It’s been a rough decade for Paul Schrader. Writing “Taxi Driver” only gets you so far — his last two films (“The Walker,” “Adam Resurrected”) received token releases met with widespread critical indifference, and his “Exorcist” prequel was reshot by Renny “Deep Blue Sea” Harlin. For a guy who takes himself as seriously as Schrader does, that has to hurt. So Schrader did the same thing anyone in his position would do: he sulked off to India to make a Bollywood gangster thriller/musical: “Xtrme City,” which will soon start casting.
Hey, everyone’s doing it. And it’s not Schrader’s first venture abroad, either: 1985’s “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” was in Japanese, and none the poorer for it. Talking to Movieline‘s Kyle Buchanan, Schrader describes his move to Mumbai as a way to wait out the indie recession, noting that he’s watched over 100 Bollywood movies to give himself a crash course and listened to the advice he was given about plotting — that, for instance, the American hero can’t in love with the Indian hero’s sister. As producer David Weisman put it, “What Mushtaq [Sheikh, Schrader’s co-screenwriter] pointed out to him is that it’s impossible for that to happen in an Indian movie. If our hero falls in love with the sister of his best friend, our audience expects to find out later that the hero is actually the villain because no hero would do that.”
That Schrader’s willing to play the game on Bollywood terms is heartening; his movies have been pretty hermetic and hard to enter of late. More filmmakers should shake themselves up this way — Schrader seems genuinely pumped. Better yet, he disses “Slumdog Millionaire,” which has become one of my least favorite Best Picture winners: “I felt it highlighted the pimples and it didn’t look at the dimples, you know what I mean?” Schrader says. “Not everybody is taking small kids and gouging their eyes out and making beggars out of them.” Very true.
[Photo: “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” Criterion, 1985.]