Uday Chopra wears a new hat today as a Hollywood producer. With his first international film Grace of Monaco, he has ventured into uncharted territory and despite the butterflies in his stomach, he's super excited and ambitious about this new role. In a candid chat, he opens up about his insecurity of never being able to grow out of his father and brother's shadow, his plans for the new banner, how he tackles haters on Twitter and why he loves flirting with Nargis Fakri...
Tell us a bit about your new role as Hollywood producer...
It was a personal decision to advance from being an actor to a producer, but doing that in Hollywood was a real challenge. Somewhere I wasn't sure if I will actually be able to do it; when I started off I didn't know how to go about it. But today it looks like I at least managed to get my way in. With Grace of Monaco I at least have a voice and platform. It's a first step so it's exciting that I met the first challenge now the focus is to continue making good movies and hopefully they do well.
Was it a blow to your ego to go to an environment where you are a nobody from being a celebrity back home?
I think it was a catharsis I went through before I went there. Before taking that decision, I told myself you are a nobody and you start from zero and work your way up. I went there expecting to be the nobody in the room, people were even confused to why I am there, I am from India -- a different culture -- why am I making movies in the US. But I think it was a matter of me getting educated by them and them understanding that am here representing one of the biggest studios in India. We know our job and understand how to make movies, it's just we are doing it in a different language. Now they do understand this, and we are smaller compared to the big names in America, but we are taking baby steps and getting there.
In your experience, is it easier to make films in Hollywood?
There are two processes, I think its easier once you have the entire team in terms of artistes, director, as their structure of financing and their banking is really well done. To make the film once all this is in place, it is fine. But getting to that point from an inception of an idea to getting your team together, that could take ages, it could even take ten years. That is very tough. Getting the industry excited about a project and getting them to green light a project and sanction it is very tough.
Honestly does Hollywood really know about Bollywood, or do we just exaggerate the notion?
They think Slumdog Millionaire is Bollywood. When they say I have seen Bollywood, they mean they have seen Slumdog Millionaire. But there are a few people in the Hollywood industry who have seen some of our content and are aware of a Shah Rukh Khan or an Aamir Khan, however their numbers are very few.
What has been your biggest learning experience with this film?
For me the script is far more important than anything else...
You think we take that lightly in Bollywood?
To a certain extent yes, we take much less time on a script. If we like a script we just take it to production, while there I can't do that, I have to raise some kind of finance and for that to happen the script needs to be phenomenal and only then will an agent read it. They normally don't go beyond page 30 of your script. And if they don't like it, there is no progress. If they do like it then they hand it over to their talent, and if the actor likes it then there is a chance of a film. So that's the learning, to spend as much time as possible on your script to know that most people are only going to read it once and that one reading has to be your everything. So until you are there, you shouldn't give it out to anybody.
We deal with Rs100-200 crore films, while there they talk about millions and billions, do you think we would ever reach those figures?
It's question of language at the end of the day. English is spoken more widely than Hindi is, so for Indian cinema to reach those numbers is going to be tough when you talk about worldwide collections. I feel our figures will keep growing higher and higher, because our industry is expanding and Indian cinema is filtering into newer places, but I feel it's a language barrier as English is spoken and understood in most countries in the world and Hindi has its limitations
Have you realised that your films under the Hollywood banner might up making more money than any YRF film ever?
Yes, that's possible when you look at the world wide collections. At the end of the day, most of our money comes from Indian audience, while the overseas collection is miniscule, but for an American production it's the other way around.
Have you learnt anything new that you can apply to the current YRF model?
The way we plan our movies and do them is quite similar. Our systems are very organised, at least our studio is, so it's not that we need to learn how to make films. Our culture is different, we do things in a different way, so if you say their way is better, I wouldn't agree with that. But I feel their financing models and the way the industry is structured is good for independent producers
What was Aditya Chopra's reaction to your decision to turn into a Hollywood producer?
In fact this thought came to me from Adi. When I decided in 2010 that I wanted to do something different apart from acting, Adi said have you thought of expanding YRF and making Hollywood films. I wasn't sure how to go about, but he believed in me and said if you want to do it, then find a way. I realised sitting in India it's not going to happen. In 2011 summer, I went to LA. I joined the production work shop in UCLA, and in the day time I would just meet people.
Is there anything you learnt from Adi that you applied in your role as a producer?
When I left for LA, Adi told me there are no rules. YRF has a set of rules that we follow here, but in Hollywood you are a small fish and you have to follow their rules. He told me just be open to everything and do whatever it takes to make that movie you want.
You could have continued making films for YRF...
My father thought I was stupid to do this; he said you are going to a place where nobody knows you and it's a competitive market where everyone is throwing huge amounts of money around, why are you doing this when you can do a lot more and bigger stuff in India? I always felt being here I would always be under the shadow of my father, no matter how much success I get I will never be able to cross what my father and brother have done. So it excited me personally in a way that is a space that's completely mine and my work whether it works or not would be on my credit.
Do you miss acting?
Acting is my first love. If given a choice I could be in status of being an actor. It's just that my ambition was to do more, I knew I could continue getting roles like Ali (Dhoom) and stay in that bracket of actors which is fine when you don't have options. Also, I could make a reasonable amount of money, it,s just that I didn't want to continue doing those type of roles. It was great for Dhoom, I would willingly do it again, but if I keep doing the same role it is creatively not satisfying. Secondly my dream was to be bigger in my field than be at that level and I knew after Pyaar Impossible that its never going to happen.
Have you retired from acting for good?
If it's Dhoom I would love to come back and do it, but I can't do full-fledged roles as my work will require me to be in the US a lot more. But if something fun and whacky comes up then I might do it for the fun of it. As I said acting will always be my first love.
Grace of Monaco is a biopic, if you had to watch a biopic on an Indian celeb who would it be?
Maybe my father's, that would be interesting, and even Raj Kapoor's. That would make a great biopic given he's lived such a colorful life.
Your are super active on Twitter, how do you deal with trolls?
I figured that people don't really hate you, they might say things to aggravate you, but they just want attention. They want you to say something about it, and most of the times they want to tell their friends, 'See I told Uday Chopra this!' I feel everyone just wants attention and this is their way of getting it. I used to respond and get upset. Now I make a joke out of it and respond just for the fun of it, but most of the times I let it pass.
What's up with the flirty tweets between you and Nargis Fakhri?
I think she's a beautiful girl and every guy naturally has (pauses) 'other thoughts'. Of course I flirt with her a lot on Twitter as I do in real life. But we are friends, and I don't want to say anything more than that and she's got a great sense of humour.
Do you think she's often misunderstood for her sense of humour?
The thing that people don't understand about Nargis is that they see her as Indian. Because she looks Indian enough, so they expect her to get the culture. But they don't understand that you have to look at her as if she is blonde and has blue eyes, because that's actually who she is. She's lived all her life and been brought up in Queens in New York, she has travelled all over the world. She never came to India until she came for Rockstar, so if they see her as a blue eyed blond girl they wouldn't say why doesn't she get the culture. Unfortunately, for her as people see her as an Indian, they think she should get it. Her father was Pakistani, but he passed away early so she never really had a connection with that culture.
With Adi married, is your mum putting pressure on you for marriage ?
No, I think my mum's given up on my marriage. I am 41! So with Adi's wedding, I think she's happy, my brother is happy, but I still have a little bit of time. I want to focus on the company even though it's a cliched answer, for me it's not about wealth, it's about having a productive unit which I am hoping to get out of YRF and I have told myself the day I make enough profit, I will definitely think of getting married and settling down.
If you had to describe yourself in three lines...
I go from being sublime to ridiculous. That's what I am, sometimes strangely profound, sometimes ridiculously funny.