“I am always happy to steal from people’s lives and put it in a movie.” Ritesh Batra. In this edition of Film-maker Friday’s Priyanka Sinha Jha catches up with one of the most sensitive filmmakers that India has produced in recent times; Ritesh Batra. The director who cut his teeth on The Lunchbox has gone on to be feted for fine, sensitively crafted internationally shot and produced films like The Sense of an Ending and Our Souls At Night. Now, he returns to his home turf, Mumbai with his latest film-Photograph. Accompanied by his leading man Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Batra indulges in a freewheeling conversation about his new cinematic offering and shares some charming trivia about the film which is just an unusual love story about “two people spending time together.” Of the film's material, Batra says, “I am always happy to steal from people’s lives and put it in a movie.”
Siddiqui, because of the goodness that he brings, says Batra was absolutely the first choice for the film. “There is an innate goodness about Nawaz. That’s how I see him so it just felt like a natural fit.” There are a lot of parallels between Photograph’s main protagonist Rafi and Siddiqui, points out Batra. The actor and director have teamed up together after The Lunchbox and so had the added advantage of their comfort level after having worked together. Batra confesses to having borrowed generously from anecdotes Siddiqui shared with him over the years particularly the one scene that has a Mumbai-hardened cab driver incredulously quiz Rafi (Siddiqui) whether the film’s lead female protagonist Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) and he are actually a couple!
Siddiqui, fresh from larger-than-life biopics like Thackeray and Manto, is cast in yet another ordinary man role but this time he plays almost himself. He admits that this was the toughest thing for him to do, “Normally main jo characters play karta hoon unme ghus jaata hoon, magar is film mein main khud ko play karne ke liye apne ideas side par rah kar Ritesh ke directions par rely karne laga”. His performance in Photograph has fetched some flattering comments –Hollywood Reporter called him “subtle but dynamic as Rafi” but his favourite one came from, members of the small-town Indian paparazzi who had seen the film’s trailer online!
“Sir, Photograph film mein aap bilkul mere jaise lag rahe ho!” they chorused at sighting him at Lucknow airport.
Detailing the film and his characters further, Batra says, “The movie is fashioned after the Hindi movies of the 80s where there is a romance between a poor guy and a rich girl—the poor guy is usually a motor mechanic so my idea was to make a movie about a poor guy and a somewhat rich girl and make it believable. There’s something inside them that is making them spend time together. Some kind of longing. The movie is about the corners of our heart, we don’t know exist.”
Given the bitter-sweet truths that Batra uncovers during his explorations of love and longing, we seem to be set for a memorable cinematic experience.