MUMBAI: The scion of a Bollywood filmmaking dynasty is forging a career in Hollywood in a bid to emerge from the shadows of his legendary father — and challenge common stereotypes of India.
Uday Chopra, younger son of the late Hindi film director Yash Chopra, set up a subsidiary of his father’s production house in Los Angeles and this year appeared on the Cannes Film Festival red carpet alongside Nicole Kidman.
His three-year-old company Yash Raj Films (YRF) Entertainment co-produced the recent “Grace of Monaco” starring Kidman, upcoming Jason Bateman comedy “The Longest Week” and is finalising the script of “Seducing Ingrid Bergman”.
The job has made Chopra one of only a handful of Indians in Hollywood, where he hopes to match the success of his father and award-winning filmmaker brother, Aditya Chopra, back home.
“I know that even in my greatest success I would be lucky to get the success they enjoy, and I will always be looked upon as the third Chopra in a way,” the 41-year-old told AFP in Mumbai, India’s entertainment capital where he was born.
“I wanted to do something challenging and be a part of filmmaking because that is all I know.”
His father, who died in 2012, was best known for his romantic and emotional films in a stellar Bollywood career that spanned decades.
Uday has also acted in Bollywood and is best known for his role as police sidekick Ali in the hit Indian franchise “Dhoom” — and he wants to invest in commercial hits in Hollywood rather than festival features.
“When I first went to LA, the idea was to do romantic comedies because that’s a genre we have done successfully in India,” he said.
“I thought I would convert some of my Hindi material to English but I soon realised that comedies are in the space of the big studios, which means big budgets and big stars.”
Chopra then opened up to new possibilities, and one of his upcoming projects is “a female-centric thriller based in India”.
“It’s a completely American movie but with India as a backdrop. I can leverage my strength in India as a line producer,” he said.
He wants the film to portray India “in a dark and gritty way” and challenge typical perceptions of the country.
“People in the West think ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a Bollywood film and they have that one image of India — dirty and crazy,” he added, referring to the Oscar-winner directed by Britain’s Danny Boyle.
– From Bollywood to Hollywood –
While Bollywood has often been accused of ripping off plotlines from Hollywood, India has a limited presence in the US industry, where Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment are the best-known production companies.
The latter has invested in Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios to produce films such as “Lincoln”, “The Help” and “War Horse”.
Chopra said Hollywood players often assumed he was as rich as Reliance and would therefore “throw money at them and they can go ahead and make their movie.
“Or they think you are this Indian guy coming to Hollywood to throw big parties, make some statements and then never return. I don’t fit into either one of those categories,” he said.
Chopra, who divides his time between America, India and elsewhere, says he nevertheless enjoys the anonymity he gets in Los Angeles.
“One day I should shave my head bald, wear all white and go to a meeting and say this is how we are in India. They would probably think I am so exotic and would want to work with me.”
The reviews of “Grace of Monaco”, the opening film at Cannes, have been far from complimentary, describing it as “airless”, “fantastically silly” and even a “fire risk”.
Chopra admits that the criticism hit him hard and has affected the movie’s success.
“Maybe Cannes was the wrong platform for a fairytale film with a happy ending,” he said.
“We are independent producers, but the content we are creating is more mainstream and commercial in nature, to make money to engage a larger audience.”
For now, Chopra wants to keep investing in international films, but the long-term plan is to wholly produce and generate his own Hollywood stories under the YRF Entertainment banner.
He says if his budget runs out he will head back to India — but he is hopeful that America’s Tinseltown will be the place he makes his mark.
“Hopefully by next year things will turn around, and if that happens I will be there forever.”