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The Chopra who has gone global

‘My father told me you’re being stupid.’ Yet, Uday Chopra went ahead and bought a membership to the international club of film producers

He’s got a cute American accent. He just swings by Mumbai for a couple of days now. And he is certainly moving away from the shadow of his father and brother. The Neal ‘N’ Nikki days seem to be far behind him as we meet the new and refreshed Uday Chopra. The Hollywood producer Uday Chopra. The Cannes-red-carpet-walking-alongside-Nicole Kidman-and-Paz Vega Uday Chopra.

Whose idea was it to have a Hollywood wing for Yash Raj Films?

The original germ of the idea was actually my brother’s (Aditya Chopra). It was a time when I was thinking of doing something alternate in my career. Of course, it had to be in films because that’s all I know. He told me: ‘Have you thought of making English language movies for an international audience?’ So, Adi put the germ in my head. He also said that while you have the backing of the big company, you have to go and figure it out yourself.

But wasn’t it a personal choice?

Personally, it was a decision to do something different. It was a decision to do something outside my comfort zone. I realised that if I produce a film in India or maybe produce and direct, it will be pretty much more of Yash Chopra’s son and Aditya Chopra’s brother. I didn’t want that. I wanted to do something which had my own name on it and tomorrow if it does well to create my own legacy out of that.

My father had actually advised me not to do it. He told me that you’re being stupid. You have everything here. We have grown this thing (Yash Raj Films) for years with everybody’s hard work and it’s now the responsibility of you guys to take it forward. Now, if you are going there, it doesn’t make sense to me.

For me, the biggest challenge has always been to get away from my father and my brother’s shadows. I look up to them so much that any decision that they tell me to take, I have to take because deep inside I feel they know better than me. Whereas out there, that’s not the case and I don’t have to go with their instincts. Also, the Hollywood wing might be a different frontier but I am still growing our company.

When did you decide to take this leap because all we used to see on Twitter were photos of the steaks and pastries you were eating in Los Angeles!

(Laughs) It was 2010 when we had released Pyaar Impossible. It didn’t do well. That’s when I really got thinking that maybe I should try something else as opposed to just being an actor. That year I just approached a few agents in Hollywood sitting here in Mumbai. They started sending scripts on the basis of what I briefed them, about the kind of films I wanted to make and the kind of budgets I wanted to make them in.

But then I realised it’s not going to work this way. They are also not taking me seriously and just forwarding me scripts out of the thousands they get. I have to go there. So in the summer of 2011, I went there and attended the three-month production course of UCLA. Also I kept meeting industry people agents, financiers, producers, writers. That helped me understand the basic workings of the industry.

How did you find the working there different from the working here?

Here, honestly, everything is very easy. (Breaks into a smile) We have everything in place the production team, the distribution team, the marketing team. It’s literally a turnkey operation. I just say here’s a script and boom, I’ve got the breakdown and I’ve got the cast. There everything has to be done by me. I don’t have a team; I have to hire everyone. Things that I used to take for granted, I have to evaluate every little detail.

Also do friendships and relationships play a part in Hollywood like they do in Bollywood?

Definitely not for me! Maybe for a Steven Spielberg it would. But even then the agents pretty much run the industry. If Steven wants to cast Shia LaBeouf, his agent will have to call his agent. You can’t escape that. For me at this stage, it’s a big thing to even meet the big actor’s agent.

Was Grace of Monaco the first project you got into?

No, it was a film called The Longest Week. It was a completely packaged project starring Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde and Billy Crudup and the financing had fallen through. I took over the whole film. It was all ready with a line producer attached to the project and we produced it in end-2011. Then Grace happened.

How did the connection with the high-profile Grace team happen?

Arash Amel, who wrote the script, wrote it on spec (speculative screenplay) and it was on The Black List (an annual Hollywood survey of the best unproduced screenplays). There was a bidding war between Harvey Weinstein and Pierre-Ange Le Pogam for the script. Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, who is a big guy in France, won the bid and it was his idea to get director Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose) on board.

When Nicole Kidman was in talks to be attached to the project, my head of development sent me the script saying that this film was looking for co-production/finance. I loved the script, flew to Paris the next day and met Pierre-Ange. I also realised that while Harvey had lost the bidding war, he still wanted to co-produce the film. But Pierre-Ange didn’t want that either. So I entered the picture when he was still looking for money but not from Harvey. I cracked the deal then and there and we shook hands.

Did you have any creative say in the film?

A little bit. The script was almost ready to go. I sent them a few notes on what should be done and what shouldn’t be done. They took that pretty well. But it’s not the way I would have ideally liked to produce the film. Because it was too far gone in the creative process for me to get in. And I didn’t want to be that guy who wants changes because he’s put in money. Unfortunately, I wasn’t on set as much as I wanted to. I was shooting for Dhoom:3 at the time the film went on the floor. And then immediately after that my father passed away and I was here for a month. I just went for the last two weeks of shoot in Belgium.

So you are still very much learning the ropes out there?

Absolutely. The idea for the company was to develop and produce my own films. But since I was a completely unknown entity there and wouldn’t get the quality stuff, Grace was a good inroad for me. But it was still pretty much their movie. For me, it was like buying a membership into their club. The next phase of my company would be developing my own projects and producing them.

What was it like for you to walk the Cannes red carpet? That’s not a space we identify you with...

I didn’t even want to go. But me being there was a representation of the company. It’s YRF Entertainment. It’s got my father’s name on it. My whole thing of going to Cannes was not out of any personal need but because I believe I represent an idea bigger than myself.

But once there, Nicole Kidman on one side and Paz Vega on the other, that must have been quite a walk...

(Laughs out loud) Then it felt fine, you know. It felt like I had taken the right call.

The film was badly panned there...

Yes, the reviews were horrible. We heard that the reviews were bad even before we had gone for the press conference. The press screening hadn’t gotten over and we were still at the hotel and the reviews started coming in. That I found a bit odd. And it upset all of us. There at the press conference, no one said anything negative about the film. Then at the premiere in the evening, the audience clapped in the end and stood up and gave us a standing ovation. I was like what’s happening?! Is the press seeing some other movie or is something else going on? Anyway, it did hurt the film. Hurt the film a lot in France.

Was it because the film was not arty enough?

Very possible. The kind of heavy films that go to Cannes, Grace isn’t like one of them. It’s actually a very commercial movie. Artistic yes, but very commercial. That’s what initially attracted me to the script in the first place. My mandate there is to make mainstream commercial movies, not art-house cinema.

How have your friends in the industry taken your big move to the West?

They are very excited. They are very proud of me. Hrithik and Abhishek and everyone. They are like: “You’re doing it, man... people talk about doing it but you’ve gone ahead and done it!” It’s very encouraging.

Does that mean you will not do Dhoom:4?

You have been very public and witty on Twitter about your romance with Nargis Fakhri. And now that your brother’s got married, is marriage on the cards for you too?

Unfortunately in this industry I can’t talk much about it officially. If you and I were sitting in Hollywood right now, maybe I could have said a couple of other things. Here, I have to say: “We’re just friends!” (Big wry grin)

Do you think Uday Chopra will marry Nargis Fakhri? Tell t2@abp.in