Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

Exactly a month (January 3, 2011) after the release of Ram Gopal Varma’s tri-lingual Rakht Charitra – 2 (Hindi), Rakta Charitra – 2 (Telugu) and Rattha Charithram (Tamil) on December 3, 2010, Paritala Ravindra’s nemesis Maddelacheruvu Suryanarayana Reddy alias Suri – the real life personality on whom Tamil superstar Suriya’s character was based – was shot dead in Hyderabad.

This shocking killing in broad daylight, whose timing comes uncannily close following the release of the 3 films, once again raises the issue of responsibilty that lies on a filmmaker when he makes a film on a sensitive and controversial topic and that too in a society that feels very, very strongly one way or the other on the issue. 5 years after Paritala Ravindra (or Paritala Ravi as he is better known) was brutally murdered in 2005, RGV, who himself hails from Andhra, stirred up a hornet’s nest with his 2 part saga based on Ravi’s life. What’s more, he has been freely speaking about the research he had undertaken, especially his interactions with Suri, to make his fictionalised account of the Paritala Ravi tale as ‘realistic’ as he could.Now, no doubt a filmmaker is free to interpret the material at his disposal any which way creatively but surely he has to realize the implications of what he does with it and sometimes has to handle it with kid gloves. In real life, while Suri was thought responsible for Ravi’s murder, it was never proved as Suri was behind bars the time it happened. Nevertheless, it was still said he had masterminded the entire killing from jail. RGV shows us in his interpretation that Suri killed Ravi directly by escaping from jail, shooting him dead and sneaking back after the job was done. This is taking an extremely dangerous stand on an already highly volatile issue in Andhra Pradesh and would obviously not have gone down well with factions opposing Suri even as the films re-opened old wounds on both sides. As it is, talk in Andhra is that the people responsible for Suri’s death were plants from the Ravi faction. Even earlier, scenes depicting ‘NTR’ in Part 1 in Telugu had to be removed and scenes involving ‘YSR’ also had to be removed from Part 2 of Hindi, Telugu and the single Tamil version so as not to show either of the leaders as ‘villains’ and to ensure the film had a smooth run in (Andhra) theatres. And while the rivalry between the Paritala Ravi and Suri factions go back several years and this could have happened anytime, the timing of Suri’s assassination cannot help but make one wonder at times that though surely unintentional, whether the films and the filmmaker’s interpretation had any sort of role, however indirect, to play in Suri’s death.

Sadly, the fims (I have seen both the Hindi ones and the single Tamil version) that RGV has made on this entire gripping real life saga are absolutely pathetic showing the depths he has fallen to as a filmmaker. At the same time, his marketing brain is obviously working overtime as the film still managed to make decent profits for its producers thanks to the price they got for the Southern versions especially the Tamil one thanks obviously due to Suriya’s ‘star’ presence with RGV ensuring that the Tamil version had no Part 1 as Suriya was not there in that part. That even the Tamil film flopped with less than 2 crores theatrical revenue in Chennai giving Suriya his first flop after 5 hits in a row in spite of his fine rising-above-the-script performance (along with the washout Hindi versions where Part 2 earned less than 2.5 crores nett theatrical revenue all over India) is perhaps poetic justice.

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  1. Meanwhile RGV gets away with murder.And now he is making a movie with a comedian as hero.Never did a film brand did this well.sometimes i wonder if this guy made Satya.(proposal-movie-making ka dhasu namuna)

  2. hope this will make everyone sit up and think before venturing into such waters. a life is a life is a life. everyone has a responsibility that can’t be run away from.

  3. Interesting premise… whether life imitates art or vice-versa is a huge conundrum… However as the box-office figures show the film-viewing public have thoroughly rejected the mindless trash dished out by RGV.

  4. Thanks for your feedback guys!

    @Upender: It’s sad but true. RGV seems to have lost the plot as a filmmaker long back. In fact, I’ve seen people reacting to posters of his films by declaring they don’t want to see it the minute they see his name is attached to it. What a comedown from the man who gave us Shiva, Rangeela, Satya and Company

    @Akash: Wonder if our mainstream filmmakers see it that way.

    @Monish: Actually boorback, the Telugu versions, in fact, did quite well as it is basically an Andhra tale and as mentioned, a highly volatile issue there so people did go to see the film to see what RGV had done with the subject matter. And there was a rukus which lead to the ‘NTR’ scenes being deleted from Part 1. Which again does make think about the wisdom and responsibility of the filmmaker in bringing such a delicate issue to the screen without looking at all implications. Sometimes one has to look beyond the big ‘picture’.

  5. Talented RGV’s focus has been shifted, we all know how he helped Deshmukh to loose his power. He is person like when there will be attack he will be in search of new story, but to some extent I feel actors, especially stars are also responsible, many times they don’t choose script on the merit, but other calculations. AUDIENCE has power to reject.

  6. @Arvind: As far as RGV is concerned, audiences have been using that power now for years! And yes. I agree merit of a script is rarely the criteria here for an actor choosing a script and a film getting made. If it were so, we would surely have better films. 2010 represents a nadir in the history of mainstream Hindi cinema.

    But the issue here is really not RGV at all. It’s more to do with the responsibility of Indian filmmakers to sensibly handle delicate issues rather then capitalise on them. Especially in our kind of closed society which is really unable to look at these issues with different perspectives and weigh its pros and cons. Another case in point is A Wednesday (2008). It is again a dangerous stand the film takes with suggesting that the common man taking the law into his own hands and beating the terrorists at their own game is justified. Even more alarming is the fact that a seasoned actor like Naseer agreed to be a part of this film and someone of Kamal Haasan’s stature went on to re-make the film in Tamil and Telugu taking on Naseer’s roles in these versions. For that matter one has to even question the stand Rang De Basanti (2006) took while dealing with its issues.

  7. This issue of a filmmaker’s social responsibility goes back to a time when Satyajit Ray’s PRATIDWANDI was released in Kolkata’s Bijoli theatre. Members of the West Bengal Nursing Service (BNS) sat in a dharna outside the theatre for several days. They were protesting the creation of a character who wears a WBNS badge and works as a nurse removing her uniform in one scene to double up as a sex-worker at night. I do not recall what happened as a result but I think Ray being Ray got away with the irresponsible portrayal that had very negative implications on nursing as a profession in general and women working in the WBNS in particular because the scene is still there in the film if my memory serves me right.

    I directly accuse Amir Khan for what he shows in 3 IDIOTS. He shows that one extremely intelligent student whose talents verge on genius misguides two students from low-middle-class families by teaching them to urinate outside the principal’s quarters, steall question papers with the help of a duplicate key supplied by the principal’s daughter who is in love with the genius and in short, poking fun at the very education system that, despite its tremendous examination-oriented disadvantages, has produced more people like Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray and Mahasweta Bhattacharya and Khushwant Singh than terrorists and mafia kingpins like Arun Gawli ,Mumtaz Chaudari, Kamal Ahmed, and Khalid Shaikh,the latter three having been caught in connection with their direct involvement in the 7/11 Mumbai blasts. Chetan Bhagat is himself a highly qualified alumnus of the IIT followed by a management degree and a chunky job in the foreign branch of some noted bank. Would he have reached the position he has had his story about the stolen question papers were real?

    Sometimes, the audience reacts negatively such as in RAKTA CHARITRA. But that is because the versions were badly made films and not because of the stories they told. 3 IDIOTS on the other hand, has found tremendous acceptance because if was a beautifully packaged and well-crafted film that made most of us miss out on the bad messages the film threw up.

    MUNNABHAI MBBS also has similar implications though cleverly disguised through comedy. It also made the brand of Mumbaiyya Hindi a fashion statement and address forms like Mamu is now common among the educated urban middle class and beyond. LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI uses poor Mahatma Gandhi to cover up its structural faux pas and wins hands down! TEES MAAR KHAN I have heard, since I did not care to see the film, shows the hero nonchalantly conning poor farmers with his glib comedy in very bad taste.

    Responsibility? I hope these filmmakers remember the spelling of the word, much less, its meaning.

  8. Coudn’t agree with you more Shomadi… It is a waste of time even to see if these films have any social responsibilities at all. Not that I am suggesting that every film have a burning social context. But these films have a grab of being socially responsible, whereas they might be operating out of a context that is entirly different. they may use Gandhi, they may seemingly talk against the present education system, against violence. one film even piggy banked upon the sucidal farmer to talk about something else!!! … but all of these issues are but tools for a different context within which these films operate. As far as Raktha Charitra goes, you would be a better person to unearth its context, Punjab da Puttar…

  9. In a country that’s film crazy as ours, where onscreen behaviour dictates offscreen behaviour many times, filmmakers do have a social responsibility. There is no doubt that RGV has taken his cinematic liberties with the story but in that case, he should have depicted it as a piece of fiction and not tried to pass it off as the real thing.

  10. Agree with the point that filmmakers should act more responsibly… But in a country where politicians, bureaucrats, judges, mediapersons and sometimes een common citizens. all act irresponsibly to further or protect their own interests at the cost of the greater common good isn’t it too much to expect responsibility from filmmakers?

  11. Dear Mr. Bali,

    Please check out this short film by Bimal Roy’s son, Joy Bimal Roy, called Bimal Roy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore that is now on YouTube:


    It is about the Godiwalla Bungalow in Bombay where Bimal Roy lived with his family from 1954-66. Maybe you might like to write a blog entry on the short film and Bimal Roy?

    Keep up the good work!

    Best wishes,
    John Slight (Bimal Roy’s grandson-in-law)

  12. Wow, a lot of reactions to respond to:

    @Shoma: That’s a lot of anger Shoma! Agreed 3 Idiots had more than its share of problems as a film and one that is highly, overrated but apart from its starry (Aamir) packaging and its making, it did admittedly touch a raw nerve regarding the Education system and its ‘exam bent’ frame of mind that many felt they too had experienced. And sometimes humour does work in getting the idea across better. And maybe you are a litte too hard on a couple of issues. After all, one aspect of hostel life was breaking rules, getting back at the teachers etc. – All done in good fun.

    @Ramchandra PN: Quite a point. Sadly, the bottom line especially today is to exploit everything especially the ‘issue’ you can to make sure the film stays in the news and makes maximum money and in that I don’t see the RC saga any different. RGV deliberately took a volatile topic and then did everything to keep himself and the films in the news as he always does. Still, its flopping in Hindi and Tamil as I said is poetic justice as RGV failed totally as a filmmaker. He deserves to be lynched by both parties for the really lousy films he has made rather than for how he might have depicted one or the other major characters. 🙂
    And let’s face it. The days of the studio system or the 1950s when filmmakers like Bimal Roy and Mehboob Khan explored social issues sensitively while making entertaining and thought-provoking films at the same time are long, long gone.

    @Pragati: Thanks for the feedback.

    @Daya: To be fair, RGV has presented the story as a piece of fiction but made no bones about what he was doing and what/ who the inspiration for his film was. The biggest joke in the film(s) was first issuing a discalimer that resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental and then immediately having a title card saying based on a true story.

    @Monish: Point made. But still, that does’t mean that filmmakers don’t give a thought about having a certain sense of responsibility in being sensitive and alert to the issues they are depicting and the various implications it could have depending on how they interpret it.

    @John: Thanks for your feedback. In fact, I have met Joy in the early days of Upperstall wherein we carried a piece on the lost footage of the Kumbh Mela that Bimalda had shot.

  13. I think every director has a shelf life. RGV is way past his. Its just like our cricketers, they never know when their time is up.

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