Brad Pitt, Shah Rukh Khan Talk Appeal of Netflix, Bollywood

Brad Pitt and Shah Rukh Khan in Mumbai -Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix

The two stars held a wide-ranging discussion at an event in Mumbai to promote Pitt's Netflix film 'War Machine.'

Brad Pitt and Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan engaged in a wide-ranging discussion Wednesday in Mumbai, talking about everything from their career paths to the impact of Netflix on the film business.

The interaction was organized to promote Pitt's Netflix film War Machine, which starts streaming Friday and is co-produced by the actor's Plan B banner. The event was moderated by leading news network CNN-IBN's film critic Rajeev Masand, with a recording of the one-hour discussion to air on the network this weekend.

When asked why he chose to work with Netflix on War Machine, Pitt said, "It's because the way the studio system is right now in Hollywood, it just can't support risky films like this, of this budget certainly.”

Directed by David Michod, War Machine is based on Michael Hastings' book The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan, which revolves around Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan who was forced to resign after mocking Vice President Joe Biden and other Obama administration officials in Hastings' 2010 Rolling Stone story. However, the film reconfigured the lead character, played by Pitt, as the fictitious Gen. Glenn McMahon.

Michod, who also joined the discussion, explained why the film's lead character was changed: "I actually believe that any biopic is really a work of fiction. We didn't want to make a movie about a specific individual, it was about the system that preceded the events of this movie and has continued since 2009-10."

Pitt added that "even Michael Hastings was frustrated during the release of his book since the discussion was about the dismissal of the general rather than what he was trying to say about the problems with the system. That's why it's called War Machine. It's a 16-year war with no end in sight. We wanted to focus on those questions."

Expanding on his views about working with the streaming giant, Pitt said that "the beauty of Netflix for the film viewer is that now more films are getting made, more interesting filmmakers are getting a chance, which means a greater variety." Pitt called this "a renegade time" reflecting "a new resurgence" and drew parallels with the "cinema of the '60s and '70s that I grew up with."

Khan agreed that the issue of studios not experimenting with offbeat fare was universal, "When I [started my career] 25 years ago, I wanted to make the films I wanted to, but you have to be part of the system.”

He pointed out that "Netflix can be a great opportunity, [which can] offer unknown or upcoming directors more chances ... In India every household has a singer, but I think every household also has a filmmaker." With a global platform like Netflix, Khan said, "you don't just have an Indian audience but a world audience."

Pitt gave the example of another Netflix-Plan B original, Okja, which premiered at Cannes and was directed by South Korean helmer Bong Joon-ho.

"Different cultures now are cross-pollinating ideas and styles," said Pitt, arguing that Okja "became something that we would never have been able to create otherwise. We are definitely seeking out more of these experiences."

Pitt also pointed out that "traditionally, films have been categorized by their opening weekend performance," which he considered "an unfair way to test a film's longevity. I have seen many good films that were considered failures." With digital platforms, Pitt observed that it was "interesting to see [how the likes of Netflix are] removing this aspect and what that does to a film's reputation."

Both Khan and Pitt started their careers in the early '90s and have morphed into producers running their own banners. Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment has produced recent hits such as Chennai Express and Dear Zindagi.

"I often think that it's a gamble where there's a bigger payoff," said Pitt adding, "I have been able to do that more as a production company rather than as an individual." Pitt's producing partners, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, also were present at the event.

"If you can last as long as Brad has done, I think [producing] is the natural way to go,"” said Khan. "There are only so many stories you can do as an actor. So it's natural to be a producer and get partners who can fulfill that vision."

When asked how they picked their projects, Pitt and Khan both said they paid attention to who was telling the story and the script.

"What matters most is people who are working with you and their trust in you," said Khan.

As for his challenges in portraying characters, Khan admitted that given the dominance of song and dance in Bollywood, it was challenging for him to explore deeper layers of a character. "You can't really get into a character if you have to do song and dance every 20 minutes. It's not like Bob Fosse or All That Jazz." Khan also pointed that doing "regular roles [away from formulaic fare] was more difficult."

Khan applauded Pitt for his turns in films like 12 Monkeys and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, confessing, "That's when I became a fan of you as an actor. I would ask you to continue with those kinds of roles."

And before Pitt could be asked the obvious question about whether he'd be interested in taking a shot at Bollywood, he said, "I would never make it in Bollywood because I can't dance. I just can't."

"Oh you will," quipped Khan. "In Bollywood we make everyone dance." Khan then shared his secret sauce: "I just spread my arms and do nothing, that's a step."

After the interaction, Pitt made a surprise post-show appearance at a screening of War Machine organized by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images. Rounding off the evening, Khan posted a tweet wishing the film success, "My best 2 David [Michod] & Brad for the release of War Machine on @netflix Pleasure to meet u both & Brad the dance remains."

War Machine premieres on Netflix on May 26.