'I was not trying to outdo 'Sholay'. I was doing a homage to 'Sholay'. And it would be foolish of me to think I can better the original,' he told IANS in an interview.
Varma said he wasn't extremely disappointed that the film's title and names of characters had to be changed because he 'never intended to remake 'Sholay' exactly the way it was'.
He added that he would have avoided calling it 'Sholay' right in the beginning if he had known it would lead to so many legal hassles. Varma also said that Ramesh Sippy was his inspiration to become a filmmaker in the first place.
'I owe my bread and butter and whatever I am today to Mr Ramesh Sippy. If he didn't make 'Sholay' I'd have never become interested in filmmaking. I'd have remained a civil engineer.'
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: A sense of disappointment that the film's title and the characters were changed?
A: The point is I never intended to remake 'Sholay' exactly the way it was. 'Sholay' had created a benchmark for technical excellence, background score, sound design ... If 'Sholay' catapulted Hindi cinema into the new age it wasn't because of its plot which had been done earlier in films like 'Mera Gaon Mera Desh' and later in 'Karma' and 'China Gate'. I can think of 25 films with the same theme.
'Sholay' is a full-on formula film ...The cumulative impact (of the performances) was stunning on the whole country, most of all me. I've never met anyone who has interpreted 'Sholay' better than me. I'm the biggest aficionado of 'Sholay'. But I did not set out to make 'Sholay'.
Q: You didn't?
A: No. Like I said the theme has been done umpteen times. It's not the story that gets dated, it's the packaging. 'Aag' took in view the new times, new technology and new tastes and proceeded from there. I was not trying to outdo 'Sholay'. I was doing a homage to 'Sholay'. And it would be foolish of me to think I can better the original.
Q: So why did you name it 'Sholay' earlier?
A: I wanted to draw attention to my intention of paying a homage. But because of the legal hassles I decided to call it 'Ram Gopal Varma Ka Sholay', just as 'Devdas' was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's interpretation of the original. But then the legal procedure would have taken time. So I decided on 'Aag', but we couldn't get that title either.
I think a film by that title with Govinda in the lead was released seven-eight years back. So we had to go by 'Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag'.
The title gives the project that formulistic feeling which I wanted. The whole film from the background score to the dialogues and characterisation has a very retro-feeling.
Q: Please explain.
A: 'Aag' is the kind of cinema I grew up on. So I've applied new-age technology to age-old formulas of filmmaking. The reason why those earlier films were called 'formula' films was because they had something for everybody. I believe 'Aag' has it too. I wanted to recapture that old lost feeling of enjoying a full-on formula flick.
Q: If you knew problems would have cropped up, would you have avoided calling it 'Sholay'?
A: Yeah I would have avoided it. I never expected so many problems. My intentions weren't underhand. I owe my bread and butter and whatever I am today to Mr Ramesh Sippy. If he didn't make 'Sholay' I'd have never become interested in filmmaking. I'd have remained a civil engineer ... When I saw 'Sholay' in 1975 at the Ram-Krishna theatre in Hyderabad and saw Ramesh Sippy's name on the posters I decided then and there that this is what I wanted to do.
Q: Pooja Bhatt apparently thinks those who care about what's happening around us should see her 'Dhokha' rather than your 'Aag'.
A: I'm sorry I don't buy that. We can't decide what the audiences want to see. They aren't animals in a zoo, caged, labelled and ready to be transported at the zookeepers' command. Today the audience is so open to every kind of cinema. I don't see why they'd want to choose one over the other.