He directed blockbuster entertainers like Parinda (1989) and 1942: A Love Story (1993). He experimented with ideas as the writer of Eklavya: The Royal Guard (2007) and Munnabhai MBBS (2003). With Broken Horses, Vidhu Vinod Chopra has broken norms along with the boundaries of language, location and actors. Unfortunately, while within the mainstream, his fresh perspectives were well received; breaking norms on Hollywood turf will not break box-office records or even knock at the critics’ doors. Shot against the Western locale of Mexico, Chopra’s Broken Horses is a story about two brothers Buddy Heckum (Chris Marquette) and Jacob Heckum (Anton Yelchin) tracing their lives after the death of their father. While the elder brother Buddy dons the role of responsibility by sacrificing his own education and adopting the job of Julius Hench’s henchman; the younger brother Jacob pursues the violin. The two worlds of the brothers clash and crash with Jacob’s return to their Mexican hometown and the plot spirals into some nasty twists and turns. Yes, the plot is shared with the Jackie Shroff- Anil Kapoor starrer Parinda. However, the English version does not share the impact of its Hindi predecessor. To the regular Bollywood audience, Chopra’s Broken Horses surely serves some deviations from the norm thereby making the narrative unique and different. The slow pan camera movements and smooth editing pattern creates a slow, stagnated pace throughout the film. This helps to establish the truncated state of Mexico where
progress and prosperity have not mitigated the harshness of the landscape and the cruelty of the gangsters. The heavy dose of interior setting of the ranch house, the dilapidated theater and Hotel Esparano with dim lighting and wooden furnish creates a dark, claustrophobic mood of entrapment that the central characters find themselves in. It forces the audience to focus and think about the interior, psychological reality of the characters. The long shots and wide angle shots captures the deserted and menacing Mexican locale. So why don’t these broken norms not beckon the audience? Slow pace and dark atmospheres characteristic of renowned directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese create dramatic effect for they are accompanied by slow but subtle camera movements, phenomenal acting and a natural pace of dialogue delivery. Chopra makes his frame too static for the scene to come alive and create an emotional ripple in the minds of the audience. The dialogues seem too contrite and forced because most of the lines are symbolic. Dialogues like “He is a bad man”, “I will go bananas”, “Yeah I understand”, “There is a rat in his old theatre” are also too simplistic; and therefore low on dramatic impact. Also, Mr. Hench who is supposed to be the villain and exude terror and fear fails to do so because the director has constantly given him dialogues to make him sound like a vicious villain. Mr. Hench’s character is reminiscent of Marlon Brando in Coppola’s The Godfather but lacks scenes of silence where the character is built through mere screen presence. Also, given the fact that Jacob is constructed as a gentle and sensitive musician, music has been underutilized to narrate the story and mood independently and powerfully. In addition, the medium of the metaphors is also strongly and consistently applied. The title itself is a reference to the domestication of a horse and is supposed to represent the taming of Buddy at the hands of Mr. Hench. However, what ruins a metaphor, especially for an intelligent audience is when the meaning of the metaphor is spelt out through explicit dialogues. The model of the ranch on the lake that becomes the setting of the climax of the film is too predictable. The opening scene with the shooting range, guns and murder aimed to establish the setting, theme and plot too proves ineffective because the plot is not intriguing enough to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Even the “pool” story of their childhood and the wedding speech seems rather pale and inauthentic. The English script therefore seems lacking in imagination, depth and subtlety. This weak scripting fails to hold the extravagant ambition of the director to translate his words from the page to the screen. All the technical innovations attempted seem to shout and scream for attention and thereby come across as textbook theory gone wrong in practice. The moral of the story reads thus: Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Broken Horses breaks the audience’s entertainment pattern only to leave them fragmented and frustrated.