Posing for pictures on the blue and white terrace of their Bandra home and office, Vidhu Vinod Chopra murmurs to his wife Anupama Chopra, “This feels so strange.”
Vinod and Anupama seem like the archetypical opposites that attract. People allude to Vinod as an ‘eccentric megalomaniac’. He minces no words in his interviews and has a flaming temper, seen recently on national television when he berated journalists during the Chetan Bhagat-3 Idiots copyright controversy. The words “So shut up” are now stuck to him, like a maddening piece of chewing gum on the sole of a shoe. The petite Anupama has the image of a peacemaker; she’s amiable, patient to a fault and often collapses in laughter. Yet the most curious part of their relationship is presented by their day jobs—he’s a famous moviemaker, she’s a top film critic.
He scripts the success story of one of India’s biggest production houses, Vinod Chopra Films, with hits like Munnabhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Parineeta and last year’s gargantuan 3 Idiots. Meanwhile, Vinod continues to direct cinema on his terms—whether it was the path-breaking gangster movie Parinda in 1989 or the palace intrigue Eklavya in 2007 that many viewers and critics here deemed self-indulgent. Anupama critiques weekly releases on her TV show on NDTV with a tongue that’s measured, yet sweetly acidic. No stranger to the world of films (her mother Kamna Chandra wrote Prem Rog and Chandni), Anupama has been a film journalist for the last 18 years. She has also authored a hugely entertaining book on the cult film Sholay, one on Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and a biography of Shah Rukh Khan—King of Bollywood.
By virtue of her job, Anupama sometimes sees six Hindi and English movies a week; Vinod reveals he catches about four new releases a year. In 2009, he only saw three quarters of Dev.D on a flight (“I liked the large chunks I saw”) and then 3 Idiots, a film he produced.
Vinod was once contemptuous of film critics, now he is indifferent to them. “They are not important in my life. It’s not that I deliberately don’t see or read them,” he says, as the three of us sit down in his office, “When you read a critic like AO Scott (The New York Times), you learn about the movie you’re going to see. You learn about cinema. I’m not running anybody down, but here, reviews are non-engaging.”
Q Anupama, when you see an outstanding movie, do you drag Vinod to the theatres?
Anupama: No, never. We actually don’t have the same taste in movies. His great line to me is: “If we ever split up, it will only be because of your great love for everything Yashraj.” And candyfloss and Karan Johar. My classics are Sholay and Deewar. His references are older; V Shantaram and Mughal-e-Azam. I remember Karan had invited us to see Kal Ho Naa Ho. I was sitting there weeping copious tears while Shah Rukh was dying, and Vinod says, “I can’t handle this!” (both laugh loudly).
After marriage, I once forced him to watch the Bipasha Basu film Raaz because it was a big hit. At that time, we used to have security because the whole mafia thing was happening. So we went with our armed bodyguard. Halfway through Raaz, Vinod got up and said, “You watch the rest of this with the bodyguard,” and rushed out.
Vinod: I went to the premiere of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge when we were courting and sang a song to her from three seats away. That was really funny because (directors) Ramesh Sippy and Subhash Ghai were on either side of me. I don’t go for premieres, so I had told Adi Chopra, who was still a student of cinema then, that if you give me a good seat, I’ll come for Dilwale’s premiere. Anu and her mother were four seats away in a corner. When the song came, I sang out loud (sings), “Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam…”
Anupama: Can you imagine how embarrassing that was?
Vinod: Everyone was wondering what was happening. They could hear me louder than Shah Rukh Khan.
Q To the film industry, Vinod, you’re sleeping with the enemy (both burst out laughing). To journalists, Anupama, it’s like you’re married to the mob. Do people ask you about being married to each other?
Vinod: No one asks me.
Anupama: His image is too fierce.
Vinod: I’m sure they’d like to.
Anupama: See, I already begin my review from a compromised position. Film critics in the States don’t even interview the stars. When you get face time with a star, it’s considered that you can’t be fully objective. In our position, we interview stars, but I’m even married into the film industry. All reviews are subjective, but it’s very important to me that there is never any bias, any untruth or any appearance of favours. The good thing is that Vinod and I are social hermits. It would be difficult for me to review films that close friends made, if I had been partying with them till 3 am. I’ve been writing for 18 years now and only one person has said to me, “You reviewed my film wrongly because I’m Vinod’s competition.”
Vinod: Who was that?
(Anupama names a senior director, but requests we don’t print this)
Vinod: He considers himself my competition (laughs). What a fool—kitna delusional hai.
Anupama: I take pride in the fact that only one person has said that to my face in all these years. What they say behind my back, I don’t know.
Vinod: Sometimes it’s annoying because on her show, she doesn’t talk of my films. I recently got genuinely annoyed. She wrote an article in The New York Times about the big hits of India and there was no mention of 3 Idiots. Yeh toh ulta pagalpan hai, na? If I was not married to her, I would have got a good article.
Anupama: Yes, sometimes it works in reverse. The New York Times did not allow their Hindi film reviewer to review 3 Idiots because she’s a friend of mine. But I would rather err on that extreme than be seen as a person who is compromised.
Q Have you ever trashed one of Vinod’s friend’s movies?
Vinod: Mera toh koi friend hi nahin hai (I don’t have any friends).
Q Did you two fall in love during 1942: A Love Story or Kareeb?
Vinod: No, no, Kareeb I made for her. Mera calculation galat ho gaya (I miscalculated), and I made her kind of movie. I was so much in love that I made Kareeb for her. That girl (the heroine) was her, the giggling mother was her mother. I got jacked because it wasn’t my kind of movie at all. It was the most expensive love letter ever written.
Anupama: And oof, for one scene, he woke me up at 5 am to just sit on the side (of the frame). The other reference I have in his movies is in Lage Raho Munnabhai. There’s a scene in which Circuit tells Munna, “Isko chhod dete hain. Doosre radio station pe ek Anupama Chopra hain, woh sirf Shah Rukh Khan ke bare mein baat karti hain, uske paas jayenge.”
Q When did you first meet?
Anupama: On (the sets of) 1942: A Love Story; my mother was one of the writers of that film.
Vinod: I remember I was recording the background music for 1942 and I was walking past her and she just held my hand.
Anupama: What rubbish!
Vinod: I said, “Oh my God, what’s happening?”
Anupama: As if I would randomly hold his hand! But I have to tell you I tried to interview him before we even met. In 1989, I was working for Movie magazine and he was still shooting Parinda. I wanted to do a story on ‘Directors of Tomorrow’ and there was so much buzz about Parinda that I wanted to feature him. I called him and he asked me, “What do you know about my yesterday? Do you know I’ve won 21 awards? Go do your homework.”
Vinod: Yeah, saala I had been nominated for an Oscar (for An Encounter With Faces)… and some chick calls me (mimicking in a posh voice), “I want to feature you in directors of tomorrow.” I said, “What? Look at my past.”
Anupama: I dropped the idea. I thought, this guy sounds completely mad.
Vinod: No, I said no to you. I said, “Jaane de (let it be), go talk to some other people.”
Anupama: I left for America for studies, but told my mother, “He’s so arrogant.” Then Parinda released that December and I was stunned. I told my mom, “He’s brilliant, please work with him.” So I assume even that incident led to our marriage.
Q How did you feel when Vinod told one of your fraternity recently to shut up?
Vinod: It wasn’t her fraternity. It has nothing to do with where she is. You can pick up some filmmaker from Naaz and say he’s part of my fraternity. He’s not.
Anupama: Now, don’t be rude to journalists. It was bad, bad behaviour (on Vinod’s part) and inexcusable in my book. But you know, he has a long and colourful history.
Vinod: I once bashed up a film critic.
Q Yes, there are some legends about Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Did you really chase a critic around Film City?
Vinod: No, no, idhar mara thha (I hit him here), at Sea Rock Hotel in Bandra. I chased him from the swimming pool to the rocks.
Q And you locked the doors of the movie theatre during the premiere of 1942: A Love Story, even though some of your movie star guests hadn’t arrived?
Vinod: Yes, the premiere was to start at 9 pm and I locked the doors at 9:30 pm. Told the rest, “Go home.” It’s not right. You can’t come half an hour late. Picture shuru hua phir aa rahe hain, popcorn khaane ke liye (Why are they coming in after the movie has started, to eat popcorn)? It’s not a party, it’s a premiere.
Q While shooting Kareeb, you bit the hand of your heroine (Neha) because she didn’t lift her dupatta with the hand you wanted?
Anupama: Yes, I was there.
Vinod: I had to. I had spent one full day trying to get her to do the shot right. She kept lifting the wrong hand. Two hundred people had stayed back, the shot had to happen at magic hour and if it didn’t, then I had no money to stay back for one more day. So what would I do? It was the situation. People were hanging on that cliff, the fog machines were there, I was on a crane, the sun had set. Toh main crane se utra (So I got off the crane) and I went and bit her hand and told her, “The hand that hurts—that’s the hand you lift.” I got my shot immediately. The job of the director is to direct. I directed. It’s become a legend, but I just did my job.
Q Vinod is regarded as brilliant, but he’s also known for his arrogance and temper. Do you keep him in check, Anupama?
Anupama: Does he seem like a man who can be kept in check (both laugh)?
Vinod: No, it’s a false image. I’m neither arrogant nor do I get angry.
Anupama: Of course you get angry, but it’s far, far less now.
Vinod: I’m sometimes driven to it.
Anupama: The problem with him is that he’s very emotional and protective. On that day (when he shouted at the media), he thought Raju Hirani and (3 Idiots writer) Abhijat Joshi were being attacked. If you go back and see it, it looked like Raju was going to cry. It was heartbreaking for them. Vinod is this Punjabi from Kashmir—what better combination can you find for road rage than that?
Vinod: You’re right, that’s why I reacted. To attack Raju? Such a good guy; saintly fellow. I’m a very basic, emotional guy.
Anupama: If you attack his family, he’ll bite you first and ask later, “What happened?” He’s a fearless watchdog (Vinod mock-growls).
Q What is your favourite film of Vinod’s?
Vinod: Better say Kareeb, saala I lost so much money because of you.
Anupama: No, for sure, not Kareeb. The movie went off after a point. I love his diploma film Murder at Monkey Hill, then Encounter with Faces, Parinda and I loved a lot of 1942: A Love Story, especially the songs. I liked a lot of Eklavya.
Q And you can take Anupama’s criticism?
Vinod: I am willing to take anything from anybody about my films. I have perspective. I don’t think I’m a genius. I’m the only person who shows my film to hundreds of people before it releases, and I ask them, “What’s wrong? Tell me.” My scripts are good because I’m listening. The only way you can improve is by listening to your critics. The poet Kabir says, and I translate, “Keep a critic in your aangan next to you.”
Anupama: I suppose that is what you do.
Vinod: But wait, a real critic. Not guys who give stars—they are caught in some power struggle. I’m open to criticism. Ask my crew; they say there’s so much difference between my image and the real me.
Q Which are your favourite books of Anupama’s?
Anupama: I don’t think he’s read them. He loves to read in Hindi.
Vinod: Sholay I haven’t read fully, but I went through most of it and it was really nice. I’m not a great reader.
Q Is there essential viewing for your kids?
Vinod: That is Anu’s department. I do what she tells me.
Anupama: No, and intriguingly, my children aren’t very interested in movies. My son loved 3 Idiots, but he’s just besotted with cricket. My daughter only watches animation. Her current thing is Harry Potter.
Vinod: I love animation. I saw Up, it was amazing.
Q What are your guilty pleasures?
Anupama: Forty-year-old Virgin. I died laughing. There’s Something about Mary. Movies have to engage you. I’ve always had populist tastes.
Vinod: Guilty pleasure, what’s that?
Anupama: A film that’s not great, but you go back to it anyway.
Vinod: (Thinks, then shakes head slowly) Nahin, aisa kucch nahin (no, nothing like that).
Anupama: The idea itself is alien to him.