It has been more than a decade since the horrific 26/11 attack in Mumbai. Since then, the central government, the state government changed but the fear of witnessing India being unarmed, unprepared for a terror attack, still lingers. During an exclusive interaction with American director Mathew Leutwyler, the actor talked about lockdown in Los Angeles, US, and what made him get into film school. 

Mathew Leutwyler

How's it been in the midst of lockdown

Lockdown! Quarantine! We have been in lockdown for three weeks. We are allowed to go to the grocery stores. And if we need to go for a walk or exercise. But you're not supposed to be out in groups, in bars, restaurants. All the stores are closed. Just the things which are necessary. Hospitals and grocery stores.

Are the doctors available all the time at the hospitals?

Yeah. But you have to stand in line.

The police are active?

I mean they are active sort of. They are not beating people with sticks or anything. I can go walk down the streets or in my store. But if I'm in my car nothing happens. You're not supposed to be in groups of more than three or four people. And if you're out late at night, the police will probably come and talk to you.

So, what got you into films?

What got me into films?! Geez, That was a long time ago. You know I wanted to tell wonderful stories. It started out as creative writing and that kind of evolved to visuals, then I made short films when I was a kid, then I went to college. In my family film-making was seen in a hobby, not as a profession, not something you study, so I didn't go to college with the idea of studying films, I just liked it. As the years rolled by in college, I realised, I still wanted to go to film school.

So, for how long have you been living in America? 

I was born here. In San Francisco. Then I moved to Los Angeles.

So you must have been aware of the 9/11 attacks?

Yeah, that was in New York on the other coast. Yeah, I remember vividly. I was woken up by a friend of mine. He told me to turn on the TV, and while we were on the phone the second tower got hit. That's when we realised oh s**t! this was not an accident. So yeah, that was a gamechanger as I'm sure the 26/11 was for India, Mumbai was similar.

How do you think the US government would have handled a 26/11?

Oh boy! That's a tough question. I don't want to fall in trouble. I'm not a nationalist American, I love my country but I'm very aware of its flaws. I'm not a fan of the current government. At all. I can't stand it. I think it is detrimental. But that said, you know America and its army, military its top-notch, whether you like military or not you cannot deny the capabilities of the American military machine. I do think they would have handled it very differently. I don't think that India was prepared for something like that, that's something they learnt. We have explored that in our web-series. It is a touchy subject in India. We touched on it, but we didn't dive. That's really not what the show is about. It's about heroism. The police were heroic. They were carrying muskets and taking on guys with Ak-47. The problem was with the infrastructure and the government was not prepared for back-up. I think the lesson's learnt. I talked to a lot of people in the military when we were doing the show and they did tell me that training and types of equipment are very different now then it was then. I don't see a siege like that lasting four days in any city in America. It just wouldn't happen. It might last two days. It might last a day. They are just a lot more experienced in this kind of situation.

How do you think they would have handled someone like Ajmal Kasab?

That's interesting. We have a very split country right now. So you would have a group of people who would want to hang him immediately, and you would have some other people who would say that 'hey listen we gotta be better than that'. I fully understand that what these people did was horrific and they should be punished for it, and maybe put to death. But certainly should not be allowed in the free world. I also think that these children who have been indoctrinated it is a much more complicated situation than they are just bad people. I think it is dangerous to label somebody's religion or label certain people as bad, and people on this side are good, that to me is bull****. Do you know what I mean? There's a good and bad side to everybody. I think that a more nuanced approach towards understanding why people are involved in terrorism, what is the root of this, that is going to solve the problem. But if you are just going to say look these are bad people, these are good people, so kill the bad people and lock then up, then you are just going to make more bad people, things are not going to change. So you better figure out what's the differences and figure out some way to live on this planet together, else the world is going to end.

While I believe in second chance, but then what do you think about those who attempt to whitewash terrorist acts?

Yeah, I get that. That is not a smart way to go about either. Look there's plenty of poor people and people who grew up in broken homes, they are not going one place to another blowing people up. I mean I have many friends who faced extreme conditions, brutal families, beaten by their dads, thrown out of the house when they were teenagers and they have turned out to be fine people. So again it is much more complicated. That's the other side of the coin. You can't oh just because of this let's give them a break. It needs a more thoughtful, nuanced approach, which takes a lot more effort, a lot more time. You can't jump to a conclusion.

The problem with people inherently is that they want answers way too fast. Right now with this pandemic, they want a cure fast, but guys, to get the cure right it's going to take 18 months to two years that's how long this s**t takes. So when they say, oh no no no no, we need it right now, then I would say oh wait, slow down. But people don't want to slow down, they want answers for everything. Same with terrorism. They say oh that's because he was poor, because of his religion! People just want answers and they want to move on to the next thing. That's dangerous.

How do you think the present American audience would perceive your web-series?

You ask me good questions, but these are tough though. Please don't make me look too bad. I want to be very honest with you but I don't want to offend anybody. It is interesting, I think they would like it, but most people here don't know much about 26/11, and that's funny because I socialise with pretty educated people. The amount of knowledge they have about 26/11 is pretty basic. I was surprised at how little they knew. So everybody knew about Taj. But they didn't know or maybe they didn't remember that there were other terrorist acts which were going on simultaneously, they didn't know that it was going on for four days, they thought it was for a day or two. I think that the western audience watching the show here, for them it would be more informative, a very different experience here, with all the major details. There will be much more to learn from it.