Chuck Russell had just landed in Delhi when we got on a call with him. The filmmaker has forayed into Bollywood with Junglee. As he made most of his time while driving to the hotel, the director-producer-screenwriter also said, “I love talking about the movie.
So, don’t rush too much.” Right enough, he passionately spoke not only about the project but also its lead actor, Vidyut Jammwal. “It’s a wonderful anti-poaching story and a family adventure film about the elephants. I hope the Indian audiences love it as much as we do because it’s truthful to the country,” he states. Excerpts from a conversation with Chuck, who is known for blockbusters such as The Mask (1994), Eraser (1996) and The Scorpion King (2002) among many others.
What led you to make a Bollywood film and what was the experience like?
Ever since The Mask did so well with the global audiences, it gave me the confidence and passion to tell universal stories. Also, I was always a bit jealous of filmmakers here because they can throw a song and dance whenever they please and that’s so entertaining.
I was really looking forward to doing that in this project. Right from the screenplay level and all the way through filming, the producers pushed for a greater level of emotion even though it’s an action movie. As it turns out, Junglee is the most emotional action film I’ve ever made
How did you zero in on Vidyut as your main hero?
I’ve had most successes when I’ve developed a screenplay for a specific actor — The Mask was for Jim Carrey, Eraser for Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Scorpion King was always meant to be Dwayne Johnson’s first leading role. Before I agreed to do this film, I flew out to meet Vidyut, and was thrilled with his work. I’ve brought new things about him to the audiences, which I saw in him and incorporated in the character. There’s a warmth, humour and vulnerability that I like to bring into my tough guys in action films. Vidyut is a real martial artiste, unlike some of the other action heroes I’ve worked with. As a performer, he communicates well globally.
You have also incorporated Kalaripayattu in the narrative…
Kalaripayattu is based on the natural world and animal flow. The movie is also about returning to Mother Earth and saving the elephants. Vidyut is already tuned into nature and the elephants reacted to him in a special way in part because of that. The thing I’m most pleased we caught on film is the real relationship between him and the bull tusker. He spent time bonding with it and the shots are not some Hollywood staging. It’s from the weeks he spent with the elephants.
Junglee has clashed with Dumbo, which is also based on elephants and targetted at the younger audiences. Do you see that as competition?
Well, Dumbo is a CGI movie and a Disney fairy tale, and I’m sure it’s extremely charming. But we have used nothing of that. There’s something deeply spiritual about Junglee and we’re using the herd in its natural habitat. I just reach out to the audiences and don’t think in terms of competition. They seem like very different stories to me. Honestly, I haven’t seen anything like Junglee, so there’s no comparison.
Have you checked out other Hindi films?
I’m familiar with some of the movies and stars here. I’m a big fan of Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots.
Are you open to working on more Bollywood projects?
I loved working with Bollywood teams. There are so many wonderful actors and actresses here. So, it’s possible I could do another Indian film, but I like the idea of doing adventures that might have heroes from multiple cultures. Indian culture is perfect for global markets as well –— films such as Baahubali are starting to pierce the western market.
Would you consider remaking one of your older films for the Indian audiences?
I don’t believe in remaking something, but taking a concept further. The idea of a supernatural comedy like The Mask as a Bollywood film would be hysterical.