Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR
After giving us a gem like ‘The Lunchbox’, film-maker Ritesh Batra went on to do some great work internationally, in the form of ‘The Sense Of An Ending’ and ‘Our Souls At Night’. And now he’s finished shooting for a film called ‘Photograph’ here which also is his first production. The producer-director speaks about these films and what lead to starting his own production house…
You’ve been away for a while post ‘The Lunchbox’…what’s happening at this point?
I just finished shooting a movie called ‘Photograph’ in Mumbai. We had a great time shooting it back home again. It stars Nawaazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra.
How did you start with ‘Photograph’ and how was the experience?
I don’t really have an agenda, my only agenda is to tell a good story. And every film prepares you for the next one in a way. The idea is to achieve something between the camera and actors and with every film I’ve learnt a lot. When I was making ‘Photograph’, it’s also my first production under my banner, ‘Poetic License Motion Pictures’, so it was an added responsibility. We also made it in an interesting way, we sold it across the world first based on the script and its elements. We sold it in every territory of the world and Amazon bought it for India and the U.S. That’s how we raised money for the movie, so it’s already economically viable and it’s going to be seen around the world through theatrical and other backgrounds. So, we had a great experience putting it together and also working back home again. Working with Nawaaz was great because we have a great actor-director relationship after working together before.
And how was it making ‘Our Souls At Night’?
It was great. Robert Redford was producing it and he’s also a director. So, it was a wonderful collaboration. He wanted to just be an actor on set. I learnt a lot from him and the film, and I feel I brought a lot from that to this movie. And I feel I’ve learnt a lot from this movie which I’ll take to my next movie. That’s all it is about really, especially with our company and ‘Photograph’ being our first production. It’s an additional responsibility to realise the scale of the enterprise and be responsible for it.
What was the thought process behind setting up your own production company and tell us about your plans for it?
We’re putting up more work, we’re producing a film which I am not actually directing but someone who’s been assisting me for few years, is directing it. Then we’re producing a series, which I’m going to direct next year as well. So, we’re putting up more and more projects together. Also, to give myself the freedom to work the way I want to work. I don’t like to work towards the release date, for example. I like to finish shooting a film, go into edits, sound design everything, and when it’s ready, we decide a release date. Also, one of the reasons to make the company was to make the movies travel in different parts of the world. Indian content with great Indian actors which can travel across the world as well. I want to ensure that it travels across India by setting it up smartly, and be free from external pressures, for example, a release date. But that comes from learning and going through experiences over the last 4-5 years.
Has the exposure which you’ve gained working outside India helped your creativity or sensibilities as a producer further?
You go anywhere in the world and you switch on the TV, you see an American TV show or movie playing. We don’t do that as a country. Our content doesn’t travel as much. There’s a huge audience within our country but we have a lot of room to grow and expand our audiences, especially, there’s an easier way now for people to accept foreign content. So, foreign content is going to compete more directly to our content, our market. We have an added responsibility to make content which travels, but reverse of that is happening at the moment. That was infact one of the major thought processes to start the company. We have some great Indian actors, but not that much good content that gives them a way to showcase their talent. But obviously one company cannot do everything. A lot of things have to come together. A good combination of good Indian content, Indian actors that works in India and travels abroad as well. That’s our whole philosophy.
How challenging it is to make content which is globally acceptable, especially because just in a country like India, it’s difficult to make content which is relatable on a PAN India basis?
It’s tough to make a good movie, and anyone who’s done that will tell you. But as long as it’s human, relatable, funny and sad, I don’t see why it won’t work everywhere. It just has to be good, then it should work everywhere. It’s a challenge but it’s a good challenge to have.
Would you be concentrating on work in India for a while or projects outside?
It’s going to be a bit of both. The way we put ‘Photograph’ together, we raised money from around the world. And it’s a nice synergy of even talent from outside. My life is just about everywhere. It’s nice to have a great team on ground and build a company here, so I’m going to try balancing it out and keep more movies in India.