When Brad was Pitted against Shah Rukh Khan, we expected ego. Here’s what we saw | hollywood | Hindustan Times
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When Brad was Pitted against Shah Rukh Khan, we expected ego. Here’s what we saw

When Brad Pitt and Shah Rukh Khan came together to talk about their careers, we were expecting huge personalities fighting for the limelight, rude personal questions, and ego. But it was different.

hollywood Updated: May 25, 2017 14:24 IST
Rohan Naahar
Who’s the biggest star of them all?
Who’s the biggest star of them all?

Sitting mere feet away from two of the world’s biggest movie stars should ideally have some sort of impact on a person – at least that’s what we’ve been told. We’ve seen those amazing sights of thousands of fans making a pilgrimage to Shah Rukh Khan’s house. We’ve seen Brad Pitt’s every move be covered with the dedication usually reserved for terrorist attacks. But when the two sat across each other in Mumbai on Wednesday, the atmosphere in the room was not one of intimidation, or of hubris (even though Shah Rukh tried his best), but of common love – for movies, and for art.

Pitt was in town to promote his new film War Machine, which will begin streaming on Netflix on Friday. All signs point to it being the streaming service’s biggest film yet. It certainly features the biggest actor any of their original movies have ever scored.

But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it: Why in the world was Brad Pitt promoting his new film in India? And more importantly, why was he doing it in front of a rather small gathering?

Perhaps the biggest sign of the changes to come – the talk was, after all, about the future of movies, and how we as an audience will consume them – was seen on our way to the venue. As we drove, fingers crossed that the infamous Mumbai traffic would be kind to us, we spotted one large billboard after another with Pitt’s face on it.

How often do you see a Hollywood star’s face billboards usually reserved for one of the Khans? (Rohan Naahar)

In recent years, India has become an important part in Hollywood’s long-term plans. In March, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings paid a visit here to set up a brand new office in Mumbai. While he was there, he announced major deals with stars Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. We asked him about the company’s strategy in India, he said he hopes that every one of the 300 million internet users in the country would one day have the Netflix app installed on their phones.

Nelftix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings in New Delhi. (Rohan Naahar)

Sending Brad Pitt here was their big move.

But they didn’t tell anyone about it. When the invite came to attend the event, it was supposed to be a conversation with War Machine director David Michod and Pitt’s producing partners Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner (who won the Academy Award for Best Picture in February). Being fans of their work, we hungrily agreed. But only hours after confirming, it was revealed – after swearing us to secrecy of course – that Pitt would be in attendance. He would be in conversation with Shah Rukh Khan, Netflix’s biggest soldiers, now stationed at their corners of the world.

But such was the secrecy around the event, that even after arriving at the venue – The Oberoi Trident on Marine Drive – it took some dogged persuasion to extract the most basic information. Here’s what we learned: Brad Pitt was, in fact, in the vicinity. Whether or not he was staying at the Trident was up in the air, considering most stars are sent to the more flamboyant Taj. But Shah Rukh, we were told, was on his way.

The calm before the storm at the Oberoi Trident.

Moments later, the hotel’s staff began gathering near the entrance. Whispers of ‘Shah Rukh! Shah Rukh!’ were heard. One elderly gentleman, who seemed to be minding his own business, saw the excitement and paused his day. He pulled out his mobile phone and took a careful stance.

From behind him, someone, for the first time that day, yelped “Brad Pitt bhi hai?! (Brad Pitt is there too?!).

Is this the new face of Netflix? (Rohan Naahar)

It is strange the sort of reactions movie stars draw out of fans, and sometimes even from casual passers-by. Moments before the excitement, we had spotted cricketer Suresh Raina casually walking across the lobby, left to his own devices, not bothered for autographs or selfies.

But the moment Shah Rukh Khan walked in, stooping, dark glasses pulled over his eyes, surrounded by rude bodyguards, it was as if people were drawn to him.

Upstairs, at the rooftop conference hall where the event was taking place, the atmosphere was calmer. Only a handful of journalists – those serious enough to want to attend without ever knowing Pitt was expected – were in attendance. The rest of the crowd was made up of Netflix officials, crew, and other behind-the-scenes folks.

It was a relaxed talk, not at all like what we were dreading. We’d been bracing for questions about their personal lives – Pitt’s recent divorce loomed large, and he made several references to wanting to spend more time with his kids – but what we got instead, was two performers talking about their craft.

And discussing his new movie, the excitement he feels picking a new project, shepherding new directors, evolving as a storyteller – that’s when Pitt was most comfortable.

On two occasions, he launched into insightful anecdotes about his movies. He spoke about how he locked himself in a room for two weeks to play the deranged Jeffrey in 12 Monkeys (the performance Shah Rukh said made him a Brad Pitt fan). He also remembered his last visit to Mumbai. “I got a helmet and rode around on an Enfield”.

This was the essence of Brad Pitt – chilled out, humble, but ambitious. And all remaining doubt (was he really this calm and laid back or was he putting it on?), was washed away when the programme ended. He was meant to be whisked away from the stage, but he hung around, chatting, joking, taking everyone by surprise – so much so that no one even approached him for the selfies they’d probably been dreaming about.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar