cinema From Iraq to Afghanistan, director Kathryn Bigelow follows the war on terror like a neutral observer from Hollywood. As “Zero Dark Thirty” reaches Indian shores, the Oscar-winning auteur tells us what the hunt is all about
After the critically-acclaimed “The Hurt Locker”, director Kathryn Bigelow is back on the frontier with “Zero Dark Thirty”. The spy thriller captures the American efforts to nab Osama Bin Laden in what is described as the most complex, if not most dangerous, manhunt in the history of mankind.
Released last December in the U.S., the film has got five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Scheduled to hit Indian theatres this February, Bigelow comes with some candid answers in an e-mail interview done before the nominations for the Academy Awards were announced. Admitting that the script took a twist after the Abbottabad operation, Bigelow says the movie is all based on firsthand accounts from on-ground officials and people involved in the operation.
“The movie, as such, has no agenda. There is no point to prove, it is a story that I felt should be told.”
Where were the challenges in terms of writing and shooting? Did you grapple with the politics of it all?
Based on the research we did, me and Mark (Boal) completed the screenplay quickly and then did the casting. Filming the movie was a bit of a challenge, as we had to compress the 10-year-long journey into two and a half hours. We tried to keep the version as accurate as the real life incident. The research part was more difficult as there were a lot of controversies on us getting classified material.
There was an investigation to rule out if we were given out classified information. And shooting the climax — the raid that killed Bin Laden — was a task. People know what happened, but they don’t know how it happened, the choreography of the whole incident. People don’t know where they landed, where they entered from, and who they killed first! Showing the picture through the eyes of the actual officers what they encountered was a challenge.
How much did the script change after the Abbottabad operation?
The research that we did on the battle of Tora Bora and the contacts built during that time came handy for the next research. We felt bad because the whole research done previously was wasted as the Abbottabad operations changed the whole story. The screenplay and script changed completely after that as we extended the plot from 9/11 to the killing of Osama Bin laden.
Is it an American point of view or a combination of multiple points of views on a complex problem?
As I said, I felt that the entire story needs to be told, which people think they know. People know what happened, but they don’t know how it happened, the choreography of the whole incident. The movie does not propagate a go-America-go kind of spirit.
Is there an emotional layering to it as well?
We have tried to be as accurate as possible, and the character Maya is a strong character and has no love interest; she and other characters just serve their job.
Why did you choose to tell the story through Maya? Do you want to make a feminist point? And why did you pick Jessica Chastain?
That’s because during the research me and Mark discovered that the heart of the whole 10-year odyssey was a young female CIA officer, and that really inspired me. She is a strong woman who headed the planning, the execution of the hunt, and accomplished the mission along with the other official. She is called the ‘Rockstar’. I wasn’t trying to make a feminist point here. What she did was noteworthy, her strength and courage in the world’s greatest manhunt was worth being shown to world.
I chose Jessica because she fit the role and she looked very similar to the real-life Maya. Besides, I needed very earthy people who don’t carry the aura of being a star always.
Does the film debate the morality of the methodology used to kill Osama?
It is a neutral story. It is neither a go-America-go kind of movie nor anti-Pakistan. It talks about the torture that the contingents had to go through in U.S. custody.
How did you and Boal procure classified information? Did you get any support from the administration in shooting the action sequences?
We did our homework but we did not receive any classified information. Yes, there were a lot of controversies regarding us receiving classified material and the matter was investigated. Being election year, a lot of things were being said, which has now been handled. We did not receive any kind of help from the administration.
You shot a portion of the film in Chandigarh and had to face some protests. Tell us about your experience.
I really understand the anti-Osama feeling in them and that’s what led to the protest, which is very natural. I would love to visit India again and learn more about the country. The tradition, the culture and the artefacts speaks volumes about the rich history of the country.
How was it working with the Indian cast and crew?
It wouldn’t have been easy if not for the team in India. It was a good experience shooting in India, though there were lots of controversies regarding recreating Abbottabad in Chandigarh. But in the end it all went good.
It took us time to create Pakistan. We got signboards and number plates in Urdu, got men wearing the skull cap and women wearing the hijab. The Indian team was very active and helpful and contributed as much as they could.
When the media describes you as the first woman director to win an Oscar, how do you take it?
It was an honour and I felt really very proud when that was announced, but life doesn’t really change with that. There should be more women directing; the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. Eyes roll or ears roll, I simply refuse to stop making movies.
There is a sexist point of view that if “The Hurt Locker” was directed by a man it would not have won the Oscar for Best Director …
I really can’t comment on that because the bottom line is I made the movie and I am a woman.
Violence has been a constant in your films and yours is a very muscular approach to filmmaking. How did you imbibe it?
I always wish I had a good answer for that, like I was traumatised in childhood. I think that film has the potential to be very cathartic. I respond to movies that get in your face, that have the ability to be provocative or challenge you, that take some risks.
I like high-impact movies. That’s what I respond to as a viewer, so naturally I respond to that when writing. I don’t want to be made pacified or made comfortable. I like stuff that gets your adrenaline going.