India may finally gift a global movie superstar to the world this week, with Deepika Padukone playing a prominent part in Hollywood film xXx: Return of Xander Cage. It would, however, be fair to say that the American action film that releases this Saturday in India, a week before the rest of the world, is also eagerly awaited for its debonair male lead who already has a fan base in Asia’s third-largest economy.
In his repertoire, actor, producer, director and screenwriter Vin Diesel has the first Hollywood film that crossed the Rs100 crore mark in India. Action thriller Fast and Furious 7 that grossed nearly Rs150 crore in 2015 in the country, industry experts said, was pretty much responsible for initiating the surge that Hollywood has seen in Indian box office in the past two years. The film released across 2,800 screens and netted Rs69.65 crore in the first week itself.
“Diesel is obviously a big draw (as far as xXx is concerned),” said Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, which, as part of its partnership with Paramount Pictures (co-producers of xXx), is promoting and distributing the film in India. The studio has carried on an exhaustive marketing campaign and had Diesel come down to the country for a premiere on Thursday. Like with the Mission: Impossible star Tom Cruise, the strategy, Andhare said, has always been to bring not just films but talent down to India and build a true franchise, both making a local connect and helping the actors grow their fan base.
“The feedback (for Diesel) has evidently been based on the success of Fast and Furious, in turn led by his appeal and the awareness around him. Plus, the fact that he’s going to very select places and is here shows that he looks at India as a big market for himself in the future,” Andhare said.
Apart from Fast and Furious, Diesel is also known for science fiction action media franchise The Chronicles of Riddick, spanning three live-action feature films, a direct-to-DVD animated film, two video games, one motion comic, one mobile game and two novelizations. He has been the producer on both franchises.
Born in Alameda County, California, as Mark Sinclair to an astrologer mother and growing up with a twin brother, Diesel never met his biological father, only admitting that he is “of ambiguous ethnicity” but “definitely a person of colour”. Raised in New York City, he made his stage debut by chance when he broke into the Theatre for the New City in Greenwich Village with his brother and friends to vandalize it, but the artistic director offered them work instead of calling the police. Diesel went on to study creative writing at Hunter College, a course that translated into screenwriting attempts.
Starting out with a brief uncredited appearance in a drama called Awakenings (1990), the now 49-year-old actor went on to write, direct, produce and feature in a semi-autobiographical film called Multi-Facial (1994) about a multi-racial actor struggling to make it past auditions. He is also known for director Steven Spielberg’s 1998 Oscar-winning film Saving Private Ryan and Disney’s action comedy The Pacifier (2005).
Diesel who attained action hero stardom in the 2000s with the first instalment of Fast and Furious and xXx franchises that released in 2001 and 2002, respectively, is supposed to be very different in real life.
“Diesel is the third-most popular celebrity on Facebook, with more than 100 million followers. And while it’s true that most A-listers outsource their social media to experts or interns, Diesel mans his own Instagram and Facebook accounts and personally publishes a robust stream of thoughtful, upbeat messages,” said an article in the magazine Men’s Fitness earlier this month. “In fact, as tough as Diesel is in his movies, it’s obvious when you meet him that he is, in reality, a tender, big-hearted guy. And clearly, this unabashed positivity—combined with a sincere delivery—has struck a chord with his millions of devoted followers, who have renamed his Facebook page “Vinbook”, it added.
Diesel returns to the xXx franchise after 15 years. The second instalment, xXx: State of the Union, released in 2005 and featured actor-rapper Ice Cube in the lead role. The film has been directed by D.J. Caruso and stars Padukone opposite Diesel along with Donnie Yen, Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Ruby Rose, Rory McCann, Kris Wu and Ariadna Gutiérrez.