Barkha Dutt: The film Mighty Heart brought two of the Hollywod’s biggest names, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, to India. Everybody was very excited, not surprisingly the paparazzi did not leave them alone for a moment. Was that the problem? Why the film has been overshadowed by a headline of unsavoury kind? The latest controversy being the arrest of three of the bodyguards on the crew and location…allegations of parents in a dominant Muslim school saying that the bodyguards have made a racial slur.
We are, for the first time, in conversation with the producer of the film and one of Hollywood’s biggest names, Brad Pitt, along with one of India’s best known actors Irfan Khan who plays a lead role in the film. This is Brad’s first interview of any kind since he has been in India avoiding all those media hounds and we are hoping it will go beyond this incidence to talk about your entire experience here in India.
Brad: Thank you for taking your time out.
Barkha: Thank you for making time. I can imagine what kind of days it has been for you. Did you ever imagine when you were packing your bags to India that one of your stops would include a visit to the police commissioner’s office?
Brad: No. I did not foresee that. I have to say because it is just completely antithetical of what the film is about. So the turn of events is a bit baffling to us. But you know we are here to answer any allegations and certainly set the record straight because these are not our intentions, nor
the intention of the people involved.
Barkha: Let me ask you very directly. The perception is that your cast and crew were shooting here and parents had come to pick up their children. It
was peak time when the children were trying to get out and they were also excited to see you, Angelina and other stars. They were probably hemming in
trying to get a glimpse. The bodyguards at that time, to try and keep the crowd away, got a little rough and the amount of things they said…”You
bloody Indians…you bloody Muslims.”
Brad: Absolutely not true. And you know I have to say that we are horrified by these allegations and you must understand our intention for the story is to focus on a similarity of cultures. It is a story of a journalist who believed in truth and making the world a better place by enlightening each
other on a point of view and believe in dialogues, and he was a great lover of culture and the world itself. In the story itself, with the abduction, what occurred was to bring together people from different cultures and religions…you have Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, Buddhists, Christians, all people working together to find this man who happened to be a Jewish, but more importantly a believer in a world, who considered himself a citizen of
the world and this is a beautiful story for us.
Brad: This is the purpose of telling a story. So having these allegations goes against the purpose of the movie and it is disappointing for us and I would like to now answer that.
Barkha: I’ll get into the film in course of the conversation but you know how bodyguards are. They have a tough time and they get rough sometimes. It is also a different culture, it is also a language they speak. When you say that they did not say these things, is it from the knowledge or faith or
instinct or are you willing to vouch that they did not say these things?
Brad: All of that. All that across the board I tell you with all my heart. I understand that for Angelina and me to stand up and tell this story is this idea of embracing our cultures. This idea of acceptance, the idea of openness and dialogue with each other. This idea of tolerance which we believe
in with all our heart and if you look at our history what we have been involved with…we will never work with anyone who thinks otherwise. Absolutely not. and this is a horrible misunderstanding, but it is just that misunderstanding and we hope to establish that truth so the film and the message of the film is not tainted because the history is worth telling today.
Barkha: Irfan, if I bring you in on one point. Because sometimes people mean something and another thing happens. It is the perils of coming into a
country where you do not necessarily speak the language of the people. It happens in rural urban clashes within India itself. There are people who speak
English…Not just as somebody who is a member of this cast and crew, but as a Muslim it is such a sensitive subject. Right now you know the very suggestion that somebody may have said what Brad say didn’t happen…”You bloody Muslim”. It automatically brings India together and you start looking
at the crew who came in as the outsider. What did you feel about this when you read about this, heard about this, saw the visuals on TV of parents
saying this is what happened.
Irfan: You know I saw a channel. They were continuously running a story of what happened here. It was a completely biased approach that they had because they were saying Brad “Pint”, Anjelina Jolie’s boyfriend was there and he did not come out, Irfan Khan was there in the shooting and he didn’t say anything to the parents. Now, I say he was not there. He was in Varanasi and I am sure about it. We were shooting inside and when we came out of the
hotel everyone was there, the press was there and they wanted to cover it. It is their job…OK but they were following us and when we went inside the
school the timing was such that we were entering and kids were coming out.
As we got in we started shooting. We were supposed to be doing scenes so we were busy doing the shoot and suddenly we started hearing some noises. We
thought the press was trying to cover it. Then it took another shape and I was continuously laughing, saying it was nothing.
Barkha: You must have seen this in India so many times?
Irfan: Yes. So many times and today when I saw them so concerned I said it is nothing.
Barkha: And it would have been nothing, had it not been for that allegation?
Irfan: I can vouch that Brad would not keep such racial people with him. Whatever I have understood about him, about the intention of the film and why they are making the film, this is an actor I know what is all about.
Brad: You know we have an interracial family. It is very important to us that our kids grow up understanding their own respective cultures, their own religions, of the country they are from. This is our intention.
Barkha: You have three children from completely different parts of the world.
Brad: Yes. Ethiopia, Cambodia, and our other daughter was born in Namibia. That is understood in all the children as well as us because we believe so much in the importance of where they come from and the idea that we can all get along and we can live and let live.
Barkha: But Brad, not to be cynic but the allegation is not that Brad Pitt and Irfan Khan came out into the crowd and made racial remarks. The allegation is that in the heat of the moment your security guards may have lost their temper and said something that was inappropriate.
Brad: Again I am saying that we would never ever hire these people. We will never work with them because it goes against everything we believe in. Also, these men are fathers, they all have kids themselves. They were hoping to get back home from tomorrow. But they will never hurt a child or yell at a
child. They will never push the child.
Barkha: Did you get the chance to speak with them and what is their version?
Brad: Absolutely, I know their integrity. As Irfan said when they drove up to the school they were shooting a scene. This brings us to the subject of
the role of media and its capability. There are very aggressive facts on media and I am certainly not entitled to believe it. But this is a particular
fact that they have been aggressive and have not given us a moment of peace.
Also, the other day when we were taking a walk with our kids, we were surrounded by the local guys. I told them that we are trying to take our kids for a walk and I understand you guys want to take pictures but keep a distance and not scare the kids. But they completely ignored and just surrounded us.
The kids did not know how to take it, so we called up the office and came back.. From my investigation they were blocking the gates as the kids were
trying to come out of the school. The parents had come to pick up their kids. Now this is not mentioned in the media at all and also this particular
fact that paparazzi or tabloid media (or how we want to label them) also rushed to the gate of the school, carrying itself to a fracas.
Barkha: So the school also said that the cast and crew came an hour later than they were meant to and therefore hit the peak time.
Brad: I don’t understand that. I had not heard that but I want to say it just brings up an interesting debate on when the media actually creates the
news and staying there just observing and recording news. I think it is a debate that needs to be had because they certainly say this.
Barkha: Well we have heard that debate many times in our country. Just one last question on this incident, do you believe that people who work with you can ever say this?
Brad: I tell you with all my honour…absolutely not.
Barkha: So do you think it is all a misunderstanding? You think the people who are making the allegations are lying?
Brad: Knowing all intentions of the story I am absolutely baffled by all this. I do not know it is the subject matter of this film itself that lead to people questioning, may be we should have explained our intentions about the story when we came here.
Barkha: May be you hid from the press too much.
Brad: Yeah…you know our idea is to come, do our work, have an experience at the end, have a press conference and talk about it. My job was producing the film, deal with my kids, and as I said we probably should have come out of the gate and explained our purpose here.
Barkha: Do you feel regret even though you feel your bodyguards did not say anything?
Brad: Let me tell you what I regret. I regret that the students’ day at the school was disrupted and I also believe the media who were present should
join me in that regret because they were also the part of the problem…and well I regret that.
Barkha: Indians are crazy about Bollywood. You know that. Bollywood and cricket unites this multicultural and multi dimensional country, which means
you’ve dealt with these crowd situations before. When a Hindi film is unfolding, we see crazy mobs, people tearing down at the gates, kids screaming for autographs. You’ve got bodyguards and bodyguards in no country are pleasant, including our own. What is different with the paparazzi and crowd chase on the shooting of the Almighty?
Irfaan: I knew people are crazy about Bollywood but I didn’t know they are so crazy about Hollywood. I never thought of Angelina Jolie so much you know, she is a star, so don’t treat her as a character, treat her as a star. For me it was a struggle, just look into her eyes and see her as a character. For me it became a huge thing, I stopped reading the newspapers before I came to shoot.
Bodyguards…well we don’t have…the concept of bodyguards here, they are protecting people.
Barkha: But how was it different? Did you find that the people responded differently, because in some ways they are more unknowable. We know you guys. We know Shah Rukh, we know Aamir, we don’t know you, may be that many more people just want to see them out of curiosity!
Irfaan: People were cool about it. Like the building where we were shooting, it’s a bungalow in Pune and around there you can see in that bungalow, but no person around that Bungalow, they were not coming out, they were not trying to look into what’s happening, they were cool about it. They maintained their dignity. Its just you know– Media needs news.
Barkha: But I want to ask you something, not to deflect from that the media does it wrong but is it just all the media’s fault, in some way its the
flipside of fame. You have heard these debates in your own country. Paparazzi in your part of the world, you have a house broken into.
Brad: But you know you guys are going pretty good. Stiff competition.
Barkha: That came in from Britain and America are worse than us or better than us depending on our point of views.
–You know its all the bad apple. It is not all the French, all the Americans and all the Indians. A certain faction, it really has no decency for
Barkha: But you know what people are going to say. People are going to turn around and say Brad Pitt, that’s the flip side of fame. The media is the
oxygen, I am just telling you this as Irfaan already knows it.
Brad: I can argue. I don’t have to agree with it. I may not be used to living life that way.
Irfaan: If I would have known, If I came to know that this kind of language… somebody used this kind of language. I wouldn’t have been sitting here, I wouldn’t have come with Brad. This is a sensitive thing for me.
Barkha: So you are absolutely sure that this hasn’t happened?
Irfaan: Yeah, I am sure that this hasn’t happened…it was blown out of proportion. I will tell you one thing. Today there was a newspaper. Somebody quoted me saying that you know the bodyguards misbehaved. I never talked to anybody. Although journalists were trying to take comments out of me saying that you were the only Indian, Bollywood actor there. As an Indian think if somebody calls you this. Now this is like putting words in my mouth. I didn’t know what happened, we were inside you know and they were just trying to create something out of it. I felt a little, you know…
Barkha: But you as the producer have in some ways setting to be a pain in the neck because if you were the actor in the crew, you might not have had to deal with all of this but now as a producer, you have to go to the police commissioner’s office.
Brad: I believe in this strongly, wholeheartedly, that I would still be doing this story. That I would be happy to be able to make this kind of films…
surely might not star in it but help bring it to the table and people would see because of it, because of the message. I am very happy, very proud of
Barkha: What was it about this story, it’s so different. It’s so different from what standard Hollywood films would be.
Brad: You know I was really affected by the taking of this man’s life, destruction of what I believe to be true, attack of that I believe to be true. What we should focus is on the similarities. We should be brought together by our similarities than be repelled by our differences. I want to understand more and I want people to understand me more.
Brad: I was taken by Marianne. Everyone have every reason to be bitter, to be angry. She is not; she is a woman of great humanity, of great dignity and I through her example. I was really taken by her and I got into the story I understood more about the international nature of the people come together
and I felt it is a very important story. What I was most proud of it is that we were able to compensate with the cast and the crews well. International
cast, cast from different religions, different cultures, made friends like Irfaan Khan here.
Barkha: I just want to ask you, it’s kind of ironic because you didn’t shoot in Pakistan where Daniel’s story was actually.
Brad: We shot two weeks of it.
Barkha: But a lot of it you didn’t because you thought it might be problematic from security and logistical point of view.
Brad: Well, we weren’t really sure, we were told that there might be… but the government there gave us the permission to shoot for two weeks there.
Barkha: No, the reason why I asked was to bring in your India experience, there has been this one incident, taking that into account and looking back to the time you spent here. Has it been?
Brad: Let me say we chose India because it’s great film production here, a great film experience that was important for the technical shooting of the film and that was a great advantage here, but we also chose the place because its so socially diverse, rich in culture and I have to say that the shooting proved to be just.
Barkha: Was it a good experience?
Brad: It was a great experience, the film is going to benefit for shooting here, I am very excited about it. I am sorry, my only fear is that anything is soured, the message gets soured, with these kind of sensational events that really have no justification and…
Barkha: How bad was the paparazzi for you here? Did you manage to escape it?
Brad: We were certainly doing the request as a family in a hotel but one thing I got bike. A motorbike.
Barkha: You went out and bought a motorbike?
Brad: Yeah, I was so fascinated by the chaos, the traffic, different rules we have been having. I am a motorbike nerd and I want to get out on the road. So I bought a helmet and was able to ride around quite peacefully.
Barkha: Did you mask your face?
Brad: Sometimes it was for the exhaustion.
Barkha: We get this. Brad Pitt bought a motorbike in Pune, put the mask around his face.
Brad: I was so busy chasing Angelina.
Barkha: And this time with or without your bodyguard?
Brad: Without, a bike is about freedom, a bike is about being by yourself.
Barkha: So you outsmarted the media?
Brad: Not in any way, they just weren’t looking for me. We were able to explore out on the weekends.
Barkha: Outside where?
Brad: Goa, where we had great fun. In Rajasthan. I also this week got to explore Jaisalmer, Ladakh and had amazing time in Varanasi. I have never seen anything like it. I have never seen a country like this. I told my friend put this on your list, you must come here, see this.
Barkha: What about it captivated you the most?
Brad: There is nothing that I can pinpoint apart from the number of people living together, living in harmony. The colours of the cities, the smell of the cities, the food of the cities, the architecture of the cities.
Barkha: You are passionate about architecture?
Brad: Yeah, I am a bit of an architect.
Barkha: Is there anything that particularly captured your imagination?
Brad: Extraordinary temples here. Means a lot to me to get to see, to witness how they were made and I was also able to go outside Pune, Jim was there for his project on humanity. We got a project, we got to build with a family and see their excitement. It’s been great. Overall it’s been an extraordinary trip for us, which neither of us have ever been before. We loved Diwali.
Barkha: What did you do on Diwali?
Brad: We were in Jodhpur at that time but you know I could just go on for nights and nights and nights.
Barkha: Did you like the candles, the firecrackers or something?
Brad: No I didn’t get to light the firecrackers but I surely got to witness it once. But you know, we would like to see what you call “Holi”.
Brad: I would like to come back for that and it will be great fun.
Barkha: And the media would go absolutely crazy. Irfan let me ask you, how different was it, do you feel different working in a Hollywood film while Brad was roaming around with his motorcycle? Do you have any idea that he was doing that?
Irfan: No. I didn’t know. He had a really good time. For me it’s different from Bollywood. The kind of work that is happening here, the kind of freedom the director gives you, the story they are attempting. I went and met people just like that. I knew about Michael that much when he gave me the novel and when I read the novel it just changed me completely. It just did something to me. I won’t be able to take out that thing in my life. What he makes out of a tragedy, it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t have imagined that someone could have this kind of a progressive and positive attitude for life and what she claimed what she was doing, it’s an amazing story.
Barkha: It’s an amazing story that brings us to the larger issue of activism. You know you and Angelina are much more than the poster boy and poster girl. You are actively involved in causes of all kinds in Pakistan especially post earthquake. How did that begin to happen with you? Did you feel the catalyst was Angelina in some way?
Brad: Yes. Angelina is certainly inspiring for all her hard work. Absolute dedication, love for people all over the world. I absolutely found her inspiring. I have been fortunate and given lot of opportunities, it’s just not satisfying unless you can show that in some way and help those who need
the help. I believe you need to be there.
Barkha: You have seen all the controversies that seem to stalk stars who adopt causes. We saw what happened with Madonna for example and you and
Angelina have babies that were adopted and these are the kind of controversies that tend to stalk stars. Is there something that annoys you? Do you think
people are cynical and unfair? Of course there were all kinds of speculations that you are going to adopt a baby from India because there were reports of
your visit to the Pune orphanage.
Brad: We wanted to bring toys for the kids and see the program how it ran here. We were very impressed. It was a wonderful institution. We are not
planning to adopt from India at this point but certainly something we could consider in the future. Absolutely. The timing probably wouldn’t be right now.
I believe that time says it all. All intentions come out through time. So I’ve become tough a little bit.
Barkha: So in that case it gets thick here.
Brad: No. The faith comes out in the long run.
Barkha: But you’ll sort it out.
Brad: That you keep, you act as you believe, you respond to the qualities that you believe in and that will tell the truth in the long run.
Barkha: Tell me something that you’ve learnt during the course of this film that outsiders don’t know. Top secrets I’m asking of you.
Irfan: The kind of performance I’ve seen in him he’ll make a mark. His sincerity made a mark on me. When I saw him on the sets for the first time, I
found, it looked very genuine. You really respect people who are successful but I respect those who are concerned. That’s what attracted me to him and this couple. I really look for people who are concerned about things that are going around them. It’s heartening.
Barkha: I want to ask you Brad, it ain’t a surprise to anybody in this line of work, does it get isolating, alienating?
Brad: Not when you have three kids.
Barkha: Not when you have kids. Are you worried, I mean this is a question thrown at you all the time kids growing up with body guards?
Brad: It’s unfortunate. I’m proud of Angelina. She has out her hand on it. Being parents who are there, who will be there for their upbringing and
bodyguards always seem to be needed when we are going, announce for some kind of film. There is going to be a lot of hoopla around it. Most of the time we do not have to live with that and we want to ensure that our kids have normal upbringing as far as possible.
Barkha: Does it feel claustrophobic at times?
Brad: Yeah. Then we go out for trips on weekends, we figure that around.
Barkha: What does Angelina feel about this entire incident? The thing that has happened?
Brad: She is disappointed, disheartened because the message of the film is important to us and these kind of allegations break that message and this is completely anti-ethical to our intentions. What we believe in, what we want for our kids in the world, it’s a bit saddening but at the same time I think the film will speak to that.
Barkha: Let me ask you finally, what’s the one defining image of India you’ll carry back with you?
Brad: I really like the pants here.
Barkha: So you bought a kurta. Where did you get it from?
Brad: I don’t know, we had help.
Barkha: Did you shop anywhere in Pune?
Brad: I got my camera around and got some shots.
Barkha: Before you wrap up, let’s just ask you guys would you come back ?
Brad: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ll come back for the film. It’s really important to me. I hope we can pull it off well.
Barkha: You like Indian food. I read that somewhere.
Brad: I love Indian food.
Barkha: Which dish?
Brad: Chicken masala, I like the dal, naan. I just love it.
Barkha: Will that bring you back?
Brad: Yes, of course. Surely.
Barkha: Good to know that, we will wait for your next visit. Hope you’re next visit is quieter and we hope we get to see more of you.