A delicious documentary is waiting to be made on Paul Schrader’s adventures in Mumbai. Although Schrader is best known the world over for writing Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the Hollywood writer and director has an enviable body of work behind him, including his own films Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, about maverick Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, and Affliction, a psychodrama about a cop who slowly loses his mind. A couple of years ago, Schrader declared that he was disgusted with the ways of Hollywood. Rather than decamping to London or Paris, as others before him have done, Schrader sought refuge in Mumbai. Over the past few months, he has been collaborating with former Star & Style editor Mushtaq Shiekh on a movie titled Xtrme City. Shiekh is best known for co-writing Om Shanti Om with Farah Khan and also for two coffee-table books that extol the virtues of Shah Rukh Khan (Still Reading Khan and Shah Rukh Can).
What happens when American and Indian sensibilities meet? What—or how—do Schrader and Shiekh break down scenes and discuss motivations for characters?
Fusion: Deshmukh and Fernandez in ’Jaane Kahan se Aayi Hai’.
Little is known about this rare and historic collaboration. A report in the trade journal Variety on 6 October said Xtrme City will combine elements of the thriller, drama and comedy genres. Its producers are as wildly different as its writers: Behind the $10 million (around Rs45 crore) movie are David Weisman, who produced the acclaimed Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Anubhav Sinha, director of the duds Dus and Cash. More strange collaborations are in the works, and will emerge before Xtrme City, which is scheduled for a 2011 release.
Brett Ratner is editing the English-language version of the Rakesh Roshan production Kites. Whenever the DVD of Kites comes out, its “making of” featurette is unlikely to contain Ratner’s frank observations on Bollywoodian storytelling modes or his reaction to the punctuation of the narrative with songs. There is also unlikely to be candid footage of Anil Ambani’s meetings with Steven Spielberg, after which Ambani and Spielberg signed a deal worth $825 million to produce six Hollywood films a year. Out of curiosity, how many Hindi films has Spielberg seen? We’re never likely to know.
Back home in India, Hollywood’s flirtation with Bollywood is producing interesting results. Saawariya, Chandni Chowk to China, Saas Bahu aur Sensex, My Name is Khan, Thanks Maa, Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?, Lahore and this fortnight’s release J aane Kahan se Aayi Hai all represent attempts by American studios to break into one of the world’s most lucrative film industries. Each of these movies opens with the all-powerful logo of the American studio that has co-produced them. In most cases, the Hollywood weight behind the Bollywood production seems to have achieved very little apart from briefly raising the movie’s profile. Except for My Name is Khan and, to a smaller extent, Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?, most of the joint ventures have failed to create an impact. Yet another unrecorded nugget that film historians will sorely regret: How did films such as Chandni Chowk to China and Lahore go down at preview screenings in Los Angeles?
Of all the Hollywood studios trying to make sense of Bollywood, only Fox Star Studios seems to have had any success. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that both Fox and Star, the principal players in the partnership, are entertainment conglomerates that specialize in populist fare. Fox Star picked up the distribution rights of Slumdog Millionaire in India and benefited hugely from the international awards glory showered on the movie. Warner Bros., meanwhile, is trying its luck yet again with Jaane Kahan se Aayi Hai, starring Riteish Deshmukh and Jacqueline Fernandez literally as star-crossed lovers (he’s from earth, she’s from outer space).
There are so many Hollywood ex-heavies and current lightweights floating about in Mumbai, either out of boredom or want or a bit of both, that there can be only one sane reaction to the increased traffic between Los Angeles and Mumbai. Make a movie about it. Is that what Schrader is secretly here for—to observe and report on the country whose enviable economic growth in recent years has made it a force to reckon with the world over?
Jaane Kahan se Aayi Hai released in theatres on Friday.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at email@example.com