Broken hearts

Broken Hearts: that's what Parinda fans will nurse after watching this one!

By Pratim D. Gupta
  • Published 12.04.15
Broken Horses

Perhaps there’s no filmmaker in this country, maybe in the world, more passionate about the art and craft of motion picture than Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Ever since he sat under the Bodhi tree on the FTII campus and had Ritwick Ghatak explaining the nuances of cinema to him, VVC has dreamt big. 

He was arrogant enough to make an incomplete diploma film, the titles at the end of Murder at Monkey Hill reading that he wasn’t given enough money to finish the movie. His documentary An Encounter With Faces was nominated for an Oscar at a time when the Academy Awards were not such a hyped-up show.

There are legends about Vinod Chopra still shared and saluted at Bollywood parties. Like him refusing to get off the National Awards stage till he was given the prize money in cash and not in bonds. Also the one where he chased a prominent film critic with a kukri in Juhu because he gave away the ending of Parinda.

Most top-rung filmmakers today were handpicked by Vinod Chopra, some as assistant directors, some as editors, some as song directors. Whether it was Sanjay Leela Bhansali or Farah Khan or Rajkumar Hirani or Pradeep Sarkar, they all started their innings with a Vidhu Vinod Chopra film. Many who couldn’t work under him, joined the movies after watching Parinda.

Parinda. Vinod used to call it his “Godfather meets Sound of Music”. From the shot-taking to the edit to the performances to the background score, Parinda is still the bible for mainstream Bollywood filmmaking. So maybe it was not a bad idea that his long-awaited Hollywood dream would be realised with the remake of the film that made him.

Yes, Broken Horses is an out-and-out remake of Parinda. Not just the two-brothers-caught-between-evil-underworld-boss story but including tertiary characters like the crippled friend or characteristics like the villain’s fear of fire after setting his wife and child ablaze. Just that it’s set near the Mexican border and the sweeping Mumbai skylines are replaced by rocky desert terrain. And they don’t break into song and dance.

So, is Vinod Chopra’s big Holly break as smashing? Hell no! At 102 minutes, it’s the longest film you will see at the theatres this year. The last time you had such a feeling was during Vinod’s Eklavya which at 107 minutes felt like an eternity. The hushed whispers in Bollywood corridors have long insisted that the death of editor Renu Saluja ruined the rhythm of Vinod’s films. His storytelling has become so unevenly paced that there are these long patches of nothing and then a sudden burst of blood and tears.

Another high point of Vinod used to be his casting and Broken Horses is a disaster in that department. None of the leads — Christopher Marquette as Buddy is in the Jackie Shroff role, Anton Yelchin as Jacob, the bespectacled violin-playing version of Anil Kapoor, and the seasoned Vincent D’Onofrio stepping in for Nana Patekar as Julius Hench — have anything charismatic or magnetic about them, often underplaying or overdoing scenes to sheer boredom. 

There are a few trademark Vidhu Vinod Chopra visual flourishes brilliantly executed by cinematographer Tom  Stern, Clint Eastwood’s DoP and the film’s most famous unit member. You have seen the killing in a projection room before in a Vinod Chopra film but it is still quite impactful. The white stallion galloping out of the ranch house in a long shot is sheer poetry. The best sequence, though, is shots of men being butchered intercut with oranges being juiced. Vintage VVC and also a cheeky citrus nod to The Godfather.

But then again that unforgettable final scene of Parinda where Jackie sets Nana on fire by smashing one alcohol bottle after another as Anna wails on the swing is missing here. In its place a matchstick flies into an oven. Just imagine! And you would have thought that the love-making between Karan and Paro would go into a higher gear in its Hollywood avatar but all you get is the girl (the very insipid Maria Valverde) riding a horse in a see-through shirt.
And despite the high melodrama befitting a Bollywood potboiler more than a Hollywood thriller, there is zero emotional appeal to Broken Horses. And for Indian viewers who have watched Parinda a zillion times, the constant comparison to the masterpiece makes this one that much more unwatchable. 

Reliance on Indian money is important for Hollywood biggies now. So the quotes from James Cameron and Alfonso Cuaron that have been the only marketing plug for Broken Horses have to be taken with a pinch of salt. After watching the film, with a pitcher of salt.

Vinod Chopra had famously landed up in Mumbai with Rs 6 in his pocket and in Broken Horses the younger brother keeps the $6 his elder brother gives him in his wallet like a souvenir. The passion clearly still runs strong in his Kashmiri (or maybe ‘Bangla’, as guru Ghatak would have it?) blood but the ability to tell a story on screen as director has somewhere got lost under the heap called self-importance. Maybe some time under that Bodhi tree in Pune might help.

I’ll go bananas. bananas!

In Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Broken Horses, a brave simpleton named Buddy (Christopher Marquette) follows the murderous orders of his boss, Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio), somewhere on the border with Mexico. Years ago, Buddy promised to build a ranch for his little brother, Jakey (Anton Yelchin), whose life took a different turn: He moved to New York, became a professional violinist and acquired an Italian girlfriend. When Jakey comes home to visit, a deeply silly drama of corrupted innocence ensues.

Hench, Buddy and Jakey get entangled in a wonkily plotted story punctuated with the visual bombast of white horses and CGI flames. Buddy and Jakey have the sort of brotherly bond that is anchored in endlessly mentioned pacts from childhood. Hench, accompanied by henchmen (or Henchmen?), is seen driving around in trucks in scenic long shots when he’s not persuading Buddy to commit violent acts, with Svengali-like success.
Marquette gives his character the conventional treatment: slavish loyalty, wide eyes, childlike verbal miscues and selective self-possession. Yelchin’s character looks somewhat at a loss about what goes on here, and who can blame him, especially when he visits the former music teacher who has lost his legs in a run-in with the bad guys and now lives in a house warmed by a flaming barrel.

Chopra says his well-liked fraternal drama Parinda inspired this film, but something happened on the way to Broken Horses, which makes a risibly sentimental refrain of Buddy’s expression of excitement: “I’ll go bananas. Bananas!”

Broken horses (u/a)
Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, Christopher Marquette, Anton Yelchin, Maria Valverde
Running time: 101 minutes

Nicolas Rapold
(The New York Times News Service)