Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023 | Last Update : 09:36 AM IST

  Age on Sunday   17 Mar 2019  I always cast the right people: Ritesh Batra

I always cast the right people: Ritesh Batra

Published : Mar 17, 2019, 5:45 am IST
Updated : Mar 17, 2019, 5:45 am IST

Filmmaker Ritesh Batra on casting the right people, setting a budget that can be recovered and whether his films are for a niche audience.

Ritesh Batra
 Ritesh Batra

After the massive success of The Lunchbox, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (2013), filmmaker Ritesh Batra is back with another film — Photograph. Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra, the film has already been to Berlin and Sundance film festivals. Ahead of its theatrical release in India, we ask him about his filmmaking process and various aspects of it.
Excerpts from the interview:

You are very particular about the casting of your films. What made you cast Nawaz and Sanya for Photograph ?
When I finished writing the movie, I sent it to Nawaz because I think the character had some goodness and humility. Nawaz, I feel, is playing himself in the movie in many ways and it is not an easy thing to do; he is the perfect person. Sanya was great in Dangal. I sent her the script and she came for the auditions and she was by far the best person we had auditioned.

How difficult does it get to pick unconventional subjects and make them in your own way without diluting the film and also keeping the commercial or Indian audience in mind?
I think everybody should make  movies that they would like to watch and that way many different kinds of movies will get made and the audiences will have more choices. I believe in making movies that I would like to watch. It is difficult because with The Lunchbox, it was just me and the script for four years. People kept rejecting that film. So, that was difficult. Since then, it has become a little easier for me, but it’s still hard to make films on your own terms, especially the ones that you think are good. Finding work becomes easier but making things that you love is always hard. But, I don’t dwell into that too much because my energy is consumed by writing or whatever I am doing at that moment.

Fortunately or unfortunately, when you work with stars, you have to succumb to commercial pressures. Is this why you don’t work with stars?
I have never been in a situation where I had to deal with anything like that and Irrfan is a big star. I always try to cast the right people. If I happen to write something and the casting needs a big star, I don’t think I will hold myself back because I will look at him as an actor. Once the camera is rolling, it doesn’t matter if you are a star or not, you just have to bring humanity to it. If somebody is being a star and not an actor, they are already losing out. So, I think most actors who are stars don’t do that.

As a director, is it also exhausting to think about the commercial aspect or box office recovery of your films?
I think about the other side as well, but I firmly believe a movie should be made at a reasonable price. A price that actually has a chance to succeed. I made the film Photograph for around `15 crore, which is reasonably priced and we also sold it around the world at festivals. You should not go overboard as a director so that you could give it a chance to succeed.

How have things changed in the industry since The Lunchbox ?
Back then, the streaming platform didn’t exist. In the last five years, everything has changed, which is great. The Lunchbox succeeded in India in 2013. I found it surprising but I also believe that one movie doesn’t change anything. It becomes interesting when a number of small budget movies, one after another, work and last year we saw that happening. It was nice to see that.

Do you watch typical commercial films?
I enjoy watching commercial films on the big screen. I am going to watch Gully Boy. I haven’t had a chance to watch too many films because I was busy with Photograph but I genuinely enjoy going to the theatre and experiencing the audience’s reaction.

People feel that your films are for a niche audience and not for the masses. What’s your take on that?
I don’t agree with it when people say my films are for the niche audience. I have a lot of people around sharing their views on my films. I met someone in Ajmer who had seen the film and loved it. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. I think if a movie connects with a large number of people, it benefits everybody.

Festival films never used to do commercially well in Bollywood. Do you feel things are changing now?
Festival films are always misconstrued. It’s not a cultural event. We have an audience from all over the world to watch the film. They are really commercial markets where movies are brought and sold.
Festivals are a platform where it can be seen and sold and various markets open up for you. A good festival is a market.

You worked with Irrfan in The Lunchbox. Are you in touch with him? Do we see you working with him again?
I am very much in touch with Irrfan. I would love to work with Irrfan again and I would love to write something that deserves his talent.
I can’t talk about what I am writing right now though.

Tags: ritesh batra