Why I made Kaante
Priya Ganapati meets the film's international producer Raju Patel
Kaante is Raju Patel’s acid test in the Hindi film industry. Co-producer of the movie that carries the burden of salvaging the disastrous year that 2002 has been for Bollywood, Kaante's performance will determine his future in Indian showbiz.
Despite a 20-year successful career in Hollywood creating films like the 1984 comedy, Bachelor Party starring Tom Hanks, and Jungle Book, Patel wants to prove himself in Bollywood with his first Hindi production.
He is no stranger to Bollywood. Son-in-law of sixties Jubilee star Rajendra Kumar, he is the brother-in-law of Kumar Gaurav, who in turn is married to Sanjay Dutt’s sister Namrata.
"Production managers in America have more respect than producers here. The film industry here seems to think that being a producer is about getting food to actors and other people on the sets on time. While in America, you worry about being creatively involved in the project, how the director is being supplemented with his vision, how everything coordinates together. That is where the difference between producing here and producing in America lies,” Patel says.
With his Bollywood connections, making a Hindi film was an event waiting to happen. Kumar Gaurav called him with an offer that seemed irresistible. There was a cast ready and a director with a screenplay looking for a producer to make a Hindi film in Hollywood. Would he be interested?
On a trip to India, he met with director Sanjay Gupta to discuss how the film would shape up. “Sanjay wanted to do something slightly different from what Bollywood has been doing. I said let us go for it so long as I have control of the entire crew and filmmaking process, not only on a creative basis but also logistically. I wanted to make sure I had control over the screenplay, design, actors -- the entire making of the film from development to distribution,” he says.
There was another thing that got Patel interested in Kaante. Amitabh Bachchan. “He is my favourite actor and he was going to be there in the film,” he smiles.
Ensuring control over the film is why he shot the film overseas. It was shot exclusively in Los Angeles in just 35 days in 12-hour shifts every day. Everyone involved with the film signed contracts, which they closely followed.
All the actors arrived on the sets at 7 am with their dialogues ready, finished a day’s schedule and packed up at 7 pm. “If you know Bollywood, this almost never happens there,” chuckles Patel.
He hired seven American writers to turn Gupta’s screenplay from story outline into bound script, then assembled a 400-member crew.
He signed on Sterling Moore, a 22-year-old sound recordist and a “boy genius;” stunt director Spiro Razatos (Training Day, Swordfish, Scream 3, Face Off) and visual effects supervisor George Merket (Starship Troopers, As Good As It Gets, Total Recall).
Despite all this star power, the film cost just about Rs 300 million (about $6 million). “That is after very substantial discounts from the players,” he cuts in.
Bollywood’s biggest hit this year, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas cost Rs 500 million (about $10 million) and last year’s blockbuster Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham Rs 400 million (about $8 million) to make.
"If we had done Kaante after paying full rates to Los Angeles actors and technicians it would have cost between Rs 800 million to Rs 900 million. We have a six-minute action adventure sequence that would have cost $2.5 million to $3 million,” he says.
It wasn’t an easy ride. For starters, there were “creative disagreements” with Gupta.
"Sanjay would want to stretch a scene to keep on exploring and milking it. I would say sometimes a scene’s real power is in its subtlety. You don’t have to have two guys yapping at each other for 10 minutes to make a point if they can do it by just looking at each other. Sanjay would say in India we do it that way. I would remind him that he came to me to make films the way Americans do,” he says.
Gupta’s track record did not upset him too much, he says. The director’s earlier films, Khauff, Jung and Hamesha have not fared well at the box-office. In fact, Sanjay Gupta is yet to have his first success at the turnstiles.
“What I liked about Gupta is the passion he put into the preparation of making Kaante.. I saw some of his films after we met and I wasn’t very impressed with them. They seemed disjointed and looked as if he was making it up as he went along. When he came to me, Gupta wanted to learn and said he wanted a producer who would be really involved with the film,” says Patel.
The film’s release has been postponed a couple of times. A few months ago, its ending was circulated by mobile text messages.
“The SMS thing was created by the producers itself. We sent out an SMS saying that Lucky Ali is the cop among the six thieves, the second day we said it was Kumar Gaurav. Till today, no one knows the ending including the actors because that is how the film was shot,” reveals Patel.
Kaante has been shot with a $39,000 a week Panavision camera package. Yet, much of it won’t translate into theatre screens across India because of the poor equipment used by theatre owners.
“I had colour correction done on the sets. Everytime before a shot was canned this guy would check for the colours on his computer and immediately make changes to it so it goes into the negative itself. But look at it now! I feel sometimes what was the use of doing all that in America when finally it is going to end up just like any other film shot in India?” he fumes.
The film will be released in two versions, to balance the sensibilities of Hollywood and Bollywood. There will be a 164 minute-long Indian version and a 'sleek' 110-minute version for American audiences.
A remake of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Kaante fuses a Bollywood song and dance routine into the story of a bank robbery gone wrong. The Sunday Times in London recently published a report suggesting that if Kaante is really a copy, then it is time Hollywood wakes up to investigate how closely their movies are being lifted.
Patel remains unfazed by accusations of producing a Hollywood rip off and says Kaante is no plagiarisation. Instead, he says it is a "homage" to Reservoir Dogs.
“Kaante does have a similar premise but it doesn’t go into stealing,” he declares and accuses Hollywood of double standards. "Hollywood steals equally. It is not a one-sided thing. They steal from Chinese and Japanese movies and disguise it as acquisition of rights. They pay a pittance and turn around to accuse others,” he bristles.
Despite the stakes he has riding on the movie, Patel has other ideas swirling in his head for both Hollywood and Bollywood.
Last year he formed a partnership with Michael Jackson to create Neverland Pictures, a division of Jackson’s firm, Neverland Entertainment.
Neverland Pictures’ first film will be an adaptation of a fairy tale, Tom Thumb. The movie will star Kevin Kline, Jenna Malone and will start filming in March or April.
There are two other films planned. A science fiction flick, The Realm, with Kevin Costner and another one with Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Cowboy And The Cossack. Both projects are being developed for the last four years.
“When we started, the actors were hot at the box office. Now that is no longer there, so we have to work around it. The scripts and vision have to be reshaped,” Patel laments.
For Bollywood, he has a surprise: An action film based on Hanuman.
“I am using the model of the Chinese film, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which took a Chinese mythological, flipped it over its head upside down and repackaged it for an international audience. I want to do that with Hanuman,” he says.
Hanuman will be set in contemporary America and feature an immigrant Indian family in New Jersey whose young boy doesn’t believe in Hanuman.
“It’s an adventure on the level of Spider-man and Superman. We will show the Ramayan in today’s context. Ram and Sita will have parallel representative characters in the film. The idea is to blend Bollywood and Hollywood,” he says.
Patel has already started casting for the film. “I am looking to cast an actor in the role of Hanuman. I want someone who doesn’t have a very heavy build and he shouldn’t have done movies before. Someone from theatre possibly…” he says.
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