As he quite freely admits, Vidhu Vinod Chopra does not have to direct movies for a living. “I mean, it wasn’t a job I was looking for,” Chopra said in New York, where he was working on behalf of “Broken Horses,” his thriller (April 10) starring Anton Yelchin, Vincent D’Onofrio and Chris Marquette. As a writer, producer and chairman of Vinod Chopra Films, he’s made some very successful features – 2009’s “3 Idiots,” in fact, is reportedly THE biggest box-office hit in the history of Indian cinema.
Directing? Not a priority.
At the same time, the Chopra-directed, genre-busting “Parinda” (1989) is famous for having broken dramatically from the very same Bollywood mold that makes so many rupees for the Indian film industry, Chairman Chopra included, so he knows his way around a crime thriller. And he knows when he should direct one: “Broken Horses” is evidence of that.
The story is twisted; so are its origins. “I was traveling by train with my co-writer Abhijat Joshi from Boston to New York, and I had just seen ‘The Departed,’” Chopra recalled. The idea of doing a Scorsese-inspired crime film intrigued them. “He got a devilish twinkle in his idea and said, ‘“Parinda.’” The idea of a remake – sort of – was born. And then derailed by geography.
“I came to New York to meet with Nic Pileggi, who was then my consultant, and a great gentleman,” Chopra said of the writer behind “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” among others. “Actually, Michael Lynne put me together with him.” They went for dinner, then took a walk. “We were near Rockefeller Center at night and it was snowing and I was very happy with my conception,” Chopra said. “And then we started walking back home, late at night, and I was quite high and said, ‘Oh, this must be Sixth Avenue’ and he said, ‘No, this Park Avenue.’ And later I said, ‘This must be Sixth Avenue…” and he said ‘No…” and by the time I reached my hotel I said, ‘I can’t make this movie.’”
Why? “Because I will make a piece of shit,” he recalled. “I don’t know the city. I would have to come here and live here for a couple of years to do it right.” The filmmaker was dejected, but Chopra stayed up all night rewriting. At his next meeting with Pileggi, he said “Before you give me your notes I have made a little change …”
Rather than a reimagined “Goodfellas”-meets-“Parinda,” the finished “Broken Horses” is a contempo western, one about brothers. Jake (Yelchin), a fledgling musician in New York, returns to the small California desert town where he grew up and the brother he’s long neglected – Buddy (Marquette), who is mentally challenged but a crack shot, and who for years has been manipulated by the malevolent lawman Julius Hench (D’Onofrio) into being Hench’s private hit man. (See “Parinda” trailer below.)
The central conceit of the film – a simple-minded killer – is not something we’ve seen very much, but Chopra said it pulled the whole concept of the film together. “The reason I made him a little slow was a dramatic reason,” Chopra said, “to give him that purity of emotion. He genuinely believes that Hench is a good man. He genuinely loves his brother. For him, it’s a good man or a bad man, there’s nothing gray. “That made it must more interesting to me,” the director said. “I think it’s gone far beyond ‘Parinda.’”