Ritesh Batra in a cocktail with Jane Fonda, Robert Redford at Venice | world cinema | Hindustan Times
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Ritesh Batra in a cocktail with Jane Fonda, Robert Redford at Venice

The American streaming giant Netflix and Venice have teamed up to present Ritesh Batra’s third feature, Our Souls at Night, at the festival. The film stars Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.

world cinema Updated: Jul 18, 2017 15:25 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox released in 2013.
Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox released in 2013.

It could not be a more exhilarating cocktail with India’s Ritesh Batra (who wowed the world with his debut feature, The Lunchbox, in 2013), Hollywood icons Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, Netflix and the upcoming Venice Film Festival. The American streaming giant and Venice have teamed up to present Batra’s third movie, Our Souls at Night, at a festival that has always had a soft corner for Indian cinema.

Once Mira Nair’s The Monsoon Wedding won the Golden Lion at the Lido, the quaint little island off mainland Venice washed by the waves of the Adriatic Sea that hosts the festival, the oldest in the world having begun its roll in 1932 during the heyday of Fascism, Mussolini and Hitler.

More recently, Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan in Tamil with Aishwarya Rai, Vikram and others screened at Venice, and in fact the Hindi version, Raavan, was also a part of the annual cinematic extravaganza.

In 2015, Vetrimaaran’s Visaaranai rocked Venice with its brutally poignant tale of poor Tamil migrant labourers being tortured in an Andhra jail. The work was based on the true story of a Coimbatore-based autorickshaw driver, M Chandrakumar. One of the victims of police bestiality, he wrote a novel, Lock-Up, about his dark days in a suffocatingly small cell, and this formed the basis for Vetrimaaran’s picture.

Jane Fonda’s life has been marked by intense passion in her pursuit of freedom from every kind of conformism, with touching and vulnerable generosity.

Batra, who seems to be drawn to English-language fiction (with his second feature, The Sense of an Ending, based on the British writer, Julian Patrick Barnes, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2011), finds his latest inspiration from American novelist Kent Haruf’s work, Ours Souls at Night.

Here is a broad description of what the plot of the book and movie is about: “In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Haruf’s fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbour, Louis Waters. Addie husband died years ago, as did Louis’ wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk to.”

Batra has spun his story around loneliness (a theme we also saw in The Lunchbox -- with Irrfan Khan’s Fernandes pining for love - that premiered at the Cannes Critics Week in 2013), casting such great performers as Redford and Fonda.

Interestingly, Batra would get a far greater mileage with the 74th edition of Venice deciding to honour both Fonda and Redford with a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony on September 1 (with the festival running from August 30 to September 9) will be followed by a screening of Our Souls at Night. Fonda and Redford have had exceptional lives and careers.

Robert Redford has been an exceptional actor, director, producer and environmentalist.

Not many Hollywood actors have shown the kind of courage as Fonda has. Her life has been marked by intense passion in her pursuit of freedom from every kind of conformism, with touching and vulnerable generosity. At times a political and social activist, a sex symbol, a writer, a feminist icon, a producer and a prophet of physical fitness, but above all an extraordinarily successful and talented actor, Fonda has been one of the greatest protagonists of contemporary international cinema. Her ability to reinvent herself and to sink into myriad characters has been proof of her brilliance.

Redford, on the other hand, has been an exceptional actor, director, producer and environmentalist - one who has given what some call a unique experiment in cinema, why the Sundance Film Festival. He has been a vociferous voice of independent cinema - making and promoting movies about issues he believed in. A masterful storyteller, he is bound to produce sparks acting out his part - along with Jane - in Our Souls at Night.

The film has been adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber (The Fault in Our Stars), and produced by Netflix, the streaming giant that caused a row at Cannes in May, when it refused to allow its competition title, Okja, to be screened by French theaters before the streaming started.

We do not know whether there would be a similar controversy on the Lido, given the fact that the festival director, Alberto Barbera, has, along with the Cannes chief, Thierry Fremaux, been a strong advocate of theatres. Both want to save the cinemas in a world where the screen is shrinking from the size of a television set to that of a tablet and, now, the mobile telephone!

(The author has covered the Venice Film Festival for 18 years.)

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