Ram Gopal Varma's last hit was 12 years ago. How then is he able to consistently make movies?

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fairly easy
Movies cost big money. How does a director, even if he is Ram Gopal Varma, make movies one after the other despite several box office bombs?
Ram Gopal Varma has a new movie in the works. Once upon a time in Bollywood, the news would have caused a flutter. The Varma movies were celebrated by the critic and the fan. Remember, the crime noir Satya? Who can forget Rangeela?

Those movies now seem a lifetime ago. Varma's last hit Phoonk was delivered more than a decade back. The 2008 movie, made at a budget of Rs 5 crore, collected Rs 14 crore at the box office.

Varma's career graph is actually dotted with box office failures. Of the nearly 50 Hindi films he has made in a three-decade career, he has only one blockbuster and four genuine hits to his name. Two were what in Bollywood parlance would be described as semi-hits. Nine were average, meaning they barely recovered costs. As many as 34 films were duds.

Yet, Varma is able to consistently churn out movies. Film-making is not like say, writing a book. There is big money riding on the enterprise and losses can hurt a gaggle of stakeholders ranging from producers to actors to distributors.

Varma's movies are not just box office bombs, but are widely panned. Take for example RGV ki Aag. The 2007 film failed miserably at the box office. It was made at a budget of Rs 21 crore, but amassed just Rs 7 crore. Critics hated it. Rajeev Masand called it a bad joke, saying writing a review amounts to dignifying a third-rate film.

The verdict for Naach, a bomb from 2004, was that it lacked — "spine" — and a script. Nishabd left everyone speechless in ways Varma would have not imagined. Critics called it lead actor Amitabh Bachchan's biggest mistake. The flops continued—My Wife's Murder, James, Mr ya Miss— and vanished without a whimper at the box office.

Few movie directors of the stature of Varma have had such a bad run. His peer David Dhawan who started making movies around the same time as Varma has directed 43 films. At least 23 were hits. While their movies are as different as chalk and cheese, Dhawan's last film Judwaa 2, a remake of his 1997 namesake title, minted more than Rs 132 crore against a cost of Rs 63 crore.

Varma may have compelling reasons to make movies.

Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media, a media consulting firm, said Varma is passionate about filmmaking. He sees no other reason because the last authentic success by Varma was more than a decade ago.

Still, it begs the question how Varma is able to bankroll his movie projects. It would be easy to allude to his clout; remember his tour of the Taj Hotel after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks accompanying the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh?

But moviemaking is expensive and even powerful friends will balk at losses.

Akshay Bardapurkar, a Marathi filmmaker and producer, has an explanation. For any movie financier, Bardapurkar said, what is important is whether a director is capable of making a good film. "Varma is."

Bardapurkar said RGV (a moniker carved from Varma's initials) is a brand. "His work rings a bell with producers, distributors and exhibitors. Financiers bank on a simple model — they should get their money back. RGV promises that."

Multiplexes particularly love Varma movies. "When multiplexes mushroomed in India from 2000-01, Varma became their poster boy with films such as Company and Bhoot," said Kapoor.

Directors need all these stakeholders to rally by their side and RGV has that ability, according to Bardapurkar. "In fact, the moment RGV comes in the picture we can expect a studio to come on board as well."

Indeed, despite his failures, several studios have backed Varma over the years. For example, 20th Century Fox collaborated in 2002 with Varma for three films, including Ek Hasina Thi and Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon. The two films sank at the box office.

Varma joined hands with Adlabs Films in 2005. They collaborated for ventures like RGV ki Aag.

Another production house named K Sera Sera (KSS), joined hands with Varma in 2003. Varma made films such as Darna Mana Hai, James,…
Maryam Farooqui
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