Exclusive Interview with Vidhu Vinod Chopra
“Cinema is Crossing Borders”
With a few of the highest grossing Hindi films such as Munnabhai MBBS, 3 Idiots and PK in his kit, Vidhu Vinod Chopra made his debut in Hollywood with Broken Horses in 2015. As Indian cinema is experimenting with different subjects and crossing borders, it’s a good time to make films, says Chopra.
Being in the Indian film industry for over three decades, how do you see the industry today and how has it grown?
We are in a very nice and healthy place where all kinds of cinema is coming up. Some very interesting films are doing good business. We are definitely better off than before. If we have more theatres, like China, the industry and our business will also grow accordingly. But it is a good time to make films in India.
The film industry has also grown in terms of scale, technology and reach so how do you perceive it?
Everything has grown and so has cinema. The most interesting thing about cinema now is that you don’t have to be in the cinema hall to watch a film. The films are moving out of theatres. I have found television and the digital platform fascinating.
From director to now a producer, what challenges did you face in your journey? What have been your key learnings over this period?
I am still a director, I am going to be directing a film this year. I also write a lot. So I write, produce and direct. I started many years back and now I am finding that the audience here and abroad is more receptive to different ideas. Films like PK (2014) actually did a business of more than INR 1 billion (EUR 13 million) in a place like China. It was fascinating to see. Even 3 Idiots (2009) did huge business in China. We are now making it in Chinese. It has already been shot in Mexican. The world is becoming one and our cinema is crossing borders in a big way. We are already talking to some Hollywood studios to remake 3 Idiots in English. Imagine setting up the film in Harvard. We are looking at our story actually crossing borders and going somewhere else. In Cannes, our CEO will be talking to many companies for remaking it. For the first time we are releasing PK in Turkish. We did 3 Idiots in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. This tells how big the market is and how small the world has become.
All your films have fared commercially well, and they also have something substantial about the society. How do you choose your subjects?
We work hard. I make one film in four years. I have in the last 30-40 years done only 10-12 films, so my average is three years per film. We spend a lot of time in writing and researching. Only when I am extremely happy with the script, do we open the window for making the film. For me movies are not projects. They are not at all about let’s go out and get a big star etc. I enjoy life. When I spend my life making a film, I really want to have a good time doing it. For me the journey is far more important than the bucks that it finally makes.
On what basis you think Indian producers choose their scripts? Is it the bankability or the perception of the audiences?
I am not a regular producer so I cannot answer that for you. Since I write and co- write my films, I don’t believe in this whole thing of bankability. When I made Munnabhai MBBS (2003), nobody went to see it in the beginning. It was such a crazy idea that we had empty theatres on day one. But by the time Sunday came, people were in a flurry. I don’t say let’s make a bankable film. I have never done that in my life. It’s another thing that some of the films that I have done are the all-time hits of Indian cinema. The driving force is not money. The driving force is getting a story to reach out.
With Broken Horses you entered Hollywood, how different was it from directing a Hindi film? How accepting was the industry to an Indian director?
It was very different. I enjoyed Broken Horses thoroughly. The industry there is wonderful. I loved to work with the crew. My camera man, Tom Stern who shoots all big films was like a brother to me. My actor Vincent D’onofrio, whom you might have seen in Jurassic World, always said I am your brother from the east, which meant from the east side of New York. I had the best time of my life. I am hoping to go back and make another film, once I have a good script.
How was it received both in India and internationally?
It was released the same day as The Fast And Furious and I think the distributors didn’t pick the dates right. So it didn’t do well financially when it was released. But now, the other day, Hrithik Roshan tweeted that “I am proud to be an Indian when I see Broken Horses ”. Many people who saw the film, went out of their way to appreciate it in the press. People like James Cameron, Alfonso Cuaron, Hrithik Roshan and many people praised the film. But financially it didint do very well. I made PK the same year as Broken Horses, which was the biggest hit of all time. It’s not the box office that drives our company. It’s really the story that we tell.
Hollywood films have varied topics and also are technologically richer. Where is it that India is lacking?
It’s the funding. If you look at their budget, you would have your answer. If we get budgets like that, we can do it as well. Broken Horses was as good, if not better than some of the Hollywood films.
Are Indian film personalities attracted by Hollywood’s greater international reach?
I learnt English when I was 15 years old. I was like the monkey from Jungle Book, who says to the man cub that I want to be a man because I am already a king here. So for me it’s like going into new area and going out of my comfort zone. That is what drove me. Some people actually don’t give a damn about Hollywood. Some actors really want to work in Hindi cinema. They are very happy doing that. I too love what I do here. I am not going to pack my bags and live in Los Angeles (LA). I did live in LA for almost a year, but I just missed India so much. I will make movies in Hollywood but I would live in India.
The reasons people get attracted are varied. Some may like to go out there because then the world is your stage. Some people have done so much that they want to go out of their comfort zones. When I was in Hollywood, nobody knew who I was and they were judging me by my script. I felt like I was out of the film institute all over again.
Being a pass out from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTTI) yourself, do you feel there is a lack of training in the industry today?
There is huge lack of training. We are planning to open a kind of film school, similar to Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School. We are planning to go, as a company, to small cities in India and train people in cinema. One of the members from our team, Saurabh Singh who will be at Cannes representing the Vidhu Vinod Chopra productions, is actually heading that project.
We are looking for partners from the rest of the world to make this happen. A kind of a gurukul (traditional schools where the pupils stay with their mentors and almost worship them) where people from all over India would come, learn cinema and finally make it. It will give a different dimension to the Indian cinema and produce immense talent.