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‘Broken Horses’ – Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Hollywood ambition

‘Broken Horses’ – Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Hollywood ambition

April 6 2015

One of India’s most successful filmmakers makes his first production outside India and was inspired by an early brush with the Oscars…

THERE can be little doubt that Vidhu Vinod Chopra is one of the most remarkable figures to have emerged from Indian cinema in the past 20 years or so.

His Hollywood foray, he said, is inspired by his experience of attending the Oscars ceremony in 1979. His first film, a documentary about child slum dwellers, was nominated but alas, he didn’t win and had to sit next to Jane Fonda in Kurta pyjamas because he couldn’t afford a tuxedo.

How times have come full circle – “Broken Horses” cost $20 million (£14m) to make and as Chopra says in our video interview, he spent time researching the story and had a base to work from in Los Angeles.

This film “Broken Horses” is based on “Parinda” (see below) which also features two brothers who find themselves on divergent paths, only to be drawn closer together by adverse circumstances. “Broken Horses” is set on the US-Mexico and in the video interview, he tells us why he chose to make this the location of his first Hollywood film.

Something of a maverick – Chopra, who has managed to make a string of hit Bollywood movies, told us off camera he wasn’t much enamoured with that particular style of moviemaking himself.

In fact, he used some choice words but his involvement in some of the biggest hits – including the latest “PK” the highest grossing Indian film of its day, and “3 Idiots”, which earlier held the same accolade, actually illustrates a deep understanding of what Bollywood often lacks for the more discerning viewer.

There’s nothing wrong in a three-hour long tamasha mixing romance, tragedy, melodrama, comedy, dance and music. Many Bollywood films are a mash-up of different genres and audiences there expect and enjoy this.

Vittoria (Maria Valvedere) with Jacob Heckum (Anton Yelchin) in 'Broken Horses'

However, Chopra along with the director Rajukumar Hirani (part of the same team) often bring a different aesthetic but plant it still within a recognisably Indian/Bollywood context that works.

If he can transfer the same facility from Bollywood to Hollywood, he may just cross a significant barrier.

One that has to date only really been crossed by Shekhar Kapur, who made “Bandit Queen” (1994) with Channel 4, before making “Elizabeth” (1998) – an English a movie as you could get but with an Indian director at the helm.

Chopra’s roll call of movies is hugely impressive and endorsements from James Cameron and Alfonso Cuarón can only help his cause.

Prior to “Broken Horses”, there has been the ‘Munna bhai’ series, (2003) about a gangster who eventually repents and finds honesty and Gandhian values along the way. The two films featuring ‘Munna Bhai’ (the central character played by Indian screen legend Sanjay Dutt) was both a critical and commercial smash. It entertained while having a serious message.

Similarly, “3 Idiots” (2009) is a lot of fun and based based on hit Indian author Chetan Bhagat’s “Five Point Someone” and points at the absurdity of some of India’s education system, while still being a movie about three friends making their way their way in the world.

The film “Parineeta” (2005) is a period drama that starts in 1962 and is based on the 1914 novella by the famous Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. A romantic musical, it had high production values and featured well-established Bollywood stars, Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan. It enjoyed many festival outings across the world and was adapted for the screen by Chopra and produced by him.

In 2000, Chopra’s “Mission Kashmir”, was both a critical and commercial success and really put him in a strong position within the Indian film industry. Suketu Mehta responsible for the classic reportage “Maximum City” about Mumbai/Bombay, was just one of several writers of the original story, which also included Chopra. The film was something of a lament for Chopra, who hails from the region.

Chopra’s first big film breakthrough came with “Parinda” (1989), a crime drama film that was recognised for its social realism and featured established Bollywood actors Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar and Madhuri Dixit. The film won a number of awards and established Chopra as someone with a strongly identifiable style of filmmaking.

Chopra trained at the Film and Television Institute in Pune and his first film a documentary, “An Encounter with Faces” was nominated for an Oscar.

Top picture: Vinod Vidhu Chopra in our interview; Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio) Buddy Heckum (Chris Marquette)

Film releases Friday, April 10 (UK)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture