Passage to India

Director and cast talk about The Darjeeling Limited.

by Amber Wilkinson

Wilson, Schwartzman and Brody in Darjeeling Limited.

Wilson, Schwartzman and Brody in Darjeeling Limited.

Wes Anderson's new film The Darjeeling Limited was selected to open this year's New York Film Festival and the cast were out in force to promote it at the press conference.

Although troubled star Owen Wilson - who plays one of three brothers in the comedy drama - was conspicuous by his absence, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman - who play the other two siblings - were both in attendance. They were joined by the director Anderson, co-writer Roman Coppola, plus British actress Amara Karan - making her movie debut as a train stewardess in the film - and Waris Ahluwalia, who plays chief steward.

Much of the film's action takes place on a train journey through India - a location choice that was heavily influenced by Jean Renoir's Indian-set classic The River.

"I had never seen The River," admits Anserson. "But I managed to see it because Martin Scorsese got a print an thought I would like it. I'd been thinking about Satyajit Ray's films and Louis Malle's Phantom India and I thought, I want to go there and shoot a movie. On the last night of our first trip there, we watched The River in a hotel in Dehli.

"I wated to go to India and see what we could discover. I said let's take everything we can and put it in our movie."

Unusually for a mainstream film, it is preceded by a short, Hotel Chevalier - at the time of writing destined to be relegated to a DVD extra and viral marketing tool, which seems a shame since it helps to round out the piece. It was also the place where the movie began.

"We made the short a year before the feature," says Anderson. "I had written the short and had a few pages of the feature. I went to Jason and Roman Coppola and asked if they wanted to help me write the movie.

"Before it came time to shoot it we figured out Jason's character would be the same as in the movie. We started to connect the short and movie more.

"We wanted the movie to be personal. We asked ourselves, what has happened to you that would be relevant to that. We wanted the movie to be spare.

And even he admits that the short is integral to a viewers understanding of the movie. He says: "It's not a commercial idea. You won't really understand the feature if you don't see the short. Now we have the short on itunes. I like the idea that different people can see things in different ways."

The short film also proved a useful device for Jason Schwartzman, a veteran of Anderson's films.

He says: "It's been nine years since last time with Wes. I was very excited about it but nervous too. It was a gentle way to reunite with someone. Nice and small. A good way to get your feet wet.

"I recommend everyone does a couple of short movies to test out the characters."

The characters themselves get almost tested to destruction during the course of the film, with each of them having to explore their own neuroses and relationships as events around them spiral increasingly out of control. Ultimately, the enlightenment they receive is in a different league to that which they originally sought, but did the film-makers find the process an enlightening one personally?

Amar Karan certainly thought so, saying it involved "getting some perspective on your life from the other side of the planet." She adds: "It was quite daunting being my first movie. The challenges of being on this moving train and in the desert environment."

Adrien Brody, agrees: "I grew up here in New York and I thought it was unpredictable - but you get to India it's a different story. The key is letting go, going with the flow. It made me very aware of being present in the moment - you reaaly realise the precariousness of life there."

Saying it made for a "profound experience", he adds: "I feel close connections with my characer as a person, more parallels than I usually feel."

Waris Ahluwalia - clearly much more of a comedian than his dour chief train steward alter ego - adds: "I'm enlightened already, so it was a big waste of time for me." Although, becoming more thoughtful, he says he has often been to India but being with the others made all the difference, "It was amazing to see India through their eyes.

Certainly the fact that the film was shot on location seems to have helped the actors to connect with their characters. Schwartzman says he had an insight in to the idea of brotherly rough-and-tumble "coming from siblings myself," adding that "siblings can fight with each otheer like no one else really can. It is a different type of love. These are three brothers that have the potential capacity to love each other... but they're not very good at it."

But being cooped up together helped he, Brody and Wilson to completely nail the characters. He says that when you are three American actors living in India, there is "nowhere to go but towards each other. We all lived in a big house together. There really was a sense of family."

They also got a sense of sibling one-upmanship. Brody said: "There were a lot of badminton games so there was a lot of rivalry there." "I never felt rivalry," Schwarzman chips in. "You're a better player," Brody adds, drily.

Many of the scenes were shot aboard a genuine train. Brody says this was a huge boon. "Shooting on a location that is authentic will always help the actors feel more connected with the material."

Schwartzman adds: "It's the first film I've ever worked on where if you're late to set, it may not be there."

Those wanting to catch the train on DVD, can do so from Monday, April 7.

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