Shooting Zero Dark Thirty, the tale of America’s manhunt for Osama bin Laden, wasn’t easy for Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win the Oscars for her war drama — The Hurt Locker (2008). Bigelow faced flak from radicals for recreating a Pakistani city in Chandigarh, to shoot the film. Here’s the director talking about her experience of shooting the film that has got four Golden Globe nominations and is also an Oscar frontrunner:
How did Zero Dark Thirty happen?
I started with this project six years back with a very different ending based on the 9/11 attack, until one day President Obama announced that “the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin laden”. That was the time when Mark Boal, my screenwriter, discovered that the center of the real life drama was a young courageous female CIA officer. I was very excited to take on this subject.
How was it shooting in India?
It was a good experience shooting in India, though there were lots of controversies regarding recreating Abottabad in Chandigarh, but in the end, it all went good. It took us time to create Pakistan, but the Indian team was very active and contributed as much as they could.
Life of Pi author Yann Martel recently said that “India is a horrible country”. Has your experience too left you sore?
Had it not been for the Indian team, it would have been tough for me to shoot here, with all the protests by Hindu radicals. But I won’t say I was left with a sore experience. Nobody wants to be associated with the name Osama or anything close to it after 9/11, so I understand their feelings.
Why did you choose India to shoot the film?
We filmed the hide out of Bin Laden in Chandigarh and Patiala in Punjab. Chandigarh outskirts have villages which resemble Thanda Choha, the hamlet of dusty lanes and ugly walled mansions where bin Laden hid on an illegally-built upper floor. Patiala has fine colonial buildings similar to some found in Abbottabad (where Bin Laden was killed).
What are your expectations from Indian audiences when the film hits the screens here on January 11 next year?
I hope that the Indian audiences like the movie and I’m sure they will be able to relate to the movie, as the incident took place in their neighbouring country and was shot in Chandigarh.
How difficult was it to shoot here considering people in India are easily star struck?
There were hardly people who could recognise us in the area we were shooting in, because most of the scenes were shot in villages. But there were some people who heard of rumours that Brad Pitt was shooting with us and just came to get a glimpse of him.
What do you think of the whole tension between India and Pakistan?
I am a filmmaker and having made two films based on real life wars, I can tell you it does not do good to anyone. I would only say that the two countries should make peace.
Have you seen Bollywood films?
I know about the kind of movies they make, especially the love stories. I would love to work with Bollywood actors. I’m sure it’ll be a great experience.
Any plans in the future to come to India again for work or for leisure?
Yes, I would love to visit India for work and for leisure. The culture and tradition of the country speaks volumes of the rich history it had.