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Brett Ratner on Adapting Bollywood and Why His Haters Aren’t Justified

Brett Ratner, best known for blow-em-up action flicks like the various Rush Hours, is releasing a project of a different sort: a remix of director Anurag Basu’s Kites, a Bollywood movie that unfolds mostly in English and Spanish, with a pinch of Hindi. (The original movie comes out this week, and Ratner's version debuts on May 28.) A multicultural mash-up, Kites centers on a carefree Las Vegas grifter (Hrithik Roshan) who haphazardly reconnects with a Mexican beauty (Barbara Mori), one of many illegal immigrants he’s married for money. On-the-lam shenanigans ensue. Vulture caught up with Ratner recently to talk about being on the forefront of the Asian-movie market, how he's in touch with the masses, and what on his Wikipedia page haunts him.

So how did this remix project come about? And can you explain it a bit?
Sure. In the nineties, Miramax and New Line were releasing these Jackie Chan movies that I loved as Chinese movies with subtitles, and Americanizing them — taking a twenty-minute fight scene and cutting it down to five minutes, even though it was the best stuff. Recently, I met Rakesh Roshan, who happens to be a big Indian producer-director, at a dinner, and he mentioned they were showing a big Bollywood movie the next night, and I asked to see it. He asked what I thought and I said, “I loved it, it’s like five movies in one.” And so he asked me how I would cut it down, and I thought back to those Jackie Chan movies and rattled off about five things — getting American actors to dub some of the supporting characters, who are American characters anyway; cutting it to about 90 minutes; [changing] the music. So he asked, “Could you do that for us?” Then I got in there and thought, “Oh my God, these people are going to kill me.”

So what did you end up cutting?
I kept the intention and emotional content, and the love story, which worked because they had great chemistry. The biggest thing I changed was the mix. In Indian movies, the voices are all up top and there’s barely any foley; the car crashes are really thin. I said, “Okay, Universal Studios, my favorite stage: fucking boom!” The one thing I would’ve done if I would have gotten involved before they shot would be to have gotten Mickey Rourke to play the villain. I want to introduce it to an audience that would normally never see a Bollywood movie.

What does it say about the state of film that an Indian producer wanted to shoot a splashy Bollywood production in English and set it in the very American city of Las Vegas?
I think this is a perfect example of the globalization of film. I think maybe five years from now, you’re going to see these big chains opening screens specifically for Latin and Asian markets. On TV, there are going to be martial-arts networks and something for the Indian audience, too. I think this is just the beginning of it. Maybe ten years from now there will be 1,000 screens for Indian movies. The Indian and Chinese are probably going to take over the world, and people will look back and say, “Oh, Brett was kind of at the forefront of that.”

You were attached to Superman for a long time, and X-Men: The Last Stand was a big commercial hit. So why haven’t you been snapped up as a director on some comic-book franchise?
It’s almost like why I haven’t done another movie like Rush Hour. I’ve been offered hundreds of buddy-cop movies, but I feel like I’ve done the best version of it, and that’s why the only one I would even probably consider doing would be Beverly Hills Cop IV. I recently bought Youngblood, which is a comic book that has a huge fan base that I wasn’t familiar with growing up. In the last couple years, people forgot that I made Red Dragon and The Family Man; I was now this pop guy and I got so much shit, which I understand. I want to kind of do what Bryan [Singer] did with X-Men with my own stuff. So I’m looking forward to starting my own comic-book franchise, but it’s hard — you have to connect to it and make it personal somehow.

Have you gotten any more heat about the 2007 Advocate interview in which you talked about getting a blow job from a guy?
[Laughs.] I haven’t gotten shit, but I can’t get it off my Wikipedia page. Maybe someone can help me get it off there. The headline was "Brett Ratner’s Gay Experience" or something, as if I was actually looking for a gay experience. I didn’t even know what sex was at the time. And I was getting weirdly attacked over homophobic stuff in Rush Hour 3 in the interview. And then all of a sudden it was: headline!

You seem to catch a lot of flak from fanboys. Do you feel any pressure being a so-called pop filmmaker?
I knew that I never had anything to prove. Meeting Roman Polanski and these great filmmakers who really love my work and respect me, and Quentin being an incredible friend to me, I realized that directors aren’t snobs — they like a good film no matter if it’s a comedy or whatever. In a piece in the L.A. Weekly, Scott Foundas validated me a little bit by saying that it’s harder to do what Brett does, make a movie that makes hundreds of millions of dollars and makes people happy and entertains people than it is to make a pretentious art movie. I just know that my sensibility is what mainstream audiences like, and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by it.

Photo: Patrick McMullan