Beware! In ’97 Minutes’, Your Life Could Change in Midair!

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: This city usually doesn’t have a rush of movie premieres, especially after the disastrous two COVID years that hurt attendance at the theatres. So it was a big splash when the movie “97 Minutes” premiered over the past weekend on Sunday, June 11 at the Star Movie Grill in the far western suburb of Richmond. And it was an even bigger event as the movie was written by one of the Desi community’s most passionate filmmaker, Dr. Pavan Grover.

Some of the movie’s key players were out to mingle with the cream of South Asian society at the glittery event held in the lobby of the movie theatre where they could express themselves at two backdrops with camera crews recording their sentiments. It was mini-Hollywood meets mini-Bollywood, as the clapper board said that Grover’s 14-year-old nephew Amit posed with. Befitting the occasion, there was champagne and hors d’oeuvres in the social hour before the premiere at 7pm.

“We actually did this for all our supporters and close friends”, explained Nimi Grover, Pavan’s mom, as she circulated. What was slated to be a screening in auditorium 1 got bigger very quickly. “We actually had to open up another auditorium”, explained Pavan, “and eventually a third one too! Over 500 people came for the opening night!”

They came to see the latest movie produced from the mind of Pavan Grover, who is as passionate about the cinematography and entertainment business as he is about his steadily expanding spinal surgery and pain management practice in west Houston. He has had stars in his eyes for years, which led him to write several scripts, one of which became the 2002 movie “Unspeakable” that he produced and acted in, opposite veteran actor Dennis Hopper. Next came the 2013 movie “Odd Thomas”.

The opportunity to make “97 Minutes” came about after Pavan was able to shop his script to Hollywood producers and his company finally connected with Lighthouse Pictures. It is a relatively low budget, $7 million movie about terrorists who hijack a plane, and relies on two sets – the interior of a plane and the NSA headquarters – with plenty of CGI to make tell the story. Two big name actors – Alec Baldwin and Jonathan Rhys Meyers – carry the cast, and Pavan even plays a bit role as the head of the terrorist group. Pavan did the final edits and directed and worked on the sound design and music himself.

Pavan insisted on having Baldwin, who is in his first movie role since he was charged with involuntary manslaughter in 2021 on the sets of the movie “Rust”, charges which were later dropped. He plays the part of the NSA director, a role he reprises from a similar role in two “Mission Impossible” movies. The bulk of the film stands on the performance of Meyers as an Interpol agent. The Swedish actress MyAnna Buring plays the other lead role as a doctor onboard the plane, who volunteers to save lives.

“97 Minutes” has had a limited release, opening up in theaters in 10 major markets across the country. Next week it will become available on demand through Amazon and Apple TV, with a debut on Hulu in the fall.

Pavan is already looking to his next project, a sci-fi TV series reimagining of “The Wizard of Oz” which he has already written and is currently negotiating with various studios. He expects other spinoff projects too.