There's an enigmatic rush to his movements, a bustle anachronistic to his soft voice, a casual urgency seemingly at odds with his aggressively fierce media face. Then again, he really doesn't have time to settle down and be himself; Vidhu Vinod Chopra has a film to sell.
In the room next door, he's battling multiplex owners three days before the Friday of release. In this one, he shares a quick in-joke and a quick round of guffaws with comrade director Rajkumar Hirani, who politely leaves Chopra to talk about Eklavya, his film he's just seen for the first time, completely mastered and ready for audience consumption.
It's been a while since the groundbreaking, new-wave Parinda director was seen at the helm. His last turn, Mission Kashmir, came in 2000, and since then, the director has been one of India's most successful producers, introducing directors like Hirani (Munnabhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munna Bhai) and Pradeep Sarkar (Parineeta).
Blockbusters all, reason enough for Chopra to feel he wasn't ever really on hiatus. "Eklavya took me five years to write. And in this time I also wrote and co-wrote over the last seven years, the Munna Bhai films and Parineeta, so I think the writer in me was constantly working. And the director, for obvious reasons, took a backseat."
Renowned for being one of Bollywood's most obsessive auteurs, Chopra's always written his own films. In terms of process, it must be hard to write for other directors.
"It's very different. The first thing is that I must have a lot of affection, love and regard for the director, otherwise I can't. I can only write for Raju Hirani because..." Vinod trails off, smiling, shaking his head. "You saw him. Look at this man. He's today probably the most successful director in India; more successful than me as a director. Look at his humility, look at his affection. He's cutting my promos, for God's sake! What kind of relationship is this?"
He speaks fondly of his friends -- Hirani, director Ram Madhwani (Lets Talk) -- and says, at the time he was writing Parineeta, that he was fond of Sarkar as well. He opens a window and calls to the watchman to send someone up with tea and water.
With a sweeping gesture, Chopra motions to the walls outside his Mumbai office, saying he doesn't see such teamwork anywhere else. "That's why I've put up these tall walls. God protect us from the outside world."
Text: Raja Sen | Photograph: N V Reuben