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Ramgopal Varma

Art always imitates life. At least that's what filmmaker Ramgopal Varma believes.

Ramgopal Varma The director-producer has always been fascinated by issues with strong relevance to the common man. Company, his next cinematic adventure, sees him don the director's mantle after the 2000 release Jungle.

Company releases on April 12.

"Bacchke rehna, [Beware]" he warns Bharati Dubey:

What inspired Company?

I was inspired to make Satya by a man in my apartment complex. He and I met in the elevator at the same time every day. Suddenly, one day, I heard from his wife that he had been arrested.

You can never figure people out, can you? You wouldn't even know who your neighbour is. That is what life in Mumbai is all about.

Satya was loosely based on this. Also when I was researching for the film, I collected a lot of information on the underworld.

A still with Manisha Koirala and Ajay Devgan from Company So Company, in a sense, was born from Satya. I used the information to add the story of a couple. I also chanced on certain things where I began to understand the nitty-gritty of how these groups operate. I also met reporters and policemen to gain an understanding into the mechanics of the underworld. Company is about how the system works in totality. We keep hearing about organised crime; we just don't know what it is.

Let me make it very clear that it has nothing to do with what certain sections of the press have been writing about --- references to [underworld kingpins] Dawood [Ibrahim] and [Chhota] Rajan. The film is a fictional story.

What is the crux of the film, then?

If you want me to describe Company in one line, I would say Company is a team of people who get together to earn profit. This team comprises individuals who are different in terms of their level of thinking, intelligence and capabilities, desires and ambitions. Their internal conflicts mar the progress of the company. Obviously, in the underworld, these differences result in death and violence.

Surprisingly, when I probed into the politics, the actual working was no different from what I was told. That fascinated me.

Antara Mali and Vivek Oberoi star in Company At the end of the day, the company takes on a life of its own. It is the only organisation which is bigger than an employer or employee. And they don't realise that what a vicious circle they are getting into. They victimise, yet are victims of the systems. I thought it was interesting to draw a parallel to a normal thing and thereby get to the core of the issue.

When I met [Mumbai's Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime)] D Sivanandan, whom I perceived as a tough cop, I was surprised. He looked like one of my professors at college. I realised he was like a doctor who treats crime as a disease and criminals as his patients. He bears no personal grudges.

A line in the promotional booklet mentions fake encounters. What are you trying to hint at?

No, that is not true. The line implies that the police have to do their jobs. Sometimes, that means having to lie and use threats to get information. Here I'm driving home the fact that a cop doesn't always act within the law.

Do Company's protagonists live and die by the gun?

The violence one one cannot avoid. But that is not what the film is about. It's more about Company's politics. To separate crime and politics is absurd because crime has its own politics. That's the interesting parallel I have tried to draw in my film.

Who gave you the insider's view?

Many believe I know the underworld guys. A policeman even asked me this question. My point is when people see a film like Satya, they call it realistic. How do they know it is real if they haven't met a gangster?

As for me, I don't know any gangster. My information comes from the media.

What's with your obsession with films on the underworld?

I don't understand why it is made out to be that way. I have made 12 films --- Rangeela was a love story, Raat was a take-off on the supernatural, Daud was a spoof and Kaun, a suspense thriller.

I am not fascinated by crime. I have made only three films on the subject. But because of the impact they created, people feel I only make those kind of films.

Why don't you ask these romantic filmmakers why they are fascinated by romance? Ask Sooraj Barjatya why he loves making family dramas.

What made you cast Mohanlal as Sivanandan?

Mohanlal stars as Sivanandan in Company I thought Mohanlal had similar physical features as Sivanandan. He doesn't have a tough exterior and has a very gentle face. But he is such a fabulous actor that he makes you take him seriously when the time comes. I thought it was interesting to cast a man like him in a powerful role like this one.

People said your last film glorified crime. Is it true of Company?

First, I don't agree with the glorifying crime bit. I believe in bringing out the greys. I want people to understand for themselves, rather than show everything as black or white.

Everyone is looking forward to Vivek Oberoi who debuts in Company. Tell us how he was cast.

I had gone to Suresh's [Oberoi, Vivek's father] home to sign him for Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya when he introduced me to his son. I can't even recall my impression of him. He told me he had come to meet me for Jungle and that I had offered him a role. He had turned it down. I don't remember that either.

I was sitting at my office thinking about this character, about his body language, when Suresh dropped by. He asked me to look at his son's photographs. I told him I'd already seen Vivek but he insisted. And the moment I saw his picture, I knew had found my man.

I went home to watch Vivek's demonstration tape and was very impressed. He talks with his eyes; he isn't afraid of looking straight into the camera.

Vivek Oberoi stars in Company I told him I wanted to see him in character. And he came into the office the next day with complete makeup. I was talking to some people who were reluctant to cast Vivek. But as soon as he entered the office in his get-up, they changed their minds.

His performance shocked us even more. He hails from the industry. At his age, one would want to look good, be seen on magazine covers. But this guy is so focused. In this industry you either have a star or an actor. Vivek can be both.

What about Ajay?

I always liked Ajay's eyes, voice, his presence, his lazy body language and his lanky figure. But what surprised me was his ability to comprehend what I wanted. Because he was so trained in conventional mainstream cinema, I thought moulding him would be difficult. Surprisingly he understood the fastest. I can't imagine Company without Ajay.

What was the problem with Rinke Khanna?

In the beginning, when the story was still incomplete, I had spoken to Rinke. By the time I finished the character sketch, I felt she didn't suit the role. I was foolish to announce that Rinke was part of the film. It was not that Rinke couldn't deliver. It's just that her age and body language didn't suit the character. Antara Mali was my first choice and she's done a fabulous job.

Why is Urmila Matondkar missing from the film?

She appears in a song in the film.

Why do you an item song for each of your films?

Khallas is not an item song. All the songs form part of the narrative of the film.

Manisha in Company
On the sets of Company
The fast and the furious: The story in pictures
The Vivek Oberoi interview