Vidhu Vinod Chopra

by James Hayden Hunter

The maestro of Bollywood talks Broken Horses
Jean Renoir once said, "In America, they worry too much about the technique, and neglect the human aspect."

The resonance of these words struck me after meeting Vidhu Vinod Chopra and screening his latest film Broken Horses. Chopra is a man who decided to carry the weight of his country when he set out five years ago from India to make an English language film located in the American West.

Chopra’s first dalliance with Hollywood was spurred by his Oscar nomination in 1979 for his short film An Encounter with Faces.  This was followed by three decades of dizzy success in India, including the highest grossing Indian film ever made.

He tells me: “For me, Broken Horses is just not a movie, it’s like a dream. You know I got nominated for an Oscar in ‘79, I was a kid then. And I thought I’d win because I was brash, I was young, I said, ‘They should give it to me’. That stayed with me, and then in India I’m huge. [So] for me there were no more challenges left.”

I met Chopra at his Beverly Hills hotel. He speaks with an accent he attributes to the films that shaped his understanding of America: “I used to watch and talk but I couldn’t read.” Chopra’s story is an impressive and unlikely tale.  After a series of short stories gained him entrance to a film school in India, his life was changed on his fourth day of class when he watched Citizen Kane (1941), Breathless (1960) and Eight and a Half (1963).  “I couldn’t believe that cinema like this existed; I had never seen it! I was so hungry! And so then I plunged into those three films on that one day and it changed my life.”

In 1951, Renoir found himself making his first color feature length film. Considered the greatest French director at the time, he set out to rediscover himself through The River. Similar to Chopra, Renoir was not satisfied with being the best in his country alone. He yearned for a broader audience, yet rather than dilute the colloquial elements that made his storytelling famous, he elevated them to be the nexus of his art.

Broken Horses is an English retelling of his 1989 classic Parinda, a film about the Bombay underworld and the two brothers it affects. Chopra’s filmography cannot be placed in a box, as his work has ranged from epics, to musicals, to buddy comedies. However, the same core theme stabilizes each of his stories—family. Family is the root of India’s film industry. It is why Chopra can remain relevant in both India and America simultaneously. The one simple thing that Chopra hopes each viewer can get from Broken Horses is that “they felt something.”

Broken Horses opens on April 10 at: the Arclight Hollywood, Cinemark 18, Town Center 5 in Encino, and Edwards Westpark 8 in Orange county. There is a Q&A at the Arclight Hollywood with Anton Yelchin and Chris Marquette following the 8:00pm show.