Last time American actor Brad Pitt was in India in 2006 for the shooting of A Mighty Heart, he made himself quite at home, zipping across Pune on a bike and taking an autorickshaw ride with Angelina Jolie and their son Maddox Jolie-Pitt. A decade later, Pitt is in India to promote War Machine, which is premiering globally on Netflix on May 26. On Wednesday evening, he was a part of a special discussion with Shah Rukh Khan in Mumbai and the two spoke on a range of issues, from staying relevant in the film industry to the need to reinvent themselves, turning producers and the future of entertainment.
Both actors who are in their 50s — Khan is 51 and Pitt 53 — and have ruled showbiz for close to three decades now, are at a stage in their career where they are preparing to reinvent themselves. In recent years, Pitt has been more inclined towards producing movies though he says that’s often a gamble. His upcoming War Machine, a film directed by David Michôd, traces the rise and fall of a charismatic four-star US general who was called to command coalition forces in Afghanistan only to be taken down by his own hubris. Pitt says, “We have been able to do more as a production company together than we were able to do individually.” He admits that with a family around, production work helps in keeping a balance since acting commitments are very demanding. For him, the interest in a movie starts with “a good piece of writing” and “the person who is telling the story”.
Producing movies, says Pitt, can be rewarding as well. “I find it rewarding to open the door for other filmmakers who I really respect. Putting their stories out in the world is very special.” Over the years, Khan too has turned producer, putting his money in movies like Ra.One and Happy New Year. “There are only so many stories you can tell as a filmstar. You become more focussed on the kind of stories you would like to be part of. And if you can last as long as Brad has, production is the natural way to go,” said Khan, whose films have been acquired by Netfilx.
The discussion also touched upon the challenges of acting. Pitt believes that an actor and the character he plays kind of “feed into each other”. While his role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was challenging and the character was developed through “a process and craft”, Pitt calls Fight Club “fun” and “a great piece of writing”. Khan, however, points out the nature of storytelling in popular Hindi cinema that is an impediment in delving into a character. “If you dance and sing every 20 minutes, you can’t get into a character,” said Khan. “Playing a regular guy, without any crutches, is at times more difficult,” he said.
Exchanging notes on the difficulties they encountered while essaying some of their important roles, Pitt shared his struggle to play the piano convincingly for the Terrence Malick-directed The Tree of Life while Khan recollected how he always fumbled over his dance moves. “While making Baazigar, I rehearsed my dance moves for a song for four days. When we shot it, I realised that I had not made any progress,” he said. When Pitt said, “I wouldn’t make it in Bollywood, I can’t dance,” Khan was quick to reassure him. “We can make any one dance,” he said.
Khan also took the moment to talk about the challenges Hindi cinema is likely to face in the future. “If we don’t work on our scripts, screenplay, marketing, professionalism, and technology, we will be taken over by Hollywood. They make wonderful films with wonderful stars. Today, language is becoming less of a barrier and the digital platform is making access to foreign movies easier.” India has wonderful stories to tell. Without changing our way of presenting the stories we need to adapt foreign technology and writing,” he said. Pitt, who said he found the Indian way of filmmaking interesting, spoke about different cultures and their ideas cross-pollinating. “We are going to see more of it in future.”