In addition to the highly successful Rush Hour franchise and X-Men: The Last Stand (which grossed a combined $1.3 billion worldwide), Ratner has directed videos for Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Miley Cyrus. In February 2009, Ratner signed a deal with Indian conglomerate Reliance’s film-producing arm Reliance Big Pictures for future joint ventures. Last fall, at a final edit screening of producer Rakesh Roshan’s much-anticipated Kites in Los Angeles, Ratner got the green-light to re-work Kites for an American release. Ratner’s involvement ignited a media frenzy. The highly-anticipated Kites had its stakes raised overnight by the sheer curiosity factor about just exactly what Ratner would do with the film(one change has been to rework the movie down to 90 minutes from its original 130-minute running time). In an interview with India Currents, Ratner doled out the skinny:
How did you get involved with Hindi films?
As you may know, I got into a talent partnership with Reliance (Reliance Big Pictures). I was having a casual conversation with (Rakesh) Roshan at an edit screening of Kites. After seeing the movie, I was enamored.
Roshan’s film was very hip. I was very impressed. Roshan and I talked some more. I also met with Hrithik (Roshan). We all talked about making a Western version of a Hindi film. I asked if I could help out in expanding the audience for Kites. We came to an agreement and I got started.
You made a highly successful transition from hit music videos to hit movies. The joke goes that Hindi movies are nothing if not extended music videos. Hollywood also had an age of the golden musicals. Then the rules changed and dramatic movies could not have song sequences. How is Kites different?
Kites is a not a traditional Hindi movie to begin with. It’s a great movie with action and adventure. It moves very differently than what you would expect for a Hindi film. Here’s a film that can open doors for Bollywood in the international market. That said, there are parts of the original that don’t translate well culturally. The United States is the largest market for movies. For American audiences to appreciate an international movie, you have to focus on the cultural gap you have to bridge. In my work, I attempted to make something different, though I cut out only one traditional Bollywood dance sequence.
When you edit something that is already a finished product in the minds of many people, how do you re-edit it? Isn’t there like an artistic taboo being violated?
Let me give you an example. When I do a video with Mariah Carrey, we finish the original video. The video then goes to a producer who makes a club version of the video. Someone else makes a dance song out of it.
I took out the some things (from Kites)—the cultural things that don’t transfer well. It would be like an American comedy being shown to an Italian audience. It doesn’t always translate well. Both Rakesh and Hrithik attended the work I did on the cut and they are very proud of what I have done. Essentially, what you have is another version of the film. I took the original scenes and edited them slightly differently.
To give you another example, when I was making Rush Hour, there was a particular action scene I gave to Jackie Chan to take to Hong Kong and asked that the scene be edited by a team of Asian editors. I had the same scene edited by someone in Hollywood. The results were very interesting. In the Hollywood edit, you could see a fist being clenched, and an arm being raised and the blow landing on the opponent’s face. In the Asian edit, the arm raising was implied and in the next frame, you saw the blow hitting the enemy’s face. The rest of the frames were taken out.
How much involvement did Anurag Basu (director of Kites) and Rakesh Roshan have in the re-edit?
I talked to him (Basu) to get his blessing. I focused on what would be most relevant to an American audience. In working with Rush Hour, I took the Hong Kong style and blended it with Hollywood style. In Bollywood, music is very important. Here, music is not as relevant. I changed the voices of all the characters except Hrithik and (co-star) Barbara Mori. With the voices, you often don’t get the right tone and inflection and have to be mindful of that.
How long does it take to finish something like this?
Several months, even years. I added a new score for part of the film. The remixing was done in the
Czech Republic. If you listen to an Indian movie, it often sounds narrow. I added more robust noises. For every action on the screen, there is a matching sound on the soundtrack.
Any particular Hindi actors you’d like to work with?
I really like Aishwarya Rai. She and I had talked about her working on Rush Hour 3. That didn’t work out because it didn’t fit in on her calendar. I also like Hrithik. I think Hrithik can make a transition to Hollywood. You know, Slumdog Millionaire was a Hollywood movie made in India with Indian actors. With Kites, I want to make a Bollywood movie made in the United States. It’s kind of like the reverse. American movies have certain minimum requirements. The villain for example, would be a veteran actor who gets some really good lines. Working with Reliance, I’d like to expand that in the United States.
What are you working on currently?
I have Beverly Hills Cop IV and I will be co-producing some titles with Reliance. Then there is Youngblood, which is a comic book series being adapted to the big screen. We also acquired the rights to a French title. I am also excited about getting the rights to story of (the late auto-maker) John DeLorean and I am doing a biopic on him.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.