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Movies have to be told through relationships: Ritesh Batra

Ritesh Batra speaks to Ananya Ghosh about directing an adaptation of Julian Barnes’s award-winning novel The Sense of an Ending

The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra has finally announced his next full-length film, and this time it is an international collaboration — he will direct the BBC adaptation of Julian Barnes’s 2011 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending. The movie will star Academy Award-winning actor Jim Broadbent and the rest of the cast is yet to be finalised.
“It came to me as an offer to direct. I always thought I would direct my own writings and I have been writing a few scripts. I took up this project not only because it is a very important piece of literature and I have always liked the book, but also because I absolutely loved the script. Making movies from books is no easy task. It has to function on its own.

Ritesh Batra
Ritesh Batra at his Bandra office. Pic/Satyajit Desai

The film is about those characters that we love from the book, but it is also its own thing. It has to be self sufficient. Each medium has its own demands. Books can be thoughts, streams of consciousness, first person narratives etc. But movies have to be told through relationships,” says Batra, when we meet him in his Bandra office — a sparsely furnished room with two huge blackboards overflowing with illegible haphazard scribbling. Thought bubbles of a writer’s hyperactive mind? Maybe.

Award-winning playwright Nick Payne, whose play Constellations starring Jake Gyllenhaal has recently been on Broadway, is making his film debut with the screenplay of this film. And Batra, a scriptwriter himself, is quite excited about the collaboration and says, “I have been working very closely with Payne for the past seven months. It is very difficult to find a good collaborator, as most writers prefer to work alone. The novel is extremely British and I am not. So, it is important to have someone who brings that to the table to get the real essence of the story.”

It has been two years since The Lunchbox. The Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nimrat Kaur- starrer had picked up the Grand Rail d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. In the meantime, Batra has made an eight-minute short film The Masterchef as part of the Sundance Short Film Challenge. “I can’t churn out a movie every year. Writing a script takes time and according to me the script is the most important part of a movie. If you do not write it right, you can’t salvage it at any other later stage,” says Batra, who has already finished writing his next film, Photograph — a love story set in the city, which he intends to start shooting early next year after wrapping up this project.

However, he adds that the script is not sacrosanct but keeps evolving as the film goes on floors. “It is not a stone on your foot that weighs you down, but something that anchors you and gives you direction. You can say that a script is a blueprint for a movie. However, unlike in engineering where if you do not adhere to the architectural drawing to a T, the structure runs the risk of collapsing, in filmmaking, the blueprint provides a guiding structure and is flexible. When I shoot a film, my actors become my co-writers and then on the editing table, I rewrite portions along with my editors. At every step the product changes,” the director patiently explains, finishing almost half a packet of biscuits in the process.

He also lays equal importance on the preparation. And when we met him on Tuesday, the director is busy getting ready for his flight to Britain. “We are shooting in a few months and I am flying there to absorb the essence of the place. I need to know my way around the place as I know my way around here. You have to dwell in the world of the story to do proper justice to it,” says the Bandra boy, revealing that he lived in Cairo for five months before shooting his eleven-minute short film, Café Regular, Cairo, which got special mentions in both Tribeca International Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival in 2012.

The Lunchbox had helped garner interest for Indian films across the world. Point this out and the writer/director of this success story is unwilling to take all the credit and says modestly, “It is unfair to give my movie credit for getting world audience take note of India. Satyajit Ray had done it long back. A story that is universal, yet local, lives forever. I think that is what we should aim for and not some big weekend collection.”

However, he acknowledges that there is a renewed interest for film coming from the subcontinent. “It definitely generated curiosity on what is coming out of India,” he says, adding, “We have to tell Indian stories to the world. But it is a very critical time for us — exciting, yet sensitive. Even during the ’80s a group of committed people had created an audience for parallel movies, but eventually it all faded away. We need film bodies, which will help filmmakers create global stories with a local heart. We also have to find newer markets for Indian films. Otherwise we will have one-off successes.”

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