Satya and Ram Gopal Varma: Whose Truth is it Anyway?

Note- This is the 2nd part of my Satya story. The 1st part can be seen here.

–> Disclaimer: There is a term called ‘The Rashomon Effect‘; in which observers of an event produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of ‘the truth’.

So it is possible, that my truth, may differ from yours…

1997.

Satya 1998Sequences from Satya were getting a fabulous response from those that previewed it. We were editing alongside the filming. Ramu was a very instinctive director and was confident enough to alter characters & screenplay as he went along. His vision was broadening before our eyes. Saurabh Shukla was on set playing Kallu Mama as well as collaborating as a writer. Anurag Kashyap too was writing on location, other times he wrote in the evenings at Ramu’s large but modest Four Bungalows apartment.

It was a vodka/whisky darbar and young non-drinkers (or beer-drinkers like me) spent evenings like this without a glass. I can be corny and say that we were intoxicated in the air of a brilliant collaboration! The fit and pretty Urmila Matondkar hung out with us too, she was warm and charming, a complete departure from her cold & reserved self on set.

Along with the other assistants like Barnali Ray (now Shukla), Pradnya Lokhande (now Sharma), Feroze and Dev, I too pondered about the plausibility of the Ramu-Urmila affair as was reported. We looked for clues in those casual evenings, and convened later on to exchange notes. My close friends would often ask for gossip and I would try to look for evidence. If you’re eager to know, I never did find it; nothing conclusive at least.

First day of shooting. 12th of August 1997.

The location was a stinky stable in the suburb of Jogeshwari where Manoj Pahwa’s character introduces Satya to his new home. I wasn’t sure about Chakri’s dialogue delivery, but there was comfort in the talk that it might be dubbed later. A few hours into the shoot Ramu received a phone-call. I saw before my eyes the blood drain from his face. His friend, media baron Gulshan Kumar had been murdered, riddled indiscriminately with bullets.

Ramu became very disturbed. We stopped work and followed him around for more news, he was among the few with a mobile-phone. It dawned upon me for the first time, how close to the truth our film was. Ramu was taking a great risk by making a film on the extortion enterprise while gangsters still ruled Bombay. I didn’t know then, that much of the film’s story-flow would be altered post this incident.

‘Chakri & Manjo’

I liked Chakri (Chakravarti). He came from an acting background that I was familiar with. My mother is a Telugu girl and I had seen many Telegu films while growing up. I empathized with Chakri’s discomfort with Hindi and we spent a lot of time together, discussing his plans for the character. I was also privy to Chakri’s soft-spot for another crewmember and I often dispensed to him the wisdom of a 19 year-old.

Manoj Bajpai also became a close friend. I called him ‘Manjo’. Manoj often hitched a ride with me on my rickety-old Kinetic Honda, came out clubbing with me and my friends, and even had a few drinks with my father. Manoj had the utmost awe for the work I was doing, and encouraged me to follow my style. One day Manoj signed an agreement with me stating that he would act in my 1st film for 2 rupees. Even though it was written on a paper napkin, I was sure that it would stand the test of time. Manoj was a talent like we had never seen before, and I remember feeling like I had hit the jackpot.

I learned much later that ‘editors are an actors best friend’. So when I bonded recently with the talented Rajkumar Yadav during the making of Shahid, we added a line to this pearl of wisdom…‘till the film is complete.’ 😉

Chakri and Manoj were another ‘hit-duo’ from Satya, who’s celluloid chemistry didn’t exactly come from admiration for the other. Their rivalry was less subdued than the other’s, and it worked wonders for the film. It was the battle of the North Indian vs the South Indian, of the NSD actor vs the commercial actor. I thought that both vied to be Ramu’s pet actor. But then everyone was in awe of Mr Varma, he commanded it effortlessly.

I had mentioned in my previous blog, the tension between Anurag & Saurabh, and I think from Anurag’s reactions to my blog, that he took my claim very seriously. I didn’t mean to say that their friction over credit on the promo caused any bad blood. It seemed quite innocent, and was obviously channeled correctly, which is why they wrote a cracker of a film. Besides the ones mentioned above, there were a couple of other ‘teams’ that struggled for their individual place in the sun.

Two’s Company

Satya-Manoj Bajpai with ChakravarthyLet me pose a few questions, and see if there is a one-word/one name answer that comes to mind.
To whom would you attribute the cinematography of Satya?’ Would you say it was the American veteran DP Gerhard Hooper or the realistic documentary cameraman, Mazhar Kamran? Both were eventually credited.

Whose words were Satya really based on?’ Were they Saurabh Shukla’s–who was basking from his association with the semantic Bandit Queen & Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi or were they Anurag Kashyap’s–who was this wonder-kid that everyone was talking about and had just written Jayate (Hansal Mehta’s first tryst with the courtroom). Both were credited.

Who’s music will Satya be remembered for?’ Vishal Bharadwaj’s?–The man who infused emotion into the film with songs like the dreamy Badalon se kaat kaat ke or Sandeep Chowta–who’s stark and intense themes reverberated in a shattering new system called DTS. Both were credited.

Who actually edited Satya?‘ Apurva Asrani, the urban kid who had made promos for Sanjay Bhansali’s Khamoshi and Ramu’s Daud or was it Bhanodaya-the Telegu editor who had earlier edited Ramu’s Ana Ganaga Oku Roju & Daud? Both were credited.

While Manoj-Chakri, Saurabh-Anurag, Gerry-Mazhar, Vishal-Sandeep will be best suited to answer how they felt about sharing credit at the time, they will also be able to tell you why why none of them ever teamed up again. I can only tell you how I felt. I got asked for years, ‘who edited Satya?’ and that question used to make me angry. I guess, the simplest thing for me would have been to say ‘we both did’. But to me, that would have been a diplomatic answer, not neccesarily an honest one.

Jump Cut to: Bhanodaya

If I remember right, Satya was the first Hindi film to be cut on Avid. We were choosing a work-flow that required us to make a print from the negative, transfer the print to tape, digitize the tapes onto the hard disk and then start editing. The process was fascinating and I think we used Avid to its fullest potential to maintain a fresh & compelling rhythm, now synonymous with the film. But it is when the film was edited, and the technical process had to be reversed, that Ramu began to get angsty. He was nervous about matching the negative to an Avid produced cut-list. He was worried that something may go wrong with the negative. He began to feel that his judgment would work best if he saw a print before locking the film. So, Ramu brought in his Daud editor Bhanodaya, specifically to match the print to the list.

What I didn’t see coming, was that I would have to share credit with Bhanodaya. This came as a bolt from the blue. I first heard about it from Ramu’s cousin, Satya’s Executive Producer, Som Shekhar. I felt somewhat cheated by Ramu and began to find it impossible make-up lies about how Bhanodaya had co-edited the film. Jitesh Pillai, then the bright kid at Filmfare had interviewed me for his magazine, and had asked me about Bhano. I remember saying, ‘I don’t know Bhano, I never met him during the editing of the film’. It was the truth, but my lack of diplomacy and patience brought out the arrogance in me.

What made things worse were the rumors going around. I would hear that Ramu had gone about telling people that I had only cut the promos of the film, and that Bhano was the editor. Now whether the rumors were true or whether people were fanning my anger, I was too naïve to know.

Filmfare Awards, February 1998

I remember the night of the Filmfare awards when the award for ‘Best Editing’ was announced. I was sitting among my loved ones who became very emotional and pushed me towards the stage to collect the award. As I walked, from the corner of my eye, I looked at a familiar man, wearing a black shirt, who also began walking towards the podium. I remember thinking ‘I hardly know that man, have not had a single creative exchange with him, but he is sharing my award.’ Bhanodaya was being celebrated for my work, and it just didn’t make sense.

There was only one award statuette. So I buckled my speed. Bhanodaya also walked faster. He had had the advantage of being two rows ahead–with Ramu. I was like an energizer bunny, high from the industry’s acknowledgment of my skills, but somewhat wounded by the sudden U-turn of my mentor. I somehow got to Jeetendra and Poonam Dhillon first, and they handed me the statuette. Bhanodaya followed behind me and shook hands with them after I did. As I held up the coveted statuette in the air, a much shorter Bhanoday reached for it, touched it, and smiled.

If only I had known then, that I would get opportunities to prove myself again; to be part of some meaningful cinematic attempts. If I had know then that I would see other awards and some rewards that are far greater than trophies, I would have shared that award gracefully with Bhanodaya. After all, his efforts touched the final product too.

So my dear colleague Bhanodaya, I guess it isn’t too late to say ‘Congratulations….! for our Filmfare award for Satya!’

Note- You can check out Apurva’s blog here and follow him on Twitter here

11 Comments

  1. Salil says:

    My goodness… It all the same everywhere…. though Chowta and Bharadwaj crediting is chalk and cheese…. And top billing for writing credits is always controversial, yet 2 writers can and work very well in Tandem for a film. But I could never understand this 2 editor thing (Unless they are a team and divide work like Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall… Still I can’t completely comprehend)…. Thanks for explaining this situation….

    I have a question here… When you were cutting it on avid… did you also grade the film? was some amount of detail lost in conversion? ..

    Other than that, my other doubt is still not cleared … Two DOPs for one film? How does that work? On Set were there 2 camera systems? I can’t really understand….

    Like

    1. Apurva Asrani (@Apurvasrani) says:

      I didnt grade the film. That was done at adlabs if i’m not mistaken. I dont think Mazhar Kamran was supposed to be credited from the start. He was Gerry’s assistant/associate. When Gerry went back and there must hv been some patchwork–Ramu decided to credit him too. Mazhar & Gerry though were a team. Mazhar spoke the desi tongue and knew his way around.

      Like

      1. Salil says:

        “Knew his way around”… Got it…. Thanks 🙂

        Like

  2. Salil says:

    And Ramu used to attend awards then? :O 😀

    That’s news to me…. 🙂

    Like

    1. Apurva Asrani (@Apurvasrani) says:

      Satya made news as the 1st film to receive a 5 star rating from critic Khalid Mohd. Who was also the editor of Filmfare. Satya had several nominations, there was no way Ramu wouldnt hv been there.

      Like

      1. Kushal K Shah says:

        haha. I had read that Khalid had reprimanded Ramu and told him who wants to see sweaty-beardy faces and the BGM was more of noise at a special preview of the film. and once the film was released and liked by one and all;he conveniently changed stands.Is it true?

        Like

  3. Sethumadhavan says:

    And again fantastic read, thanx for all the insight Apurva. Let me tell you that in an informal poll/discussion among our authors on “The best Hindi film” in the last 15 years Satya ranked very,very high. In fact Dil Se was the only serious competition for Satya so you can make out how highly we all regard the film. While I’m willing to be proved wrong by Satya-2 my mind & heart tells me that it won’t be anywhere close to the brilliance of Satya.BTW just like the QSQT is having a 25th year reunion tomorrow why can’t you guys plan something to celebrate 15th anniversary of Satya? 🙂

    Like

    1. Apurva Asrani (@Apurvasrani) says:

      thx Sethu. Its gr8 to know that Satya has found such a place in cinematic history. Ofcourse while we were doing it, none of us knew tat 5 yrs later thr wud still be such an interest. We were just a bunch of kids who needed to prove ourselves. About the 15 yr re-union, Barnali Ray, who assisted on the film & I were planning it. We soon realized that it might not ever be possible. Why? Maybe that calls for a post in itself 😉

      Like

  4. crazyrals says:

    really kind of you to share such details and brave enough to write that you found no ‘conclusive evidence’ of the affair 🙂
    anyways, whenever i hear/read stories like these, i feel really bad on how the value of awards have gone down due to the fact that they are doled out to non-deserving people. the true worth of award is known only to people who have put in their hardwork and want to be recognised for it. for other non-deserving people, award categories are created; what a shame!
    u deserved the award, congrats again for that … u earned it 🙂

    Like

    1. Apurva Asrani (@Apurvasrani) says:

      thanks very much! I think the awards arent so unfair for technical people. Its mainly for those who are allowed to speak on the mic at awards, that it may hv gone down 😉

      Like

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