Ritesh was in the company of legends Redford and Fonda, for his latest film Our Souls At Night that is getting acclaim from all over the world.
The Lunchbox director has moved on to greener pastures thanks to his new film Our Souls At Night (OSAN) which premiered on Netflix on September 29. OSAN garnered amazing feedback, and it only makes Ritesh Batra a happy man. “I have to admit that the feedback was extremely gratifying,” says Ritesh, adding, “People across the world saw the film on the same day. That’s the reach of this digital medium. People had good things to say about the film from as far away as Brazil.”
For Ritesh, OSAN was a challenge on many levels. “I was working with these two iconic legends. And I could easily have been overawed by their sheer presence. Luckily for us, all three of us — Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and I — had an idol to look up to — Kent Haruf, the writer of the original novel, as all of us were fans of the novel. So, we worked towards doing justice to the original material,” he adds.
Batra feels doubly blessed as the author’s family was also involved in the making of the film. “Sadly, Haruf is not around to see what we did with his novel. But his family was associated with every aspect of the film. We all had the same goal — working towards the making of the film which Haruf would have approved of.”
Describing the film, Ritesh says, “It is based on a novel titled Our Souls At Night. It was American novelist Kent Haruf’s final novel before he passed away. The story is set in Colorado and it is about two aging people who find happiness together. It’s a highly regarded novel.” Fonda and Redford play a couple re-discovering love in their twilight years. And the entire filming has been done in Colarado, US.
So how did the director replace awe with ease while dealing with such larger than life legends? “Months before we started shooting in Colorado, I had spent time with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, individually. Later, all the three of us spent time together (as well). The bedroom set where most of the film is shot was our home for quite a while,” Ritesh adds. He has used a lot of the local population in Colorado Springs for the film, for instance, he explains, “All those friends at the pub which Robert Redford meets daily were locals. We wanted to keep the essence as authentic as possible. We also ensured that Robert and Jane’s on-screen relationship grew organically. The camera moved only with them, and it followed their emotions.”
Ritesh is ready to shoot his next venture but looking back at OSAN’s journey, he is filled with gratitude at the opportunity to work with the legendary couple. “Not for a moment did Robert or Jane make me feel the weight of their stardom. They surrendered to the film and to their characters. They are wonderful! Such extremely generous people. They were both so eager and curious about their characters,” says the director who has come a long way since The Lunchbox. After the globally-acclaimed film, he moved onto Our Souls At Night, starring Redford and Fonda.
There were very few changes made in the screen adaptation, except for one character and the Lunchbox director elaborates, “The daughter’s character is more of a presence in my film though she is just mentioned in the novel. I had to work towards fitting the novel into a new medium while retaining its soul. The novel and the film have to be like cousins, constant companions to one another.”
Ritesh has hardly been in India lately. “I was in London shooting another project The Sense Of An Ending, a screen adaptation of Julian Barnes’ novel featuring Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling for a year. Then I went back to Mumbai for three weeks. And was in Colorado shooting for Our Souls At Night.”
Ritesh begs off feeling any lingering satisfaction about the global impact of The Lunchbox. “In Colorado, people have seen The Lunchbox which was very reassuring. There is a long way to go before I feel any sense of satisfaction. I never thought it (the film) would go so far. But when I had made it, I knew it had a certain emotional resonance which would appeal to a wider audience.”
He feels Indian cinema needs more support from the Indian government, “Indian actors like Irrfan, Nawazuddin, Naseer, Priyanka, and now Deepika are being recognised globally. But I think there’s a lot to be done. I think there has to be more support from the Indian government for both movies and sports.”
Proud of what India has achieved in sports, he feels, “I think it’s truly commendable, given the lack of resources. That fine American actor Bruce Dern who is part of Our Souls At Night used to be an athlete. He was talking about how admirable it is for Indian athletes to make it in the Olympics. Similarly for films like The Lunchbox to travel so far is not easy. There is a lot more work to be done before we are recognised globally.” Batra feels that it was imperative for the film to work in India. He adds, “Now that it’s happened, it’s very gratifying. All the love the film has gotten outside India would not have meant anything if it didn’t succeed at home. I think it worked in India because it’s a sincere attempt to look at Mumbai and its people. I spent time with the dabbawallas in 2007, and then again closer to the making of the film as well. Initially, I wasn’t planning a film revolving around the dabbawallahs. I was planning a documentary. I had hoped to find a character within the dabbawallah communityitself. Then, when they started relating their experiences, the story of The Lunchbox emerged. The film’s budget was also very small, only 50 per cent of the money came from India while the rest was generated from outside. There was a German and French producer too. So that money which was raised from France and Germany had to be used in those countries. That is the rule. We did the sound in Germany and had a German music composer while the colours were done in France.”
Batra loves to cook and has a personal leaning towards passionate love stories. “Lunchbox was born out of my love for food and I also cook at least once a week. As to how I rate myself as a cook, I think very harshly,” says the director who finds his parents’ love story awe inspiring, “They’ve been together since 1973, and are still very much in love. My own love story started in the US where I met my wife. She is Mexican. We were both studying there, and then moved to Mumbai two years ago. Mexican and Punjabi lifestyles are quite similar, especially their love for food.”