From one Varma to another: You have lost what’s left of your fan base in …

Off late, it has become quite fashionable for public personalities and celebrities to shoot off a ludicrous comment and then sign it off with a half-hearted apology when they realize that the remark has sent off wrong signals. I think the trend started with the famous ‘dented and painted women’ remark of President Pranab Mukherjee’s son in the backdrop of the protests around the December, 2012 gang rape. This week, the latest addition to that long list of offenders is Ram Gopal Varma, the once-famed film director who has stirred passions by calling Kerala superstar Mammootty a ‘junior artiste’ and advising him to learn acting from his son, Dulquer Salman.

Varma, after watching Dulquer’s ‘OK Kanmani’, a Mani Ratnam film, tweeted earlier this week praising the young actor for his performance in the film, but also snidely remarking that if the award committee members have any sense, they should take all of Mammooty’s awards and give it to his son. That, right there, for me and thousands of Malayalis who have grown up watching Mamukka’s (yes, that’s what we lovingly call him) films amounts to insult of an actor, whose contribution to Malayalam cinema has been unparalleled.

The Malayalam film industry, as expected, did not take kindly.

In a society like Kerala which hinges quite heavily on a strange two-pronged competition, the state filmdom is literally divided into those who look up to Mammootty against those who are fans of Mohanlal. This competition transcends into journalism (Manorama against Mathrubhumi), politics (Congress versus Communists) and even sports (Argentina versus Brazil). The resulting effect of this competition is that you will find little or no fence-sitters. Almost everyone has a staunch opinion on a matter.

Unfortunately, the problem with Varma, as I concur, is that his intellect is fast eroding like his own films. So allow this Varma to jog Mr Varma’s memory for a bit.

Three national awards. Five state film awards. Eleven Filmfare awards. Now, these are not statistics that a ‘junior artiste’ can manage. In film after film, through the 80s and the 90s, Mamukka was slowly but gradually establishing himself as an actor and breezing quite effectively through the minds of the Malayali film buff. From the portrayal of a fierce warrior in ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha’ to that of a hunter in ‘Mrigaya’ and exploring the caste equations in British India in ‘Ponthan Mada’, Mamukka has a clutch of films to his credit that no actor can boast of.

I still remember excitedly staring at the TV screen in 1995-96 (I was 6 then!) as Mamukka belted high-speed English dialogues in ‘The King’, a film in which he played the role of a crusading IAS officer out to finish corruption. At that age, I had no idea what those dialogues meant, but they sure tickled the early strains of my veneration for Mamukka.

He is that quintessential actor who was always fit (yes, physically), which worked both ways for the young male fans who cherished a fitness-savvy actor as well as for the female fans who liked the idea of a strong, strapping actor who crushed his villains with impunity.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, his performances in ‘Valtsalyam’ (in which his part as a loving and caring elder brother moved me to tears), ‘Bhoothakannadi’ and ‘Valliettan’ came around for critical praise and cemented Mamukka’s position in the film world. Of course, these are the little intricacies that may have escaped Varma’s equally tiny intellect.

Varma sure has the article 19 behind him which guarantees him the freedom to speak his mind. But all I am saying is shouldn’t an opinion be backed by facts especially when it comes from a director who has spent decades in the industry? I mean, here was a man who gave us gems of a film like ‘Satya’, ‘Company’ and ‘Sarkaar’ – which explored concepts and story plots in ways that were never thought of in the 90s era Bollywood. To go from that to stoop so low so as to viciously attack a gifted actor is unbecoming of Varma, even as a man who has found new recognition for his foot-in-the-mouth comments. Varma, with your comments, you have effectively lost what little of a fan base that you may have had in Kerala — a state that nonetheless appreciates good cinema. Your insinuating remarks may have been followed by a half-hearted apology to Mammootty, but know that for us (who have preserved Mamukka as our personal pride in our hearts), your apology means zilch.

As for Dulquer, he is certainly a fine, emerging actor who has inherited some of the skills from his father (glimpses can be seen in ‘Bangalore Days’) but comparisons CANNOT be, rather SHOULD NOT, be made to his father. And who else better than Dulquer who cast aside all aspersions and put across a fitting response to Varma with this tweet. I don’t think anything more could have been said.

(PS: This blog post is a much civilized and toned-down version. Passions are much darker back home, Mr Varma)

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