August 3, 2008
Ramgopal Varma is in Hyderabad. Looking relaxed, he addressed a press meet at PVR Cinemas. His forthcoming film Phoonk is getting ready for release on August 22. A screening of its trailers took place. The picture of a crow seen in its varied moods pervades the scenes. Black magic stuff like kumkum, lemon, human skull and bones, blood from eyes and hysteria of victims…. All these seem to promise the audience a horrifying experience. He speaks about his mind and defends his creativity. “I am like a Dog’s tail. I will continue to scare away audience,” says this conflict-ridden director. A media chitchat.
Tell us about your concept behind Phoonk?
We move in the dark and in isolated places. We also experience some strange situations like seeing a kumkum-smeared lemon in the courtyard or at the cross roads. Under circumstances like these, involuntarily everybody experiences something eerie. He finds it difficult to interpret his feelings – They are beyond his rational level of visualizing things. I strongly believe. Our knowledge of life and its mysteries is very little. Out of this phenomenon, concepts like Phoonk arise. Of course, the impact of Yandamuri Veerendranath’s Tulasi Dalam is always there. You can say, that is the basic inspiration.
What do you want to project in Phoonk?
It’s a scary tale. The tagline of the film is already there. Its superstition… till its happens to you. It is the story of an atheistic construction engineer Rajiv, his wife and two children. He ridicules both God and the dark forces. He terms those who believe both as gullible public. All of a sudden, one terrifying day, an evil strikes at his household and brings it on the verge of destruction. His very foundations of atheism and convictions and beliefs come under a hair-raising malodorous shake, the truants of black magic.
You are an atheist. You don’t believe in dark forces. But you say you have experienced certain things and heard that of others in these areas. Why this contradiction?
Yes. I am an atheist. But, I have my own beliefs. A discussion on superstitions and supernatural elements are as old as the earth. Always there are rational and scientific interpretations of such happenings. But, mark this. Until and unless we understand them completely, they continue to overshadow our efforts forcing us to believe them. It is an unending conflict between the believers and non-believers.
Do you have any such personal experiences with the supernatural?
I heard a lot. And I imagine a lot. Coming to personal experience, there are many, but each time leaving a vague conclusion. I will tell you this popular occurrence, which many claim to have experienced. There was big talk… that Lord Ganesh drank milk. A friend of mine forced me to witness the miracle. By the time, I went there, Ganesh stopped taking milk. They said it happened just one hour back. That is their belief. And I have my own belief. Seeing from their perspective, the story is different. I don’t blame it. But, nobody is yet to dramatize it.
Don’t you think you are undermining the Tantra Sastra of the ancient Indian learning? Are you commercializing this?
See, black magic is always there. It is not only in India, but all over the world, like voodoo and obeah. A study of Tantra makes you encounter umpteen numbers of superstitions in their most wild forms. I mean to say, black magic is an enigma, continuously dogging the minds of both rationalists and the gullible alike. Good or bad, it has become the part and parcel of our daily lives. You can’t separate it from civilization, until and unless you completely understand it. This is impossible.
Do you believe in superstitions?
I never believe in them. I just project what’s happening around me.
Do you believe it if it happens to you?
That’s what I want to say. From the point of cinema, I want all the families in India to identify themselves with the family of Rajiv. They are going to feel the terrifying experience. It’s for them to decide… to believe or shun superstitions.
The victim of Phoonk (a small girl) just stays in the mid air. Do you want to panic audience on the lines of the Exorcist? From where did you take this scene?
To be frank, I took it from Exorcist. You are right. But, only that particular scene. But, you can’t compare Phoonk with Exorcist or films made on that genre. Phoonk is about the deep-rooted superstition called Black Magic. But, Exorcist and some western films are purely meant to deal with evil spirits. While, Phoonk intends to frighten people, they show that the main aim of evil spirits is to kill human beings. Fearing something is more dangerous than facing it.
Your films made in scary genre have failed at the box office compared to your social dramas. Why?
Who said my films made to frighten the audience have failed? You come. I will show you the box office reports of Bhooth and Raath and any film. You are wrong.
Is it true that you announced some prize money for anyone who would watch Phoonk alone?
Our producers said that any person who would it alone will be given Rs. 5 lakh. But, he should watch it with naked eyes and ears. This is also a mode to promote our films. I can’t deny that.
Each time you fail in this genre (of scary film); you chose to come with yet fresh one. Why you want to frighten the audience?
Who said I am a failure in this genre. It is your wrong conception. But, coming to making of such films, I am like a Dog’s tail (Kukka Thoka Vankara). I shall continue to make films like this, whether I believe in them or not. If people don’t want such films, let them stop watching my films.
Why don’t you make films with religious themes?
I already did. Govinda Govinda (pronouncing it sarcastically, meaning it’s a failure)
You bore the criticism that you are providing dangerous ideas to terrorists as you did in the film Contract. Why can’t you be booked under anti-terrorist laws?
(Laughing) Better, you go and give a police complaint. Punjagutta PS is nearby. (The chitchat took place at PVR Cinemas, Punjagutta). I tell you seriously. I have every right to imagine. As a director, it’s my business to be creative. To deal with a subject like terrorism, you need guts. Terrorism is not an ordinary thing. It is one of the most planned areas. To make a terrorist strike is not that easy. What I did might be efforts to make their strategies naked. I can’t resort to regular gimmicks while dealing with this deep-rooted subject. I am proud to say, I am a very creative person.
Don’t you think you are glamorizing the Gun cult?
No. You watch my films. Any person who takes up the Gun will succumb to it finally.
Do you agree that films are adversely influencing the public?
It is ludicrous thinking. It’s a big fallacy. How many people have shifted to the joint family system after watching a film like Hum Apke Hai Kaun? How many people took to the Chambal Valley after watching the Gabbar Singh in Sholay?
Is it true that you got threats over your proposed film on forest brigand Veerappan?
It is wild imagination of the media. I never got any threats. See. There are a number of articles about Veerappan in newspapers. Also films on him. When I am doing another film on Veerappan, why would anybody have a problem at all?
You are the first person to glamorize the Telanga dialect in your earlier films. Can you take the blame for instigating the regional differences?
I already said. It is my business to be creative to the extreme ends. I can’t budge to such narrow thinking.
What is your stand on separate Telangana?
My knowledge about politics is a big zero, or even minus zero level. My entire world is my home, office and films.
Why can’t you introduce young Telugu guys as heroes in your films here?
I didn’t think of it all these days as I was confined to Mumbai always. Hereafter, I will definitely consider this.
Can we expect any sequels to your films?
Never expect anything from me. You never knew what I will do next.
How come you got time to deal with multiple projects at a time like Sarkar Raj, Phoonk, and Contract?
It’s simple. Just I can’t sit idle at home.
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