If you ever meet Kovid Gupta, the Texas-bred and Mumbai-based Head of Business Development at Vinod Chopra Films, you’ll quickly learn this: There’s no one else more set to become the next Karan Johar than him. Like most first-generation South Asian Americans, Kovid also grew up with the larger-than-life movie magic that is Bollywood. But while most of us left the glamorous costumes and iconic song-and-dance routines at the theater when the credits began to roll, Kovid was never quite ready to rejoin reality. So instead, he spent his adolescence dreaming, planning, and finding outlets to direct over-the-top productions whenever possible—all so he could inch his way closer to Bollywood and direct his long-awaited blockbuster hit. Today, the published author and veteran soap opera screenwriter (you can partially thank him for your mom’s obsession with “Balika Vadu”) has cracked the Bollywood code. Kovid’s recent gig as an assistant director on the 2015 hit film “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” confirmed it: He’s arrived—and he’s not leaving anytime soon. In case you’re eager to learn more about this future hotshot director, don’t worry, we dug right in with this week’s Fly Guy.
Scene 1, Take 1
“When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, we had very little access to anything related to Bollywood. But we used to go to Chicago occasionally where my parents would buy audio cassettes and video tapes and bring them back. I used to watch those videos over and over again. I was especially obsessed with watching ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ and ‘Chandni’…and I watched to the point that smoke would come out of our VCR! That’s when my infatuation really started.
Then when I was 11, I directed my first short film in school. The next year I saw ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain,’ and after that, I told myself I would become a Bollywood director. Fast forward to college, where I co-founded a Broadway-style Bollywood film and dance troupe called ‘Nach Baliye’ and even wrote my Radio-TV-Film senior thesis on the film ‘Vivah’.”
Lights, Camera, Action
“After working in the Indian TV industry for three years and not being able to break into Bollywood, I said ‘OK, I’m done,’ and I went to Cornell to get my MBA. Then one day, I happened to read a Google News alert that said Sooraj Barjatya [the director of almost all my favorite childhood films] was making his first movie after 10 years. I was like, I have to get on this!
One of my friends from the Indian TV industry who had worked with him was kind enough to give me his number. So I just messaged him from New York and told him I was a big fan and had written my thesis on him and asked him if I could assist him on ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’. It was a long shot but I took the chance. Actually, he messaged me back and said he’d get back to me! Then, two months later, I get a call early in the morning from India, and it’s Rajshri Productions. They tell me to get on Skype right then because Sooraj Barjatya wanted to interview me! I had an overgrown beard, and my apartment was a mess—but I got online and did the interview. I didn’t hear anything for months, and then two months later, I got a message asking me to join the team…I’m very blessed that it actually happened like that.”
And We’re Rolling
“I have two really memorable moments. The first is the first time I saw my name on TV when credited as an associate writer on, what was at the time, the number one TV show on air, ‘Balika Vadhu.’ I just thought, ‘Wow, this can really happen.’ And the second happened the day before we started shooting ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.’ They were checking the equipment to make sure it was ready to go, and the first song they played over the loud speakers was ‘Didi Tera Devar Deewana.’ One of the other assistant directors looked at me and said, ‘Kovid, Prem is going to be recreated tomorrow, and we’re both going to be a part of it.’ And that felt just so epic.”
“An insane amount of patience is necessary in this business. And dream big. You have to dream big because otherwise, you’ll just get the small stuff. Of course, perseverance is also key. I co-wrote a script called ‘Bollywood Bevo’ with my friend Paankhuri in college. We’ve brought it to 10 producers in India but haven’t been able to get it made. But I’m very adamant about it and hopeful that one day I’ll be able to pull enough resources together just to make it myself.”
The A-List Cast
“My dream movie would have Sri Devi in the female lead role and Anil Kapoor in the male. I would direct it, and either Mr. Yash Chopra or Sooraj Barjatya would produce it. And it would be a love story, of course!”
That’s a Wrap
“After I saw ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’, I went to my dad and asked him why didn’t we live in a family like that? And if a movie can make a kid who grew up in America ask his dad why they don’t live in a nuclear family in a neighborhood of single-parent families, you can imagine the impact that movies can have on someone—even just a boy. That’s what I want to do.”