Broken Horses: Different film industry, same story

Ram Gopal Varma’s take on the Hindi film industry, Rangeela, featured a character called Steven Kapoor (Gulshan Grover), a director more interested in Hollywood than Bollywood. “Mera competition yahan ke directors se nahin, Hollywood ke directors se hai,” says Kapoor more than once in the movie. It was widely believed that Kapoor’s role was modelled on the filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who, in those days, was quite candid about his Hollywood aspirations. This fact was further corroborated in Suketu Mehta’s narrative non-fiction book Maximum City, where one of the chapters had Chopra talking about being torn between choosing Hollywood and Bollywood. Rangeela released in 1995; Maximum City hit the bookshelves in 2004. Chopra, meanwhile, made three forgettable films in the last 20 years: Kareeb (1998), Mission Kashmir (2000) and Eklavya: The Royal Guard (2007). His latest release, Broken Horses, however, is the kind of film that Chopra always wanted to make, one he’s never made before: a movie set in the U.S., produced by a major American studio (20th Century Fox), featuring American actors, settings and technicians — a Hollywood film in the true sense of the word.

Broken Horses is the story of two brothers — Buddy (Chris Marquette) and George (Anton Yelchin) — who have not met each other in the last eight years. The younger sibling, George, left his small town (near the U.S.-Mexican border) for New York to pursue a career in music; Buddy got duped into joining a gang and began making a killing by… killing people. There’s also something off about Buddy — he’s a little too cheerful, too accommodating, too naïve, too socially awkward. He isn’t particularly bright either. So although Buddy is the older brother, we know that it is George who will have to take care of him. However, it’s to Chopra’s credit that he doesn’t go out of his way to highlight Buddy’s mannerisms and slot him.

When George returns to his town, he gets embroiled in his older brother’s gang. Two brothers, where one is a gangster, the other an outsider; the older brother wants to use his earnings to provide for the younger one; the younger brother wants his elder sibling to quit the gang and live a normal life; a scheming, exploitative gangster, who is mortally scared of fire, dupes the older brother to keep him in the gang. We have seen this film before Broken Horses. And it shouldn’t be such a surprise because that film was made by the same man who’s made Broken Horses. That film was Parinda — made by Chopra more than 25 years ago.

Why would a director go to a different film industry to remake his own film made two and a half decades ago is a question that only Chopra can answer. And it’s a question that needs to be asked, because the most upsetting bit about Broken Horses is not that it tries to ape Parinda, but that it does a bad job of it. If you can look beyond the fact that you have been conned into watching essentially the same film all over again, you will find bad acting, stock characters and such embarrassing lines as “My imagination is running wild”, “My love, what’s the problem?”, “He’s a… bad man” aplenty. Broken Horses, for the most part, unfolds in autopilot mode, consisting of characters, shots and scenes that you have seen in many films before, and as a result, the film seems to not stir but replicate a feeling. Chopra doesn’t believe in fleshing out his characters and, consequently, their travails — what we get instead is a bunch of eccentric character tics that emerge devoid of any history or context.

Broken Horses, as banal as it is, could have been salvaged if Chopra understood his limitations and tried to worked around them — flashes of which can be briefly seen in the film’s third act via a rare well-acted, heartfelt scene — but, soon, the film ends on a high-pitched, jarring note that makes you really wonder about Chopra’s fixation with Hollywood.

An edited version of this review was published at The Sunday Guardian.

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