Ram Gopal Varma

Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Cast: Mia Malkova, Renan Severo
Streaming Platform: ShreyasET

Ram Gopal Varma is a case study in hubris, a man whose filter between his worst idea, and his next film is often missing. His latest, Climax, is a 52-minute movie about a couple going camping in the desert, and the odd things that happen to them. The couple is a Brazilian man, with an indecipherable accent, whose character description is the summation of his exposed abs, and an American woman. Mia Malkova, the pornographer, who was also in Varma’s documentary God, Sex and Truth (2018) plays the female lead. She’s shrill, intuitive, and has 6 changes of lingerie over the two-day duration of the film. 

The film itself is an unabashed ode to Malkova’s thighs, much like Varma dedicated his autobiography to Sri Devi’s thighs. The camera knows nowhere else to look, and a muddy oasis in the middle of a desert is designed to get her wet and out of all her clothes. There is a scene where she climbs a tall sand-dune in the nude, and it builds up to a moment of suspense but then it is quickly forgotten. It is entirely unnecessary, but then again, the same argument could be made about the film. Their existence is a flip-off to propriety, reason, and craft as we know it. Some call it gutsy, some foolhardy, I see it as a rebel-without-a-cause, that is pushing no boundary. 

All this aside, the primary reason the film doesn’t work is because it isn’t sure of what it wants to do. This is not to say that films must attach themselves to genres, but there must be some sense of a broader vision. (In Varma’s previous films that worked, there is an acute sense of characters being built up and broken down, as opposed to characters being wrung through awful circumstances only to learn nothing and become nothing.) What is the broader vision here, if there is even one?  

My first guess was porn. But this isn’t a pornographic film by a mile, despite Varma’s comments about thighs, the title, the promos, and the release date and time, June 6,9 p.m. Sure, it’s an excuse to gaze at well-sculpted thighs, but once you get used to the lecherous gaze of the camera, you wonder if there’s more he is trying to push for, for this is a digital release, bereft of the claws of the moralizing Certification Board that censors. But he doesn’t. It’s just regular RGV’s stale fixation on flesh. But this time, she is white. 

Then, there’s the action chase sequence and the odd horror undertones, trying to borrow from the Weird Western film Bacurau’s (2019) mood and method, but none of this lilts or even works because it’s just so random, with no motive or mandate. There’s a zombie sub-plot which is quite comical because the actors are just awful and zombie-like in their demeanor anyways. 

Varma is acutely aware of what his critics say, often using that very line of questioning to cement his point. But my gripe with him and his films is quite different. It’s the obvious laziness and accompanying entitlement that has slipped into his craft. You walk into a Ram Gopal Varma film knowing exactly what you are going to get, and in that sense are rarely disappointed. But what made Varma the toast of the town at the turn of the millennium was his erratic experimental sensibilities, which now seem to have all but dried up. At one point in this film, there’s a bulging zombie crowd overlooking a crucifixion. And as much of an atheist you might be, you will find yourself on your knees praying for a resurrection, of the RGV of yore. 

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