An entertainer par excellence

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From Parinda to Parineeta, Vidhu Vinod Chopra has come a long way. He is no longer the filmmaker who expressed his anger at the world through his work.

V. Gangadhar

How much is producer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra part of the Bollywood set-up? "I am very much a part of the scene," says Chopra adding that filmmaking has been his life and passion for nearly four decades.

But then his films do not fall easily into slots such as crass, commercial or formula movies; in fact, five of his films have been critically acclaimed. Parinda was a violent and disturbing film on the Bombay mafia; 1942 A Love Story had romance woven into our freedom struggle; Mission Kashmir focussed on terrorism and espionage, and its action scenes were acclaimed the world over; while Munnabhai MBBS, an out and out entertainer, was a welcome take-off on our education system. His most-recent release, Parineeta is adapted from a Saratchandra Chattopadhyaya classic novel.

"How can anyone make the same kind of formula films," wonders Chopra, agreeing that he changes with the times. When he made Parinda he was angry with the world. The scene in which the lead pair, Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit, are gunned down shocked everyone, because it was different from the usual hero-wins-at-all-costs approach. "The couple had to be killed because that was how the mafia operates," he says. Chopra's love for soft romance and soulful music resulted in 1942 - A Love Story, another memorable film. R.D. Burman's lilting music is talked about even today. "Music is very, very important to me. I spend months on the score; every song has to be perfect and picturised to suit the situation," he says.

For this filmmaker, every film is a work of art. "The art I try to depict is always innocent and not corrupted by market trends," he says, and this applies most to the music score. He is reluctant to discuss the commercial success of his films, because "he is a filmmaker and not a PR man". His job is to make films and not to project them to the public, he explains. Once they are released, his job is over; and he takes a break and forgets about figures, collections and so on.

However, he agrees that the stupendous success of Munnabhai MBBs has enabled him to move around in a luxury car. An English version of the film is being made by Mira Nair, with Chopra as the executive producer. He regards Parineeta as a big leap forward. Having read the novel several times, he decided to adapt the plot to the Calcutta (now Kolkata) of the 1960s. Unlike another recent Chattopadhyaya adaptation Devdas Parineeta has no opulent sets; its appeal is more to the intellect and the soul. Chopra has focused more on the cinematography, screenplay and music.

The music score, which is a mega hit, took about a year to be finalised hundreds of tunes were composed and finally six were chosen. He is excited with music director Shantanu Moitra's work and says he has the potential to become another R.D. Burman.

Parineeta revolves around a stern father, and two men and the girl they love. Saif Ali Khan, a surprise choice as Shekhar, and Sunjay Dutt, an old favourite, play the male lead. "They are actors after my own heart," explains Chopra. "They are good and honest people without ego hassles. I cannot work with people who have ego problems."

Rekha, who plays an important role, also does a sizzling dance number. She apparently listened to the song and came to the sets dressed up for the role. Debutant Vidya Balan, who plays the female lead, was screen-tested for six months and, according to Chopra, turned out to be `ideal' for the role.

Parineeta is a period film, and its success should make Chopra mellower. Today, he is no longer as angry as he used to be because he does not want his children to see that side of him.

Picture by R.V. Moorthy

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 24, 2005)
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