Chris Kattan is The Greatest American Bollywood Hero
Landing a film like Bollywood Hero in the wake of the aftershocks that Slumdog Millionaire left on moviegoers and Oscar voters might seem like perfect timing on a scale that only a NASA pilot could coordinate.
Executive producers Ted Skillman and Belisa Balaban said the idea isn't just right for its time. It was also ahead of its time, four years ahead of time to be exact.
"The project was initially conceived of four years ago, but the script was written before we'd seen ever Slumdog," Balaban said. "When we first came up with the idea, very few people were talking about Hindi cinema and we got a lot of blank stares at first."
Now audiences across the country will get a re-education on the Bollywood machine when their three part miniseries starring Saturday Night Live alum Chris Kattan airs at 10 p.m. Pacific/Eastern on Aug. 6, 7 and 8 on IFC.
Kattan plays himself in a sometimes self-deprecating role struggling to achieve his boyhood dream of becoming a serious leading man in a town that takes itself way too seriously, a.k.a. Hollywood. Fed up with being mercilessly mocked by everyone from his agent who only gets him in low comedy TV roles to extreme douchebag versions of Keanu Reeves and David Alan Grier, Kattan joins forces with ambitious Indian producer Monty Kapoor, played by Ali Fazal, who is scouting American actors to be the leading man in a movie his driven director father never finished.
Kattan flies to Mumbai with Fazal, only to be met with confusion from the contrasting cultural differences and cynicism from Monty's producer partner Priya, played by Pooja Kumar, who thinks Carrot Top would make a better leading man than Kattan for their film.
Skillman said his and Balaban's combined efforts in fictional and documentary filmmaking drove them to find a unique project that was unconventional, different and would "help us go to India and spend some more time there."
"It's really a remarkable place," Skillman said. "As a culture, we have a tendency to simplify things. It's a very spiritual place, a very poverty ridden place and what you learn in India or really anywhere is that everything defies expectations."
In fact, Skillman said, Bollywood Hero presents a unique opportunity to break those conventions and celebrate those similarities in a very unique way.
"We felt like there was a great story to be told about the ways in which Bollywood is Hollywood through the looking glass," Skillman said.
The two got Kattan on board through a mutual friend who thought he would be perfect because he had just spent some time getting to know India on his own, Balaban said.
"She immediately thought of Chris because he returned from a vacation in India where he traveled across the country for several weeks," Balaban said. "He really enjoyed it. So when we met him and talked about having such a positive experience, we thought that speaks volumes and wanted that to come through the character."
Kattan's personal love for the silver screen's classic leading men also fed perfectly through the thread of their narrative and his character. The references and character similarities run much deeper than just using Corky Romano as a punchline, Balaban said.
"Chris loves Old Hollywood and he gets a lot of that from his dad (actor Kip Kang who plays a deadbeat version of himself in the series)," Kattan said. "He loves the classic movie stars and old Renaissance of Hollywood. The Harrison Ford inspiration comes directly from him. The photo you see in the beginning of the show is actually him. (laughs) It's not Photoshop, my friend. Something he said to us early on is no little kid dreams of being an actor so they can grow up to being a sidekick. They always want to be a leading man. So that Don Quixote spirit came from Chris."
Skillman said even though "making them laugh" was his and everyone's first priority on the set, he hopes audiences will take the same journey as Kattan did, both in the film and in real life.
"If people come away from the show more curious about the world and interested in scratching the surface of the cultures, maybe that's the theme of the show," Skillman said. "That there is more than meets the eye."
* Bollywood Hero is an IFC Original three-night Bollywood Musical Mini-series Event airing on IFC Aug 6, 7 and 8 at 10 PM ET/PT.