A Ram Gopal Varma film can be the best launch pad in Bollywood. It can also be a heavy tag to lug around - but his protégés don't seem to mind.
Remember Himanshu Malik? He played Urmila Matondkar's cowardly boyfriend in "Jungle", a Varma movie, and vanished. He played the second lead in Anubhav Sinha's "Tum Bin" and disappeared again.
It's only now that Malik has snapped out of oblivion to play what he calls an important role in Mahesh Manjrekar's "Rakht".
Says Malik, "I play a lawyer. It isn't a central role for sure. But it's a new beginning in a set up where I'm definitely going to be noticed.
"I also have pivotal roles in Ekta Kapoor's new thriller 'Koi Aap Sa',Pooja Bhatt'a 'Rog' and Samit Batkar's 'Jackpot'...Do I regret doing the role in 'Jungle'?
"Not at all. One has to start somewhere. And what better learning place than Ram Gopal Varma's production? You learn so much just being around."
Nakul Vaid was brilliant as the rookie cop in Varma's "Ab Tak Chappan". So why is his career in a start-stop mode now?
"I've no clue why I haven't been approached with good offers after 'Chappan'.
"I'm waiting for Karan Johar et al to discover me now, ha... ha... But it's a fact that my career didn't take off the way Manoj Bajpai's career did after he did Varma's 'Satya'."
Chakravarthy, who played the title role in 'Satya', vanished from Mumbai thereafter.
Aftab Shivdasani ("Mast") and Fardeen Khan ("Jungle") were also associated with Varma films. But they came into their own only later. There was Ramman Trikha in "Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon". And now there's Tusshar Kapoor in "Gayab".
Heroines Urmila Matondkar and Antara Mali were practically given a fresh lease of life by Varma's films. But those are also the movies for which they are best known.
Why, Manoj Bajpai is a perfect illustration of a Varma protégé.
Having starred in films like "Satya", "Kaun" and "Road", he reportedly asked for pending remuneration from Varma's company. But the incident allegedly led to his falling off the producer-director's list of favourites.
But then the actor will always be remembered for "Satya", a Varma film that practically launched his career in Bollywood.
The Varma brand name can mean a lot to a newcomer.
Says Vivek Oberoi, who starred in "Company": "At least his films gave newcomers an opportunity to be noticed.
"Even though Ramuji (Varma) and I no longer work together, we continue to meet. He never claims to be making anyone's career but uses newcomers as ingredients, which is the best way to look at it.
"Ramuji gives newcomers a platform. Whether they capitalise on the initial advantage or doesn't is not his business. There are so many people that Subhash Ghai gave a break to. Not all of them became successful. Would you blame Ghai for it?
"Many producer-fathers launch their sons. They don't make it! It's definitely a huge bonus to start in a Ram Gopal Varma film.
"Before I got 'Company' I was offered a small role in 'Jungle'. When I refused it, I was told he'll never approach me again. But he gave me 'Company' a year later and admitted he'd have never thought of me for this film if I had done 'Jungle'. So the way an individual's career goes also depends on the way you handle your career," Vivek says.
Adds Nakul Vaid, "Sure I did not get any tempting offers after 'Ab Tak Chappan'. But whatever recognition I have is because of that film. So I'm better off."