Q&A: Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Mumbai Film Festival. In addition to conducting a master class, two films by the Oscar-winning director are being screened at the festival, including his 2009 documentary South of the Border and Alexander Revisited, his final cut of the 2004 original historical drama that was partly filmed in India. Stone spoke with THR India correspondent Nyay Bhushan in Mumbai.
THR: You have been to India on several occasions and are aware of the film industry here. How would you like to see the two big film industries of India and the U.S. working together?
Oliver Stone: I think the Indian film industry has existed without Hollywood for a long time and it turns out tremendous volume and does well. So the marriage between the two is rare as they have different styles. But of course the best example of the two industries coming together was with Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire but that doesn't happen often and I don't think that [a meeting of the two industries] can always be structured that way. Then there'll be movies like My Name Is Khan in which the main character goes to America. I love the style of Indian movies - they've always excited me because of how they shift moods between various genres. I mean now we are doing that kind of musical comedy in the U.S. with Glee. So I think (the two industries) do help each other in a way.
THR: In Natural Born Killers you used a song by (the late Pakistani maestro) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the background of a violent scene. How did you come up with that concept of using a sacred song in such a movie?
Stone: It was whirling dervish music and I wanted that madness. I used it over the prison riot scene and other sequences. We got the permission to use that song and put it in and he (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) was shocked. I think he was shocked because that movie really came out of the blue. But the movie was really a statement of anger, a protest against the media that had become perverted and more and more superficial. It was spiritual in a way, a breakout against the system. And the anger that (central characters) Mickey and Mallory felt was, to me, against the system which was oppressive. When they break away, that becomes a religious celebration of freedom. That's why the music was sacred to me.
THR: Your recent Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps had an interesting India connection where Frank Langella's character -- who plays a banker whose world is collapsing -- says that these days he is getting calls “from people in Mumbai, Dumbai." He seems flustered at this new world that he is facing. Is that a statement about someone whose powers are eroding against a rising power?
Stone: Yes, he is definitely a man whose time has passed by. The money markets have become very confusing and much more computerized and of course, India is a big source of that computerization and outsourcing. Also the deal-making has become much more complex and its true that these big banks lost control of what they were doing, buying and selling securities that they didn't understand completely. So the idea (behind that scene) was to show the globalization of the economy and also that people are dealing with people they don't know anymore. You pick up the phone and you don't know the other guy.
THR: In terms of future projects, would you like to do more documentaries or are you working on a feature?
Stone: I am currently working on a documentary called The Untold History of the United States which is 12 hours long and that's my big thing to finish as I am on my third year on that. I can't tell you about the features because I keep that quiet until I start on them.
THR: Would you do another JFK?
That cost me a lot too, you know. Every film is different. I think the W movie was very significant and it had a lot to say if you look at it again.
THR: U.S. President Barack Obama is visiting India for the first time when he arrives here next week. What is your take on him and the current political mood in the U.S.?
Stone: Well I don't want to influence his visit to India in any way. I think that he is taking a moderate stand overall with his policies but the fact is that currently in the U.S., the right wing is getting destructive. The Supreme Court has just freed up rights of corporations to invest in elections. That is very dangerous and changes all the rules. I think we will be more and more in decline in the U.S.
THR: India and the U.S. are both large democracies which allow freedom of expression. But sometimes that can be challenging in India in the sense that it can be difficult for filmmakers here to push the envelope and explore certain subjects such as religion or politics. How would you like to see this creative expression nurtured further in the world's largest democracy that is India?
Stone: I can't tell you because I don't know the issues here but to me India is one of the sterling examples of the world of a real amazing amount of change and freedom. You allow for different points of view, you are very tolerant and the religious freedom is famous here. Most countries are closed to that and don't allow various (religious) concepts like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and others to exist side by side. I don't see the closures that you talk about. I think you are one of the great old traditions of the world which allows for such freedom of worship.
The Mumbai Film Festival concludes on October 28.