Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai
“I am shifting my base to Hollywood,” proclaims Uday Chopra, who will establish the family production house Yash Raj Films (YRF) Entertainment in the West.
The 40-year-old actor, who has moved on from acting as he realises he will never be a star, now heads YRF’s international films division, and is meeting up with some of the biggest Hollywood stars.
He will, however, always return for Dhoom movies.
In a candid interview with Sonil Dedhia, Uday explains why he decided to quit acting, his Hollywood plans, his relationship with his father Yash Chopra and brother, Aditya Chopra, and why people should not take his tweets seriously.
You announced that Dhoom 3 is going to be your last film as an actor even before the film has released. Couldn’t you have made the announcement after its release?
There are two reasons for it. I think I have reached my saturation point as to what I can accomplish as an actor.
I am ambitious to do more than what has been offered me. I want to be the best in whatever career I choose and I don’t think I can get there as an actor. It’s a very realistic approach.
But when I say I am retiring, that doesn’t mean I am not going to act again. It just means that it is no longer my career.
I have set up a production company and I am producing movies in Hollywood and that is going to be my focus.
If a Dhoom 4 happens tomorrow, I would love to do it.
'I will keep acting as a hobby but not as a career'
What made you decide to stop acting?
When I started my career, I wanted to be a star.
I reached a stage in my career where I realised it was not going to happen. The kind of roles that were being offered to me weren’t going to propel me to become a star.
I am 40 today. I had to take a decision where either I could continue doing similar kinds of roles, or move on. A lot of actors are doing it and they are happy with it. But I knew money was not everything for me. I wanted to make my own identity.
You say that the kind of movies that were coming your way were not enticing enough. But you always had the cushioning of Yash Raj Films, where you could have created scripts for yourself.
Yes, I agree. But the audience was not accepting me. They accepted me as Ali (his character in Dhoom 3). They accepted me in a very light-hearted comic role. They will never accept me in serious or intense characters.
They didn’t accept me as a lead hero in Pyaar Impossible, which was written by me and produced under the YRF banner.
The film bombed at the box office and it opened my eyes.
Does the failure as an actor bother you?
Not any more. I have become mature with time and have accepted these things. I have moved on.
I am excited about what I am doing in LA. At one point, I was very low and did not know what to do and how to go forward.
But today I am excited about what I am doing. I will keep acting as a hobby but not as a career.
'People will come to see Dhoom 3 because of Aamir Khan'
How is Dhoom 3 different from the previous two Dhoom films?
With every Dhoom, we have had to go one step forward. When we made the first film, we never thought that it would become a big hit and we would make it into a franchise.
Dhoom was an experiment. My brother Adi (Aditya Chopra) took three guys, John, Abhishek and I and none of us was doing great in our careers at the time.
Yet, Adi had the confidence and decided to put a lot of money into the film.
The action was the star of the film and the bikes were like characters in the film.
Dhoom was the definitive action movie of its time.
When we decided to make Dhoom 2, we went a step forward and gave more than people expected.
With Dhoom 3, we have to do better than we did previously. People are still going to get the original flavour of Dhoom and the icing on the cake is Aamir Khan. He is a huge superstar and people will come to see it because of him.
You and Abhishek have been in all the three films. How was it having Aamir and Katrina on board?
Even though Aamir and Katrina are bigger stars, Abhishek and I were like senior actors on the sets (laughs).
Dhoom is like our home so we welcomed the guests. When Katrina and Aamir signed the film I actually told them ‘welcome to Dhoom’.
I have known Aamir since years. I assisted my father when he made Parampara with Aamir in 1992.
He was a different person then. He was very mischievous, always up to some pranks. Now he has become calm and is focused.
'I could have made the biggest film in India but I would still be under my father's and brother's shadow'
You went abroad to study. Was that to test the international market?
In a way it was. When I first told him I wanted to go abroad and do a course in production, my father was completely against it. His thinking was that YRF is one of the biggest production houses and we have all the contacts.
He told me that if I wanted to make a big budget movie he was ready to back it up.
I requested him to let me go and try. I enrolled for a course at UCLA (University of California and Los Angeles). The college ran the classes in the evening and a lot of people who worked in Hollywood would attend it.
So during the day I could meet a lot of agents, producers, and writers and build my contacts.
What was your father’s and brother’s reaction when you told them that you wanted to set up a production house in Hollywood?
My father thought I was an idiot. He thought I was stupid to go to Hollywood. On the other hand, my Adi really supported me.
I have grown up watching a lot of American films. I haven’t watched a lot of Hindi films.
It was a risky proposition but that’s the fun. I could have made the biggest film in India but I would still be under my father’s and brother’s shadow.
Staying here, I couldn’t have excelled beyond what they have already done. If things don’t work out, I can come back and join my brother here.
'I would love to direct a film'
So you have a fallback option and also have finance in place to set up a production house in Hollywood.
Yes. I have the backing of YRF and I have a little money but at the end of the day, if I don’t select the right script in Hollywood, I will be dead.
As of now I have been lucky that whatever scripts I have chosen are really good. One of my films, Grace of Monaco has been bought by Harvey Weinstein (Lord of the Rings series, and Pulp Fiction) and I made a profit on the table.
My other film, The Longest Week stars Jason Bateman and Olivia Wilde.
I received a call from Javier Bardem’s agent who said Bardem was interested in working with our production house.
Michael Mann called me and told me that he wanted to direct a film on Ingrid Bergman.
What is the status of Grace of Monaco?
It is ready. We are looking at March 2014 release.
Harvey Weinstein is looking after the distribution in the USA and there are distributors who will release the film in different parts of the world. In India, YRF will be distributing the film.
You are also planning to remake Bunty Aur Babli in Hollywood.
Yes. I have the script ready and it has come out really well. Unfortunately, the budget is too high so as of now I cannot make it.
Any plans to get into direction?
I would love to direct a film but I don’t know when that will happen.
'I'm yet to come to terms with my father's passing away'
Photographs: Abhijit Mhamunkar
Last year was a little unfortunate with your father’s sudden demise. How did you cope with such a big loss?
I'm yet to come to terms with that loss. It’s taken a long time for me to deal with it.
It’s just over a year that my father passed away and I was kind of depressed till recently. I realised I have to accept it and move on.
What do you miss the most about him?
I miss the relationship we shared. He was more like a brother than a father.
We would often joke that he was my brother and Adi was like a father to me. We would literally hide things from Adi.
We were both early risers and we would often have long chats in the morning. We bonded over Urdu poetry.
I miss a friend. I couldn't handle his passing away for the longest time.
'Aditya doesn't like too many people around him'
Photographs: Abhijit Mhamunkar
All through that period it was Rani Mukerji’s presence that was a big support to your family. What do you have to say about her presence?
I don’t want to talk too much about it as it is my brother’s personal life.
She is a very close family friend and a great support for our family.
Aditya and you have such contrasting personalities. Can you tell us why there is such a mystery around him? Why has he been so elusive with the media?
I don’t think he does it purposely; he doesn’t have anything against the media.
He is a very shy person. He doesn’t like too many people around him.
He has very few friends and doesn’t go out a lot. Also, he doesn’t want to be recognised. He wants to go and watch movies with the normal public.
His biggest high is to go and catch a matinee show on the first day with the regular public.
'My mother is constantly involved in the production house'
Photographs: Abhijit Mhamunkar
What were your growing up days like?
While growing up we were like best buddies. One-and-a-half years is not a big age difference. We would have lots of fights.
I finished college in 1994 and decided to go to Los Angeles to do a summer course in films, but more than that, to party (laughs).
One day I got a call from my father and he said that Adi had decided to direct his first film Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and he wants you to come and assist him.
I came back and on the first day on the sets, our entire relationship changed. Suddenly, from being my brother, he became the boss. I was just another assistant.
It felt like he was 10 years older than me and he became like a father figure.
Tell us about your mother, Pamela Chopra.
My mother was a huge part of the company when we started off. She wrote part of the story for Kabhie Kabhie and she used to sing in my father’s films.
She has contributed to the company in her own way. She is constantly involved in the production house.
'My priority is to set up my company and then I might think about marriage'
One often sees a very ‘no holds barred’ kind of personality on Twitter. What are you thinking when you retweet that you are one of the worst actors.
I was enjoying this process where people say anything that they want on Twitter.
The person who tweeted that I am the worst actor would have been very different to me, had they met me in real life.
Your tweet that you had proposed to actress Nargis Fakhri had become the talk of the town.
There are times when I get a little drunk and tweet some of the weirdest things. The problem is that people take these things too seriously. I tweet about having alcohol all the time but a lot of people have a problem with it.
At the end of the day, we are all human beings and most of us do enjoy having a drink with a friend.
Nargis and I are just friends and there is nothing between us.
Do you have any marriage plans?
I am a little old fashioned. Right now my priority is to set up my company and then I might think about marriage.
There is no pressure from anyone in the family.
So, are you single?
I am in a complicated place (laughs).