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'We wanted to top Borat in The Babymakers'

Last updated on: August 1, 2012 13:32 IST

'We wanted to top Borat in The Babymakers'

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Aseem Chhabra in New York

Indian American actor-director Jay Chandrasekhar's films usually deal with young men indulging in beer drinking, pot smoking, a lot of dirty jokes and nudity. All of this appeals to the films' target audience: college students. 

Most of the films are a part of the Broken Lizard comedy group, which came about during the years Jay and his friends were attending Colgate University. Five of the friends became a part of the stand-up comedy group, making popular films like Super Troopers, The Dukes of Hazzard and Beer Fest

Chandrasekhar's latest film, The Babymakers, opens in theatres in the US on August 3. It is a not a Broken Lizard project, but he does collaborate with one of his comedy teammates Kevin Heffernan, who acts in the film and is also is its executive producer.

The Babymakers is a story about a couple (played by Olivia Munn and Paul Schneider) who are finding it hard to conceive, until the husband decides to rob a sperm bank where he had made deposits before he was married.

The film has all the hallmarks of the Broken Lizard inspired humour. Plus, 44-year-old Chandrasekhar casts himself as a bumbling Indian tough guy. 

Chandrasekhar and Heffernan spoke to Aseem Chhabra in New York, and told him more about the film.

Jay, I am impressed that you kept your last name. In Hollywood, someone else would have shortened that name.

Chandrasekhar: I would never change it. Do you know what my full name is and what it means? My name is Jayanth Jambulingam Chandrasekhar, which means victorious large penis rising moon. It's a family name. My father, grandfather all had the name. Someone in the family had a sense of humour. When I was 24, I asked my mother if that is what my name means and she said 'Well, technically yes.' Sadly, I was quite old by them.

Heffernan Kevin: Think of all the ladies you could have picked up with that name!


Image: Movie poster of The Babymakers. Inset: Heffernan Kevin and Jay Chandrasekhar


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Talking about picking up ladies, I enjoyed The Babymakers, but couldn't help think that you guys have matured. (Kevin laughs loudly). I see Kevin is wearing a wedding band. Jay, are you married?

Chandrasekhar: Yes!

The film seems to suggest a new phase in your adult life.

Heffernan: Well I think it's more about having kids and finding new funny things.

How many kids do you have?

Heffernan: I've three -- nine, seven and four.

And Jay?

Chandrasekhar: Yes. Two girls are six and the boy is seven. 

We spent years drinking beer, smoking grass, travelling roads, closing down bars and having a ball. And we wrote about it. We wrote Beer Fest and Super Troopers is a real stoner film. But we now realise that we can be equally funny writing about parenthood or trying to have kids.

Heffernan: But what we liked about this script is that it mixes this and also some of the old stuff we did.

Have your kids seen your films?

Heffernan: I made a Disney movie called Sky High. That they can see. But they have seen parts of other films on Comedy Central where they will bleep everything out.

Chandrasekhar: My son claims to have seen Beer Fest, but he hasn't. They have seen little bit of The Dukes of Hazzard and Super Troopers. But I don't think those films are appropriate for them. My wife says I should make something for the children. My kids are begging me to make a movie they can see. I am in talks about one project. But I also don't want to moderate what we do, just so they can see it. Because what we do is not about moderation.


Image: A scene from The Babymakers


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'We would argue about whether to put in a certain joke or not'

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You guys have known each since 1990.

Chandrasekhar: We actually met in 1986.

And you guys have stayed friends and work together. There are no arguments?

 Heffernan: Oh there are a lot of arguments.

Chandrasekhar: There used to be a lot of arguments. We would argue about whether to put in a certain joke or not. The reality about shooting films is that you can shoot many jokes and decide later which one works. So it's not worth fighting about jokes. It's worth fighting about the big picture. We have made five Broken Lizard movies and this is our sixth. This one is more like our A Fish Called Wanda.

But seriously, Monty Python is perhaps the only other group I know that stayed together so long. This is a fairly large group to makes decisions.

Chandrasekhar: It takes a year for us to generate a script that is ready to shoot. There maybe 20 drafts of a script. And each time someone saying 'I don't really love this,' we discuss it for 15 minutes. 

Ultimately Broken Lizard gets the writing credit. The goal was to create a non-selfish writing environment. I have written jokes for his (he points to Heffernan) character and when he looks good, then I look good. The better everybody looks, the better we all look.


Image: A scene from The Babymakers


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'Hardest thing about collaboration is dealing with egos'

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You guys do work outside but then you keep coming back. This is where the best creative juices are.

Heffernan: I think so. We met in college. We weren't assembled like 'N Sync. We went through the trials and tribulations. There was time there were 12 of us. People peeled off. We learned how to work together, how to argue and the next day come back. The hardest thing about collaboration is dealing with egos and we passed that early. People appreciate what we do on screen together because it is like hanging out with your buddies.

Jay, as a director what attracted you to this project?

Chandrasekhar: I've been watching a lot of shows like The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Downton Abbey. That entertains me. So I wanted to make a film with some grounded reality. But I also wanted to make a date movie. My wife is totally averse to violence. We had to walk out of Babel and The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. She stood up in the middle of the rape scene and screamed 'Rape is not entertainment.' Like I've made the film! And she stormed out of the theatre.

Did you see the film again?

Chandrasekhar: No, I didn't. I end up watching films like Julie & Julia, which turned out to be pretty good and The Devil Wears Prada which I really dug. But I wanted to make a movie for guys and women and they can both like it.

But how does your wife react to the fact that the lead in The Babymakers has a slight desire to cheat on his wife?

Chandrasekhar: Well you know he's a real person. A lot of romantic comedies end up with soft sugar coating the situation. But as you dive into men's and women's real fantasies, they are private and more complicated, than the one-woman, one-man thing. It doesn't mean you are cheating. It means you in the garden of your mind.


Image: A scene from The Babymakers


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'When I started, there were no Indians on television or films, except Sir Ben Kingsley'

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I love the way you cast yourself in your films. You are a brown man. There are no brown state troopers in Vermont (where Super Troopers is set). But you managed to cast yourself. How have your audience taken it over the years. Is it a statement you are making?

Chandrasekhar: When I started, there were no Indians on television or films, except for Sir Ben Kingsley. I was an actor in high school, college and I played leads. And when I graduated, I knew that I couldn't go to Hollywood and audition for shows or films. I could try, but where was the evidence that it was going to happen? I wasn't going to play a tiny little part where my own ambition didn't sync up with it. And so I said Python made their own films, and cast themselves, I am also going to do it.

I see an occasional Indian cop in Manhattan and I am always like 'Right on brother!' And there could be a cop in Vermont who is Indian. This country is more colourful than we are reflecting on it.

I saw Super Troopers a while ago, but was your character's ethnic identity ever identified?

Chandrasekhar: Yes the cops on the other side of the highway, the local cops assume I must be Mexican.

Heffernan: I think this is the first movie (The Babymakers) where you do an Indian accent.

This was a script given to you so you much have added your character?

Chandrasekhar: In the script, my character is an East European tough guy and we were wondering how we were going to top Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat. That's when I thought Indians are never criminals in America. They are always computer analysts or doctors, but not known for being tough. But India is full of Indian criminals. So we made him an ex-mobster who watches porn. But I wanted him to say 'We can be violent, we are not all Gandhi!'


Image: A scene from The Babymakers


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'We would stop working together if we didn't find each other funny'

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Have you ever had any producer or financier come and say to you 'I am sorry, no one is going to come to see a film with a brown character?'

Chandrasekhar: No, and I think it will be a very uncomfortable thing to say to a director. Plus, this time it wasn't the lead part. I am probably going to play the lead part in my next film Shotgun Wedding and we will see if we have this conversation.

It would be awesome if you could put me in a lead of movie and people would go see it. But you have to figure out where you take that risk. Will I show up as a lead in a Warner Brothers movie? Probably not. But neither will a lot of white actors, because they are not famous enough. But you can do that in independent films. The Babymakers was only made for $2.5 million.

What does it take to direct yourself?

Chandrasekhar: Initially, it was extremely stressful. When you act and direct you ruin two perfectly great jobs. I love acting and have a director tell me what to do. And I love just directing. But then again if you want great parts, it is easier to direct the movie. What I've learned from some actors is that you vary your performance. You start with something subtle, then go medium, medium, then huge. And then when you go into the edit room you have something. I also have Kevin watch my performance. He's a director, so he can say, he sees something odd.  I basically turn my performance over to Kevin.

Your performance in The Babymakers was very broad.

Chandrasekhar: I wanted him to be violent but also funny. We know what we are here for.

You guys still find each other funny?

Heffernan: Oh yes. And we would stop working together if we didn't. The beauty of this movie is that some of my favorite scenes are in the apartment when we are hanging around. We would have to stop the camera so many times because we were laughing so much.


Image: A scene from The Babymakers


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