He became the toast of the town right after his first film, The Lunchbox (2013), released. After that, instead of rushing into new projects, filmmaker Ritesh Batra worked at his own pace on his next movie, an adaptation of English author Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense Of An Ending. The 37-year-old will also start shooting for Our Souls At Night in “a few weeks or a month or two”. The film is an adaptation of the Kent Haruf novel by the same name, and stars iconic American actors Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Here, Ritesh talks about his life and career.
Would you call yourself an Indian or an international director?
I would consider myself an Indian director, who is on his way home, but is stopping by interesting places along the way.
Why didn’t you work on any project in India after the release of The Lunchbox?
After that movie, I got several offers to do English films in Hollywood and in the UK. However, I wanted to sit back, write and spend time in Mumbai. I wanted to just live here, which is something I had not done since I was 19. I wasn’t eager to jump into a project unless I loved the script, the story and the characters. I don’t think it’s necessary to show up to work unless you are doing something you love. One can live with less. I made it a point to go to a small city in India every other week in 2013-2014. That was rewarding.
There are talks that your next Hindi film stars Kangana Ranaut and Irrfan Khan.
There are great actors in India such as Shah Rukh Khan, Irrfan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Amitabh Bachchan, Vidya Balan and Kangana. I would love to work with all of them. But I wish I could generate scripts that deserve their talent. I don’t think that happens as often as it should. So, I am trying to do that through my own company. I’m engaging with like-minded artistes to create stories that can travel both within and outside the country. But I would love to talk about our projects after we have shot them, not before.
Watch: Trailer of The Lunchbox
You have just finished working on The Sense Of An Ending. Are you confident or nervous?
One is always nervous about a movie before its release. But, I am sure the movie honours the book and is yet different enough to have its own soul. A movie and a book have to be like cousins, not siblings. I am looking forward to knowing what people think about it. I was honoured to work with a great British cast and adapt a great British novel.
How different is it to work on a movie in India and on an international film?
I did miss my team in Mumbai. With them, there is a sense of comfort. The process of making a film is the same everywhere — India, the UK or the US. But the formalities are different. What I love about Mumbai is its craziness and the spirit of embracing everything that comes our way. For The Lunchbox, we shot on location all the time. For my new movie in the US, we are doing the same. There is something about embracing what a place has to offer, and subsuming it into your vision. It is what makes a story special.
Watch: Ritesh Batra’s interview
A number of Indian actors are working in international projects. Do you think this exchange of talent and stories will continue?
There is no east or west. I grew up in Bandra, but I see people in London (UK) or in the west going through the same s**t emotionally. Life is tough everywhere, but it’s a gift to be alive. I don’t compartmentalise my world into east or west. I was born somewhere and I am telling a story about some other place. These things only matter because I think they make things more interesting. Like Danny Boyle (film-maker) made a great movie in Mumbai, and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) had such a different perspective.
Talking of Our Souls At Night, how did the film work out?
As I was wrapping up in London, I got a call about this movie with Robert and Jane. I said, “Of course, I want to read it.” But, I wanted to do it even before I read it. After reading the book and the script, it was a no-brainer for me to want to work with two actors, who are legends and whose work I admire, and to tell a story that moves me. It’s a great opportunity.
Do you see yourself making a Bollywood masala film?
Yes, why not? It would be my version of it though. I thought Slumdog Millionaire and Moulin Rouge (2001) were Bollywood potboilers in a way. Even The Lunchbox, for me, was always about making a movie that was not afraid of making people feel deeply, just like a Bollywood movie.