Small Business

The Plot Thickens, Slowly


By Vivek Wadhwa

BARGAIN-BASEMENT BRITS. If the Hollywood/Bollywood issues weren't enough, there was a debate about whether we wanted a Hugh Grant-style actor or a Tom Hanks one. When Brad and Kashmira wrote the original script, they envisaged our lead character to be an American. But Duncan, who happens to be British, had a different idea.

He thought that our hero should be a self-effacing Englishman. He said that the English are perceived to be intelligent, passionate, sophisticated, and worldly. I argued that in parts of the world, the English are often perceived to be snobbish and old-fashioned. An American's character would be easier to fall in love with, I thought. The debate raged on. Eventually, budget considerations broke the tie: English actors typically charge a quarter of what their Hollywood counterparts command. A Hugh Grant it was.

We had not resolved all the script conflicts and we were now four months into the project. How long would this drag on? I had written entire computer systems with massive amounts of software code in less time than this was taking. When I raised this issue with Duncan and Brad, they thought I was being unrealistic.

LOCAL TALENT. All these delays had also impacted our selection of a director for the film. This was a Hollywood movie, so we had envisaged hiring a Hollywood director. Rich Martini,who directed You Can't Hurry Love and other titles, was highly qualified and very eager, but with the delay, he was no longer available. We had also spoken to other directors who were excited about the unique opportunity to work in Bollywood, but we couldn't commit to dates. As time rolled by, I was getting even more nervous. Would we ever finish this project?

Then, over Christmas, Brad e-mailed Duncan and me from Mumbai, asking for an urgent conference call. He said that he had found a solution to our problems. Brad said that there was only one way this project could work. We would have to hire an Indian director and have the final version of the script completed by an Indian team. Brad's argument was that Indians always watched Hollywood movies, and understood Western values, but there were few directors in Hollywood who regularly watched Bollywood movies, or who truly understood Indian values. Duncan was supportive and open-minded, but wanted a lot more information before he would agree. I simply hadn't a clue.

Brad introduced us to a Bollywood director/screenwriter named Rajeev Virani. Rajeev had gone to school in San Francisco, and formed a very successful production company in India, that specializes in TV shows, commercials, and documentaries. Rajeev and his team had already spent considerable time analyzing our script and plans. They believed that they could add the Indian flavor back to the script, and produce a world-class movie, well within our budgets and timeframes. They were also ready to cancel or delay other productions for the chance to work on our project.

WRITE STUFF. After extensive conversations with Rajeev, and after reviewing his works, Duncan finally warmed up to the idea of having an Indian director for our film, and said that he was pleased with this selection.

Brad, Kashmira, and Rajeev then began a series of marathons to create a script that had the Bollywood melodrama and family values, but also would appeal to a Hollywood audience. After the last session, Brad finally called to say, that they were done. They had just worked 60 hours over three days to create a version that had everything we were looking for. Brad declared that we were ready to start preproduction.

I wanted to give this script the acid test. I called up John Harvey, one of my oldest and closest friends, who lives Down Under in Australia, composes music for a living, and, like most Australians, has had little exposure to Bollywood or Indian culture. I asked him to read the script and tell me what he thought. John woke me up in the middle of the night to say that he had never laughed and cried at the same time in his life, and never really understood Indian values and morals until he read the script. He absolutely loved it. On top of this, he had decided to visit India himself to experience this world first-hand. I suspect that he also hoped to bump into a beautiful actress. It looks like my poor friend John had also caught the Bollywood bug.

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