Subhash K Jha: Rann is Ram Gopal Varma’s best work since Company

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Think. Really hard. What are we all doing with the opportunities that life so generously provides us? In the mad mindless rush towards self-gratification, are we somewhere sacrificing those values that brought us, kicking dragging and sacrificing from a hard-earned freedom from colonialism to the new millennium where we, the collective civilization, are now poised at the brink of a moral disintegration?

Rann is that rare cinema about the collective conscience which we often like to think has gone out of style. Like Mehboob Khan’s Mother India and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam, Rann shows how tough it is to hold your head high in dignified righteousness in a world where ethics crumble faster than cookies in wide-open jar left out too long in the sun. Ironically there isn’t much sunshine in Rann. The film has been shot in an anemic light, symbolizing a world that’s largely losing light.

Cleverly, Ram Gopal Varma situates his morality tale in the cut-throat world of the electronic media where the TRP is God, and deadlines the devil. And may the voice of the conscience rest in peace.

Without fuss or wastage of time, Varma introduces us to the plethora of characters who colonize the bowel of a declining channel run by the idealistic Vijay Harshvardhan Malik (Amitabh Bachchan) who believes there’s room still for the straight and narrow path in a business where grabbing attention is the murder of all invention.

Varma plunges us into the world of the characters that he knows only too well. The glistening sweat on ratings-challenged eyebrows are captured through tight close-ups of worried faces that the camera (Amit Roy’s sharply cruising lenses moving from face to face with obstinate restlessness) that give nothing and yet everything away.

The swirling swarm of characters reading, reporting, creating and even manufacturing news are so normal in their workaday concerns we almost miss the underbelly of moral anomaly that has become a way of life in present times.

As in Varma’s Sarkar, the moral battle lines in the media-run tale of Rann are drawn between the idealistic patriarch and his US-returned hyper-ventilating son Jai (Kannada star Sudeep) who is so nervous, anxious and ambitious, you know he will eventually cause trouble for his ideologue dad’s news-worthiness.

Trouble arrives in the flabby form of a seedy politician Pandey (Paresh Rawal, re-embracing villainy with lip-smacking relish) who plunges into the TRP war on television with no sense of propriety, legalese or the law.

“The law is made by people like us to protect people like us from being convicted,” Pandey pompously tells Jai before they both conspire with the help of a rival television tycoon (Mohnish Behl) to trash the idealistic Harshvardhan’s reputation.

The plot accommodates more characters that a miniature touristic island in the holiday season (sans the sun). Not one of the characters need any explanation or occupy a superfluous place in the plot.

The narrative is taut restless and biting in its depiction of corruption in supposedly responsible places. The artful opposition of real and doctored news is planted into the storytelling with no triumphant flourish. Varma’s concern for the characters he puts on screen is genuine but non-judgmental. Each character, even the relatively shadowy women, emerges as casualty of an over-competitive society where morality goes out of the nearest window.

While much of film’s inner fire burns outwards from the pithy and peppery writing (Rohit Banawlikar), the essential core of idealism is preserved in the understated relationship between the idealistic young rookie Purab Shastri (Ritesh Deshmukh, eschewing comedy to come up with restrained and pacifying performance) and his mentor Harshvardhan. Wish this bonding was built on.

As restless as his camera, Ram Gopal Varma gives no space to the complicated labyrinth of relationships to grow. We are left to gauge the depths and dimensions that underline the furious flow of empathy and antipathy between various characters by reading between the lines.

The first two-thirds of the narrative creates a gripping patchwork of television, drama and politics and how the three worlds often come together to destroy the basic fiber of human morality.

It’s the last quarter of the narrative where Harshvardhan, after realizing he has been taken for a ride by his own son’s over-ambitiousness, packs in the maximum punch.

Here Varma and his scriptwriter effortlessly shift the focus from one specific area of troubled activity (the television) to comment on the compromised quality of contemporary life.

Cleverly borrowing the premise for its climax from Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, Rann moves aggressively but confidently into its passionate finale where the patriarchal television tycoon must expose some harsh truths to cleanse his own conscience. Love for the country can never get dated when Mr Bachchan is around. Even in a world as devoid of human values as shown in this film.

Rann takes us into a world where right and wrong are more financial than moral issues, where the people who make news conveniently forget that the source is often the nadir of the conscience.

Rann is a razor-sharp, bitter and biting look at the real world of rapidly-moving moral issues. Varma extracts superlative performances from the entire cast. From Ritesh Deshmukh’s heartbreaking idealism to Neetu Chandra’s part as Jai Malik’s secret Muslim love interest (the way Jai conceals her Muslim identity from family and friends is disturbing and amusing), they all know what the director and his writer have set out to do.

As expected, Amitabh Bachchan as the conscience of the plot, presides over the speeedened proceedings with a thoughtful and gentle performance. His climactic speech makes all of us sit up and think about the quality of work we do in order to keep up with the competition.

Luckily Mr Bachcha’s consistently excellent output is never dependent on the ‘competition’ around him. Ironically his character is forced to stoop in order to conquer the TRPs. Ram Gopal Varma who has been lately guilty of making fairly compromised films, rises above the morass of mediocrity with a meteoric force, letting other filmmakers know what he is capable of achieving if he sets his heart to it.

Rann defines the role of the electronic media in today’s context with remarkable virility and dramatic force. This is Ram Gopal Varma’s best work since Company.

Rating: ****

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