Covering Bollywood in London is a bit like walking out to open the batting without a groin protector and with Wasim and Waqar bowling.
You just hope for the best.
Questions at press conferences follow an embarrassingly routine pattern – “Can you tell me a little about your role?”, “Can you tell me a little about the story?” etc.
This is primarily due to a bizarre reluctance by studios to have preview screenings for journalists – a practice that is standard from LA to Timbuktu – over concerns about “piracy”. Hollywood studios regularly hold preview screenings – in London “anti-piracy” measures include confiscating mobile phones and a burly doorman/anti-piracy campaigner taking regular walkabouts inside the screening room.
Whatever the actual reason, Bollywood’s inability to give journalists something to talk about is mildly irksome at best – in the case of a Shah Rukh Khan release, for instance – and deeply annoying when the film in question is as full of promise as ‘Broken Horses’, the Hollywood directorial debut of Bollywood mega-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra (It may be his Hollywood debut but the film is produced and distributed by Reliance and UTV).
Journalists in London have not seen the film but at least ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron has, claiming the “lean and sparse” film “wraps around you like a King snake and squeezes” the life out of you.
It’s quite an endorsement, one which is only bettered by that of the visionary Mexican film director Alfonso Cuaron who said he had been “overwhelmed” by Chopra’s creation.
All of which makes the exercise of interviewing Chopra – about the film for we are specifically barred from asking anything about Anupama, for instance – something of a futile exercise.
The little that we do know about ‘Broken Horses’ is that it is co-written by Chopra’s long-term writing partner Abhijat Joshi. Whilst the film – thankfully – isn’t a “star vehicle”, it does feature a host of fine working actors, including Anton Yelchin, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chris Marquette, Maria Valverde and the peerless Vincent D’Onofrio.
Despite rumours that the film is inspired variously by the likes of ‘Goodfellas’, ‘The Departed’, etc, Chopra confirms ‘Broken Horses’ is a re-working of his 1989 cult hit ‘Parinda’ which tells the story of two brothers, one of whom becomes a gangster to fund his younger sibling’s education.
For Broken Horses, the action shifts from the chaotic streets of Mumbai to the desolate wilds of Death Valley, California. Chopra – Bollywood’s first $100 million blockbuster man – has reportedly spent more than two decades and $20 million making the film.
It is all heavily pregnant – in fact, many weeks overdue – with promise. And yet, I know very little about what Chopra has created. So instead of having an illuminating conversation about characterizations, subtext, context and various other texts, one ends up asking mundane questions like “would a film like this work in Bollywood?”
Don’t believe the rhetoric about modern Bollywood going toe-to-toe with Hollywood. In fact, Bollywood is stuck in the film industry’s equivalent of the Dark Ages.