RGV began his career working as an assistant director for films such as Rao Gari Illu and Collector Gari Abbai. With the help of his father who used to work as a sound recordist at the Annapurna Studios, RGV met the actor Nagarjuna and narrated a scene from the film that he had written. Impressed by Varma, Nagarjuna soon collaborated with him and in 1989 Varma made his directorial debut in Bollywood with the crime thriller, Siva. The movie was a commercial hit and went on to bag many awards. Subsequently, it was also listed on CNN-IBN’s list of 100 Greatest Films of All Time.
A couple of years later, in 1991, RGV directed Kshana Kshanam, which went on to become a super hit and he even won the Nandi Award for Best Direction, and Best Screenplay Writer for the movie. In the same year, Varma also directed the supernatural thriller Raaz that had Bipasha Basu and Dino Morea in the lead role. The movie impressed the audience and his directorial skills and expertise were highly appreciated. His notable Telugu and Tamil movies include Gaayam (1993), Thiruda Thiruda (1993), Govinda (1994), Anaganga Oka Raju (1997), Prem Katha (1999), Ice Cream (2014), Rowdy (2014), and Anukshanan (2014).
While Varma became to be known for his gritty and dark techniques of movie making, in 1994, he directed a romantic comedy, Rangeela, starring Aamir Khan, Jackie Shroff, and Urmila Matondkar. The movie was critically and commercially acclaimed and won seven Filmfare Awards as well, establishing Varma as one of the respected directors in Bollywood. However, Varma’s best work in Bollywood was yet to come. In the year 1998, Varma directed the movie Satya, a crime drama based on Mumbai’s underworld. Satya is regarded as a masterpiece in movie making and has received a cult status over the years. Satya was the first of the trilogy that he directed, which also includes Company (2002), and D (2005).
Varma’s love for the horror genre was evident as he later directed several horror movies including Bhoot (2003), Darna Mana Hai (2003), Darna Zaroori Hai (2006), Darling (2007), Phoonk (2008), Agyaat (2009). Of these movies, only Bhoot, and Darna Mana Hai left the audience impressed. In 2005, inspired by the Hollywood Classic, The Godfather, RGV directed Sarkar, starring Amitabh Bachchan. The movie was greeted well by the critics and was a super hit. In 2008, the sequel to Sarkar was released, titled Sarkar Raj, which was not as successful as the first part.
Although RGV had established himself as one of the better directors of Bollywood, he faced a lot of flak from the critics and audience for many of his movies. Films such as Darna Zaroori Hai, Nishabd, Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, Darling, Phoonk, and Agyaat received negative reviews, and RGV failed to deliver a decent Hindi movie for several years.
In 2013, Varma released theThe Attacks of 26/11, which was inspired by the gruesome 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Although the movie received positive reviews and critical acclamation, it failed commercially. In the same year, RGV directed Satya 2, which was a standalone movie and not a sequel to the 1998 movie Satya. The movie received a mixed response at the box office. Soon after the release, RGV hinted that he would not be directing movies on underworld anymore and would focus on making romantic movies.
In 2016, Ram Gopal Varma directed his first Kannada movie, Killing Veerappan, a docudrama. The movie is inspired by the true events that eventually led to the death of the notorious Indian bandit Veerappan.