Ram Gopal Varma on Shiva

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 21, 2008 11:04 hrs

Ram Gopal Varma, the man who changed the course of Telugu Cinema with Shiva, writes how the film's idea took off and other trivia about Shiva. It is written by the maverick director himself in his blog and we are reproducing it here.

Right from my childhood I had a fascination for tough guys. I used to look up to the bullies in school as they were my earliest exposure to violent power which slowly graduated to street toughs. When I was doing my B.Tech in Siddharth Engg. College in Vijayawada I had a pretty tough guy reputation. The irony was that I never beat-up anyone myself but I managed to create an illusion that if need be I can. Around 6 really tough guys who used to be with me knew that I am not even worth a punch in a real fight. But in spite of that they used to be under my command and the reason for this was I made each one of them believe that the other 5 will violently defend me come whatever. So for the outsiders, because of those 6 guys, I was a formidable force and for each one of the 6 because of the other 5 together being with me, I was a formidable force.

All I used to do was to take care that they won’t have a reason to get together behind my back. Anyway, pretty much this is the basic principle on which all street gangs, underworld factions, political regimes etc operate.

Most of my understanding of politics of violence and criminal psychology which I extensively applied in Shiva, Satya, Company, Sarkar etc primarily came from my experience in Siddharth Engg.College and not from my underworld contacts as popularly perceived.

The opening scene of Shiva where they come in a car and bash up some students in front of the college actually happened in front of my college. That atmosphere of Shiva primarily came from my engg college and the protagonist I based it on a person called Golla Ravi who used to live in Punjagutta area in Hyderabad. He used to have a combination of a super tough and a super nice guy image.

The plotline of Shiva was a direct rip-off from Bruce Lee’s Return of the Dragon in which Lee comes from Hong Kong to work in a Chinese restaurant in Rome where the local goons are trying to intimidate the owners. As he tries to take care of them and fight the goons, they get tougher and tougher and in the end he has a one-to-one fight with the toughest Chuck Norris in the coliseum. Likewise Nagarjuna comes from another town to attend a college where the local goons are intimidating the students. As he tries to take care of them and fight the goons they become tougher and tougher and in the end he has a one-to-one fight with the toughest Raghuvaran on top of a terrace. Ha! Ha! So much for originality!

Taking such a simplistic plot line I wanted to create characters and scenes and present them in a way as never been seen before, though there were quite a few scenes I copied from various films. A few examples are; the Ganapati chanda collection scene has been taken from Dilip Shanker’s Kaalchakra, Amala giving coffee to Nagarjuna before the song is from Sanjeev Kumar’s some film, the cycle chase is from Rahul Rawail’s Arjun and the scene where Nagarjuna’s dead friend’s mother slaps the inspector is from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, to name a few.

The shooting went quite well and uneventful mainly because of my extreme clarity in what I wanted to achieve. Only after the final edit trouble started. When we arranged a projection two outside people who were not involved in the making saw the film, said it’s too slow and boring with no drama. The excitement in all concerned came down quite a bit in spite of me saying that it is the lack of background score and sound efx which is making them feel that. Without them it looked like a silent film. In those days they were not used to such underplayed performances and subtleties and hence understandably disturbed. Nagarjuna was the only guy who understood and stood by me like a rock in that entire period.

When the films first trial happened many distributors felt it was too violent and feared that women and family audience will stay away as the industry generally believed that they constitute the majority.

Surendra and Venket felt that at best the film will do a very average business and I told them that it will be big hit.

The film released and the first day report Venket got from a distributor was that the audience was watching the movie silently without any reaction. We couldn’t make out what the means, till the same guy called again in the night and told us that he finally figured out the reason for that and told us the audiences are simply stunned.

It created a furore at the box-office and for the sheer impact I became a household name in Andhra Pradesh.

I was very glad that my confidence proved the distributors, Venket and Surendra wrong.

P.S: I was even more confident of ‘Raatri’ (Raat) and it became a disaster.

Some trivia of Shiva: 1). Originally `Shiva` was the name of the villain in the script. In the narration Nagarjuna used to like the name so much he asked me to name his character as Shiva.

2). I named the villain Bhavani because I based his character on a guy called Radha with a very violent reputation in Vijayawada. Since Radha is a girl’s name, I named him Bhavani which is a girl’s name too.

3). Initially I had a scene of Shiva’s first fight with J.D when he is playing football which I wanted to loosely model on a similar scene of ice-hockey in Damien (Omen II). When Venket didn’t react to it much, I came up with breaking the cycle chain idea. Throughout the shooting I wasn’t too sure how that would be received because after Venket liked it very much I went home and tried to break the cycle chain and realized the impossibility of it. But I told myself that since nobody would have tried it, it just might look believable. But now after all these years the sheer number of people who come and claim to me that they broke a cycle chain after watching Shiva is the ultimate example of how imagination can take over and become a reality in time.

4). I read about the steadicam in the American Cinematographer magazine and I was talking about it to a camera assistant in the studio that something like that exists in Hollywood, when he shockingly revealed to me that there is one even in Chennai for the past 4 years but nobody uses it. I tested it out and wanted to use it but my cameraman was reluctant saying that one can't center it or balance it, to which I said if we are using it in a chase scene as a point of view why should that matter. Thus I became the first Director ever to use a steadicam. Within a year of ‘Shiva’s release more than 10 steadicams were imported.

5). Most fight sequences were choreographed by me in Shiva and that is why you see Nagarjuna hitting mostly with a hook or a stomach punch. That’s because I knew only those two from my boxing days.

6). The first ever compliment I ever got in my life as a Director from an outsider was when Ilayaraja was doing the background score for Shiva in Mumbai due to some strike in Chennai, a violin player walked up to me and said, “The film is fantastic”. His name was Ismail Durbar and he went on to later do music for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas.

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