EXCLUSIVE: Paul Schrader On His Unlikely Reinvention as a Bollywood Auteur
On paper, the idea of Paul Schrader leaving Hollywood for Bollywood shouldn't work. Schrader's had a hand in some of the most iconic American films of the last century -- he scripted Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ and directed films like American Gigolo and Affliction -- and the dark themes that have long fascinated him would seem a mismatch for the joyous, colorful world of Indian cinema. And yet, that's exactly what makes the concept so immediately compelling; like Steven Soderbergh's planned Cleopatra musical, the idea of Paul Schrader directing a Bollywood musical is simply too bold to ignore.
After reading the announcement of the project (titled Xtrme City) in Variety this week, I called up Schrader to learn just what he has in mind. "I've made a career out of doing oddball films that have a very niche market," he admitted to me, right off the bat. "This runs contrary to that image."
The last several years have been tough on Schrader. In 2003, he completed a big-studio prequel to The Exorcist that was reshot by Renny Harlin, and his last two films -- the Woody Harrelson drama The Walker and the Holocaust film Adam Resurrected -- received minimal releases. "Independent film is drowning, as everyone keeps reminding us, and maybe this is a reaction to that in a way," said Schrader. "I'm trying to find something interesting to do while independent film goes through this rather difficult stage. It's more difficult than I've ever seen it to make an independent film in the U.S."
Xtreme City found its genesis last year when Schrader traveled to the Osian Film Festival in New Delhi, which had acquired his late brother Leonard's extensive lobby card collection. While there, he was pitched a Bollywood concept to direct, but "I didn't think it was a particularly good idea," Schrader said. "Then I got back to New York and a seed had been planted in my head. So I started coming up with another idea that I thought might work: a cross-cultural international thriller with a Bollywood base."
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