his cell and asks for his help with the crowd trouble, the humble dialogue along the lines of "YOU are the police officer here, what can I do?", captures the essence of Velu perfectly. On the other hand, here is Nagre, who openly defies the authority - "mein jO theek samajhtaa hoon, vohee mein karta hoon, chaahe wOh tumhaare khilaaf hO, ya pulees ke khilaaf, ya bhagwan ke khilaaf" - powerful words, but sadly words speak louder than actions, in this case. While Velu backs up his words with action, Nagre stops at words alone. With no assistance offered by the script, as to why Nagre is so revered by his friends and foes alike, or how Nagre is different from the rest of the seedy leaders in the pack, and what is that his adversaries fear about him, apart from the killing aspect (which the rest of the mafia heads have the power too), none of the words/actions that Narge manages to do and utter between the constant stares into the camera carry any weight or significance. A movie is more than a mood and a tone. There are actions, motivations and purposes, not to mention, words. If Varma wanted to pull off the movie on the mood alone, he should have chosen a different subject altogether to remake or re-interpret than The Godfather, which is much much more than loud talk, mindless action and lacking purpose altogether! Now, if only copyrights are enforceable till more than the mandatory 50-70 years all across the globe in the strictest terms possible....

More Ramblings on films
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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