The build up to Satya
I had been assisting Ramu sir since 1989. My first film was ‘Shiva’ (JD played the antagonist with Nagarjuna playing the hero). Ramu sir had produced about 20 films with me. It was in 1997, I had just entered my sister’s house in the US and 15 minutes later, the phone rang. It was Ram Gopal Varma. He started off by asking, “Chakri, how are you?” It was strange because he never does small talk. When I said, “I’m fine”, he lovingly asked me, “Chakri, when are you coming back?” When I said in a month, he asked, “Can you come back tomorrow?”
I got my flight ticket back to India through great difficulty. I directly came back to Mumbai and met Ramu sir. He looked at me and he was very disappointed. I had met him three days ago and he was reacting as if he was seeing me for the first time. I had done some shopping on the way back and I was wearing baggy Tommy Hilfiger jeans. He couldn’t see his Satya in me.
I came back to Hyderabad and because of the hectic traveling, I got a fever. Ramu sir came back to Hyderabad and he must have felt bad that he asked me to come back all the way, so he decided to pay me a visit at my home. There was no one at home so when he came, I had to open the door. I had a 102-degree fever and was in bad shape. He looked at me and said, “Wow! I have found my Satya.” That’s how ‘Satya’ began. But, when I asked Ramu sir what exactly was the script of ‘Satya’, he said, “I don’t have a script yet.”
Daud’s failure almost shut Satya’s production down
We were making ‘Daud’ at that time. Ramu sir said, “Chakri, ‘Daud’ bahot buri tarah se pitne wali hai.” In Daud’s Telugu version, I was the hero and Urmila was the heroine. It was called ‘Anaganaga Oka Roju’, which translates to ‘Achanak Ek Din’ in Hindi. That was considered to be one of the cult films in Telugu. I don’t know what convinced RGV that ‘Daud’ would be a flop.
Ramu sir said, “Let’s delay ‘Daud’ for a while and shoot ‘Satya’ for 10-15 days. Because jab ‘Daud’ pitegi tab koi bada hero mere saath kaam nahi karega.” So Ramu sir went to financier Bharat Shah. Bharat Bhai had always believed in Ramu sir, so he committed to funding ‘Satya’ with me. Ramu sir had a basic idea of ‘Satya’ and he knew that he had enough material to shoot for 15 days. He said, “Let’s shoot this much and after Daud’s release we will work on Satya’s story.”
‘Daud’ released and it ended up being a flop. By that time Ramu sir had shot ‘Satya’ for 15-20 days. Bharat Bhai couldn’t back out and he was in doubt about going ahead as well. It was because a big film like ‘Daud’ with Sanjay Dutt and Urmila Matondkar had flopped. Aur hum sab lukkhon ko lekar kya banayenge film? ‘Satya’ was such an underdog film. But Gulzar saab was already writing lyrics for us and Vishal Bhardwaj was doing the music. Their collaboration, ‘Maachis’, had already been released. The actors in the industry were talking about the film. So, ‘Satya’ started taking shape.
Urmila Matondkar had replaced Mahima Chaudhary
Our first heroine was Mahima Chaudhary. We had 3-4 sessions with her. I think designer Manish Malhotra was also there and he had come up with a few options for Mahima’s look. Suddenly, one fine day Ramu sir said, “Chakri, there’s a little change in the casting.” Even before he could ask me to guess, I said, “Urmila?” He said, “You have started reading my mind now.”
Urmila and I were best friends by the time ‘Satya’ was made. I was the AD In Urmila’s first Telugu film ‘Antham’, which was called ‘Drohi’ in Hindi. I was the only guy who could speak a little Hindi and English on set. So, whenever we had to tell her the meaning of certain Telugu words, I would do that. We also worked on a film titled ‘Gaayam’. Our film ‘Anaganaga Oka Roju’, in which I was the lead along with her, was a super hit. We were best buddies at that point in time.
Gulshan Kumar’s murder stopped Satya’s shoot
We were shooting somewhere near Mira Road in Mumbai’s suburbs. I don’t know what happened but Ramu sir started getting a number of calls on his phone. It was during the monsoons, so there was a light drizzle. After shooting on the road, we were supposed to shoot on the first floor of a building. I was also part of the direction department in ‘Satya’. Because of my close proximity to RGV, I went up to him and I could see that something was going wrong. Then he cut the call and said, “Mr Gulshan Kumar has been shot. I think we should call off the shoot.” Ramu sir had very good relations with Gulshan sir. I knew he would call off the shooting for a day or two.
When we were preparing to resume the shooting, I don’t know who kept calling Ramu sir, but they told him to stop the filming. Initially, I thought it was a threat from the underworld. But it wasn’t that. Why would the underworld bother with a bunch of newbies making a film, even if it is about the underworld? Now, if you ask Ramu sir, he may deny it, but I think some bigwigs from the film industry were calling him to stop the film. I overheard his conversation. He said, “What makes you think I am glorifying them? I am just documenting the truth.” There was huge pressure on Ramu sir.
The story behind making the iconic, ‘Goli Maar Bheje Mein’ song
I was also editing the film and designing sound. I was taking care of the entire post-production in Chennai. Vishal Bhardwaj had already recorded the songs, so I was getting them dubbed. While dubbing I thought that the ‘Goli Maar Bheje Mein’ song could be better. So, I made a version of that song myself, other than the one done by Vishal and Ramu sir. A well-known singer Nagoor Babu had sung the dubbed version of ‘Goli Maar Bheje Mein’. He was known for singing the famous ‘Mukkabla’ song (With Prabhu Dheva’s iconic dance). When I was getting the second version recorded, I was shocked to see Ramu sir and his assistants including Anurag Kashyap walking into the studio.
When Ramu sir heard the version, he looked at me and said, “Who the hell are you to change this tune?” I told him that I have the original version, too. He asked, “So, you’re giving me a consolation prize? Who the hell are you?” He started walking away. My intention was to make the song a little peppy.
Anurag was my junior. I was the Chief AD. Ramu sir and Anurag got into the car and drove away. I couldn’t chase them because I did not have a car. I kept calling Anurag but he was not taking my call. Finally, at 10:30 in the night, Anurag called me back. He said, “Ramu sir felt really bad.” He informed me that they were back in Mumbai. The next morning, I got a call from Vishal Bhardwaj. And Vishal is such a sweet guy, he said very nicely, “Chakri, I named my studio after ‘Satya’, and put a huge six feet photo of yours. I didn’t expect this from you. It’s really unfair.” I used to have a good equation with Vishal. And then Anurag told me that Ramu sir had called me back to Mumbai.
I took the flight to Mumbai and went straight to Vishal Bhardwaj’s studio in Mhada, Andheri. Manoj Bajpayee, Anurag Kashyap and Saurabh Shukla were all there. On the right, upon entering the studio was Vishal’s personal room. It was such a filmy scene. I could see the door was half-open and Ramu sir was pissed off. And they were closing the door. He didn’t want to look at me. I thought to myself, “Main toh gaya kaam se. Yeh banda mujhe iss film se nikaal dega. Pagal aadmi hai. Kuch bhi kar sakta hai.” I had worked with him for 10 years.
Manoj came to me and said, “Kya Chakri saab, aap bhi na hadd kar dete ho.” Vishal was also not ready to see me. One of them was holding the door of the room and through that constant opening and closing, I caught both of them laughing. I sensed that something was fishy. So, I opened the door and asked them what was happening.
They all started laughing. Ramu sir was actually pissed off. When he was sitting in the car in Chennai, he was thinking, “Who the hell is this guy? I have let him take me for granted. He had assisted me and I have given him roles in my films but who the hell is he to change the music of my film?” It was a two-and-a-half-hour flight back to Mumbai and when they landed, Anurag said, “Ramu, have you realised one thing?” Ramu said, “What?” Anurag replied, “For the past two and half hours you have been humming what Chakri recorded.” Ramu started singing and said, “Yehi toh apna tune hai na?” Anurag said, “Yeh apna nahi, Chakri ka hai.”
When they made Vishal listen to the tune I had made, he said, “This is superb.” He said that the Hindi song should be made the exact way I had done the Telugu version. The original Hindi song was sung by KK and Suresh Wadkar. Vishal said, “Aapki marzi, naya gaana kisi se bhi gawa lo.” So I called Nagoor Babu who had sung the Telugu version. Vishal said that he will not interfere with the song because it was not his composition anymore. That’s how that song came to life. Thanks to Ramu sir who retained it and to Vishal sir who appreciated it.
Manoj Bajpayee was afraid of Satya’s failure
Manoj was doing a television film with Mahesh Bhatt saab. He would often drop by when I was editing the film. Manoj would always tell me, “Chakri bhai yeh film nahin chalegi.” Not that he didn’t want the film to succeed. He is a very good actor, there are no two ways about it. But nothing was happening for him in terms of films or TV. So, he was disappointed. I would tell him that I have edited a scene today and it has come out nice. And he would say, “Arey Chakri bhai film hum log hee shoot karte hain aur edit karte hain. Achha toh lagega hee.” Makarand Deshpande and I were already friends. I had worked with Paresh Rawal in three films in the South. I had worked with most of the actors of ‘Satya’ before. The only people new to me were Manoj and Shefali Shah.
When Shah Rukh Khan called…
On July 2, an evening before Satya’s release, I got a call from Mani Ratnam. Mani was already a dear friend at that point in time. He had watched ‘Satya’ and I asked if he liked the film. He said, “Somebody wants to talk to you.” That somebody took the phone and said, “Salaam Alaikum.” I said, “Walekum Assalam, kaun bol rahe hain?” The person said, “Doesn’t matter who is talking, just answer one question. If ‘Satya’ is to become a disaster, what do you think we should do?” I asked him, “May I know your good name please?” He said, “What’s there in the name?” I said, “It’s important. Tell me your name.” He said, “My name is Shah Rukh Khan”.
I got offended. I said, “Shah Rukh, I am not as talented and intelligent as you. You tell me what we should do if ‘Satya’ turns out to be a disaster.” Shah Rukh said, “It’s simple. ‘Satya’ mein jo JD Chakravarthy hain na usko nikaal kar film mein Shah Rukh Khan ko daal do.” I said, “I don’t understand.”
He said, “Agar aap mujhe film mein daaloge toh main film ka one two ka four kar doonga.” I understood he was joking with me. SRK added, “You are so, bloody good man. And the film is so good.” I love the way he gave me the compliment. I think he was shooting for ‘Dil Se’ with Mani Ratnam at that time.
Tabu freaked out and cried after watching ‘Satya’
The film was complete and we had organised one show at Famous Studios. All the cast and crew members were invited. Outsiders were few in numbers. By that time, I had watched the film a number of times. I had seen the copy much before Ramu Sir had seen the copy. So, my excitement level was not as much as others. After seeing the copy in Madras, our mixing engineer H Sridhar, who was sitting next to me on the floor, told me, “Don’t show this film to your mother. No mother can see her son dying. Your death in the film is so real.” Ramu sir called me and said, “Tabu has seen the film and she was crying thinking that I was really dead.”
An introduction to R Madhavan
At the Famous Studios screening, everyone including Bharat Bhai genuinely clapped. One guy came to me and said, “Chief, never seen a better film than this. Please remember my name. My name is R Madhavan.”
‘Satya’ had the journey of an underdog, even after release
Nobody from the industry thought or knew anything about the film. Everyone started telling Ramu ji that the worst thing about the film were the songs. Remove the songs. Ramu sir said, “No. It’s going with the flow.” See, in the South, we were sold out because Ramu ji and I had become big names by that time. But Satya was not a South film. It was a Hindi film set in Mumbai. A distributor offered very little money for the film. I still remember the line Ramu sir said, “If I have made a film for 6 crore and they are offering me 2 crore, I am taking a risk of 4 crore. And I think it’s an insult. I won’t beg-borrow anymore.” Nobody liked the film.
Shringaar, our distributors, liked the film, but they released the film on a commission basis, that too purely because we were releasing the film on our own, so the risk was ours. We decided that July 3 will be our release date. Everyone said it was the wrong date since it was monsoon. But Ramu sir just wanted to release the film and see how it performs. We were all together and the film was released. The first day morning show had only 20-25% occupancy. The 2 o’clock show got about 40%. At Mumbai’s iconic Eros Theatre, Ramu sir and I were actually in for a shock. When we were seated with the audience, we could see that some guys were mouthing the dialogue even before they appeared in the film. We realised that these guys had come for the morning and afternoon shows and had come again for the night show. Others were a fresh audience. The night show had more than 90% occupancy. All the media outlets the next day said it had an ‘okay’ sort of opening.
Satya opened new doors and opportunities
Ramu sir used to say, “You believe in the film more than me”. I didn’t do anything in Telugu for two years. Ramu sir started 2-3 Telugu films and he wanted to make them immediately. So, even before ‘Satya’ was released, we had started working on those films. I had offers from Subhash Ghai and Ratan Jain.
The genius of Ram Gopal Varma
The story of a successful film will have 200 faults. People might think that the makers work on each and every detail for years to make a film. That’s not the absolute truth. We did all of that in ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag’, too.
As you would know, success is a bastard and failure is an orphan. When a film is successful everyone wants to brag how they contributed to it. But when the film flops nobody wants to take responsibility. Whatever we may feel today, ‘Satya’ is only one man’s vision and that’s Ram Gopal Varma. Whatever editing, sound and songs I have done for the film, were based on his vision. While he liked what I had done, there were also times when he had told me that something was not working.