Starring: Vincent D’Onofrio, Anton Yelchin, Chris Marquette, Sean Patrick Flanery, Maria Valverde, Jordi Caballero
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Writers: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Abhijat Joshi
Cinematographer: Tom Stern
Music: John Debney
The fiery ‘Parinda’ declines into the whimsical “Broken Horse”
In 1990 India’s official entry to the Academy Awards for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ was “Parinda” (1989). Though nothing was achieved on that front, the film went on to become a benchmark of sorts capturing a juncture of the changing sensibilities and trends of mainstream Hindi films. Cut to 2015, almost 25 years later, Vidhu Vinod Chopra—the maker of Parinda—returns after a hiatus of 7 years [his last Bollywood offering was “Eklavya: The Royal Guard” (2007)] to forge a Hollywood debut out of his most celebrated film.
Set on the arid and ambiguous borders of the US and Mexico the middle-of-nowhere backdrop of “Broken Horses” highlights its prime shortcoming—the film is not sure of its motives. Right from the beginning the film jumps into the mould of Parinda: destiny pitting brother against brother. For the Indian viewer who is aware of Chopra’s original inspiration the film becomes an exercise in comparison. So, Jackie Shroff is replaced by the slightly unhinged big brother Buddy (Chris Marquette), Anton Yelchin’s Jakey takes on Anil Kapoor’s kid brother act, Vincent D’Onofrio’s ominous presence as Julius Hench presages Nana Patekar’s iconic villain Anna and Maria Valverde fills up the scenery and stands in for a much smaller role as Vittoria to substitute Madhuri Dixit’s Paro.
Chopra wisely shifted his screenplay from New York to the dustbowl border towns of US-Mexico. This gives him the freedom to adapt his Indian story to the US setting much more easily and also lends his film the spaghetti Western vibe that has prompted commentators to draw similarities with the legendary Sergio Leone of “The Dollar” trilogy.
The essential themes of the original story are mixed smartly into the novel backdrop. Two gang lords inch each other’s territory greedily, while stuck in the middle are Buddy and his New York returned brother Jakey—with the latter being sucked into the sordid dealings while going to desperate lengths to extricate Buddy from under Julius Hench’s fatal wings. The actors try to give measured performances to try and contribute layers to the otherwise one-line inspirational idea of retelling Parinda. Cinematographer Tom Stern, Clint Eastwod’s long-time collaborator brings the forlorn and sinister mix of a Western to his frames, John Debney’s musical score adds the right notes of poignancy to the plot while Todd E. Miller’s editing more or less understands the pace the film requires.
Chopra has carefully researched and constructed his first Hollywood project. While the magnitude of the attempt is impressive but the attempt in itself fails to bring real pathos to the story. Instead scenes stand out disjointedly for the memorable inclusion of a film theatre as a visual metaphor or the crisp editing of a sequence portraying the outwitting tricks of gangster rivalry. Overall, the plot feels orchestrated and strained. The Indian viewer is left waiting for the movie’s climax to see if the original end has been retained or tweaked.
When the film finally gets there and mulls on the metaphor behind the ‘broken horse’ and one sees what has been tweaked where, one feels the director’s contentment with trying an alternate ending. But one wonders did so much money need to be invested to merely fan the whim of a capable filmmaker see his masterpiece end differently? As the film takes its time to wind up the reviewer notices that there is just another foreign gentleman at the 9:15 show on Friday morning. Probably American, the gentleman walks off hurriedly as the end credits roll underlining the tragedy of a good story wronged by an inadequate retelling.