Ritesh Batra on why love stories are his favourite
One of my favourite love stories is Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence. It's beautiful, isn't it?" says Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra over the phone from London. It's his love for love stories that may have propelled him towards his second film, The Sense of an Ending, adapted from Julian Barnes's novel of the same name. The story is about Tony Webster (played by Jim Broadbent), who goes back to his past and reflects on the paths he and his friends have taken. There is also a melancholic, unrequited love story in there.
"I guess it's true that I gravitate towards stories about relationships. Lunchbox was supposed to be a movie about the dabbawala system. But it turned out to be love story." Batra, 36, was not new to Barnes' work when BBC Films approached him to direct the movie. "I have always been a fan," says the filmmaker, who now divides his time between London and Mumbai. He then read the screenplay, written by Nick Payne, and realised that they could collaborate well. But it was meeting Barnes that really cinched the deal.
"He had seen Lunchbox and loved it. And he was very generous about the liberties we could take with his book, like all great writers. But we have tried to compliment the book as much as we can. It was good, though, that Barnes gave us the go-ahead to betray him." Lunchbox, which starred Irrfan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazzudin Siddiqui, was a critical success, a festival favourite and was nominated for a BAFTA. If he is bogged down by the pressure to perform with his second movie, he doesn't let on.
"It's not a sport, where you need to outdo yourself and push yourself for better time. Writing and directing doesn't work that way…" he muses, and then adds, "You just go ahead and work. I am just doing a job. If the movie does well, it helps pave the way for a better movie. I was overwhelmed with the way Lunchbox did, but hopefully this will do as well. But there is no pressure. All you have to do is be honest with your art. If you are not, the Gods of storytelling will take their hands off you."
He does say that his third movie, which he is already working on, will be in Hindi and based in Mumbai, his home. But he does wish India had a film body that promoted Indian movies, with Indian actors, internationally. "This is why sometimes you need the private sector to step in. We need an umbrella body that wants to share Indian stories. These need to be headed by smart, visionary people, who know how things in the outside world work," he says.
As he gets ready to put the finishing touches to the movie, he says he is too busy, except for spending time with his three-year-old daughter. "I do cook a lot. But yes, I would like to take up photography, or learn a language. You know all the things everyone wants to do and not do. Ah, well."