With Grace of Monaco and another movie with Jason Bateman coming up, Uday Chopra is already emerging from his brother’s shadow. But he admits he will never be one of the ‘cool guys.’ By Udita Jhunjhunwala
You might say Uday Chopra has it all. The younger son of producer-director Yash Chopra, younger brother to Aditya Chopra, star of movies like Mohabbatein and the Dhoom series and, as per tabloid stories, dating a model-actress (Nargis Fakhri maybe?), Uday Chopra is truly to the manor born. But Uday’s career did not see the meteoric rise one might expect from the son of one of Bollywood’s leading producers propped by Bollywood’s premiere film studio, YRF. A decade of attempts at achieving solo star status culminated in the 2010 flop Pyaar Impossible. Since then Uday, 41, has only been seen as Jai, the street-smart sidekick in Dhoom 3, a film he proclaimed would be his ‘swan song’. Then last month, standing alongside Hollywood star Nicole Kidman on the Cannes red carpet was Uday Chopra, one of the producers of Grace of Monaco. This is the first Hollywood film to feature Yashraj Films’ logo. The next will be The Longest Week. YRF Entertainment has also optioned Seducing Ingrid Bergman, a novel by Chris Greenhalgh, about actress Ingrid Bergman and her affair with war photographer Robert Capa. And this, says Uday, is just the beginning.
Learning to reinvent
Three years ago Uday established YRF Entertainment, “a Hollywood-based production and financing company focussed on developing and producing feature films for the US and international marketplace.” He spends some of the year in the USA now, reading scripts, taking meetings, seeking scripts and gradually establishing a presence for his fledgling venture. So what made Uday, a big fish in a big pond head west and start as a small fish in an even bigger pond? “The challenge, I guess,” he says, sitting in his Mumbai office, six days before the release of Grace of Monaco in India. “Things here were too comfortable — I have these beautiful premises, all the facilities and access to all the major filmmakers and stars. It’s very easy for me. But I would always be in the shadow of my father and brother. I know that even in my greatest success I would always be looked at as the third Chopra in a way. I wanted to create a name for myself in the same industry, even if it is small so that whenever I have children and a family, they have this and they can take it further.”
After his solo hero project Pyaar Impossible failed to click with audiences, Uday got a bitter taste of reality and accepted that he needed to reinvent. “Acting didn’t serve me the way I wanted it to. I reached a point in my life when I realised I would only be doing Ali kind of roles and I didn’t want to do that role repeatedly. I am an ambitious guy and super-successful people have always surrounded me. I also wanted to have that degree of success. It was tough for me to accept at that time, as I do enjoy acting and it will always be my first love.”
Need a jedi, anyone?
Although he has made public declarations of hanging up his boots, Uday is not totally averse to the idea of acting — provided the right role comes along. “Right now I don’t have the time and I am not in the country much, but if it’s a fun part and interesting role — like that of a Jedi or a cowboy — I will do it for the fun of it.” And is there also the possibility of a Dhoom 4? “Yes, I will do that if they still want to retain us as Ali and Jai. But if Abhishek (Bachchan) does not do it, I will not do it. So it all depends on him! I am sure he will say the same thing,” says Uday who counts Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan and Jugal Hansraj as his closest friends in the industry. Hansraj directed Uday in Pyaar Impossible, which had enhanced elements of the latter’s life. “I do think of myself as a geek. In school, I was that guy who silently loved a girl and wrote poems for her. I have always been into computers and electronics and never really been able to express myself or be one of the cool guys, in spite of being a hero on screen. I always found it hard to talk to women. But the movie version is exaggerated — I am not that bad with women,” he says.
Uday regrets some early decisions and rues the absence of sound advice on certain matters which he believes may have changed the course of his career. “I wish I had done more movies. I turned down a lot of stuff thinking they were not good enough. But I should have done some of them because it would have been a learning experience and I would have had more work out there. I also learnt late that PR is very important. It can make or break you. We were a very closed family in the past. Our public image was our movies. It was never taught to me that as an actor you must have a public image and you must be aware how that public image is being presented. Maybe if I had known that and leveraged it better, I may not have suffered as much of a loss as I did on Pyaar Impossible.”
The anonymity of being away from India is one of the charms of being in Hollywood, where even his collaborators are often unaware of his antecedents. “I have only made two movies, so I have only been on set with a few actors and some crew. Most of them don’t know I used to be an actor. But while we were shooting The Longest Week in New York some Indian boys came over and wanted to have a picture taken with me. The unit wondered why these boys wanted my picture. Then one of them came over and asked me ‘are you someone famous’? I said ‘yes, I am an actor in India’.”
Today Chopra is leading a somewhat nomadic life, spending half a year out of India and large chunks of time in USA. He’s working on scripts, looking for new collaborators and is completely committed to his Hollywood aspirations. Fortunately, even while on the road, Uday never feels alone. He’s connected to the world through his numerous Twitter followers and interactions on various social networking platforms.
“Social networking is perfect for a geek like me. I always say: I don’t like meeting people but I love people, so Twitter is the perfect platform. When I was traveling after Pyaar Impossible, I was in LA for a month and I was totally on my own. That’s when I realised I could tweet my thoughts, what food I was eating, where I was driving and people would respond. I was spending my time with all these people and I would not feel lonely. That’s when I got into it,” says Chopra.
The other side of Chopra
There is a core difference between the two brothers, besides producer-director Aditya Chopra’s famed reticence and Uday’s gregarious online personality. While the brothers share the same essential core values and also react similarly to creative things, they differ in their styles of business. “He’s always been an elder brother figure and his opinion has mattered so much in my life that I lost my own opinion along the way. So, at the moment, I feel it is healthier for me to figure out my own instinct,” says Uday, adding that the brothers often liken their personalities to characters from Ayn Rand’s famed novel The Fountainhead. “Adi considers himself Howard Roark while I consider myself Gail Wynand. He says Roark is the man, but I think Roark is naïve. He thinks everything will happen because he’s righteous, but the world doesn’t work that way. Whereas Wynand has been beat down and he knows how the world works. He wags the dog and I think these days it is about wagging the dog.”
Twitter alter ego
Twitter has taught me that everyone wants to be heard…they will praise u, ridicule u, laugh at, or with u but all anyone seeks is attention.
Yesterday it was butter chicken today it’s going to be shawarma… at the end of the day… they are all problem solvers
I’m waiting for my brother to have children, just so I can tell them that their father doesn’t exist #UdayChopraMadnessHour
Early movie memory
“I must have been six years old. My father was shooting Kaala Patthar and I was standing there with a stick in my hand. I really wanted to be part of that frame so I kept putting my stick into the shot and they kept cutting it. But I was so pleased my stick was in the shot.”
Truth be told On Nargis Fakhri
(He had tweeted a picture of himself drinking out of a mug with her photo):
“Nargis is a friend and that mug is one she had gifted me. That picture was meant to be for fun because of all the speculations about whether we are together or not, and comments like ‘how did Uday get a girl like Nargis’. So I thought, this is fun — posting a picture saying ‘who’s Nargis man?’ Most of my tweets don’t mean much, but people just try to find meaning in them.