Born in Mumbai, Ritesh Batra made his feature film debut with 2013’s BAFTA-nominated The Lunchbox. Subsequently making two English-language dramas, The Sense of an Ending and Our Souls at Night, he returns to India for his new film, Photograph. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a street photographer who begins a tentative relationship with a shy stranger (Sanya Malhotra) after taking her photo.
ASFF: What was the initial seed for Photograph?
RB: I started writing it a long time ago, but the seed of it…in the Eighties and Nineties, when I was growing up in India, we had a lot of Bollywood movies that were rich girl-poor guy movies. They were all like Taming of the Shrew remakes. So when I initially started working on it, I became interested in the idea of making a story like that but making it more authentic if you will, more grounded.
ASFF: There’s a scene in the film where the couple are watching a film in a cinema with rats. Did that come from personal experience?
RB: No, I come from a middle-class family so we never went to those kinds of cinemas. It would be like slumming for me to do that! So, no, I didn’t…but we shot in one of those cinemas where it would be normal to have a rat running over your feet. You don’t want to wear slippers there! But, yeah, it’s these little details of how life is. Nothing more really.
ASFF: How was your collaboration with Amazon Studios?
RB: It was very nice. They’re great to work with. They made it possible for us to make the movie, because the movie is made with pre-sales. They bought some big territories. They bought India. They bought the US and they bought Japan. But they were very hands-off. They saw some of our rough cuts and gave us some notes, and it was always ‘whether you want to take it or not’ – it was your choice.
ASFF: Who are your biggest influences?
RB: Satyajit Ray, of course. I also love the work of Louis Malle. Murmur of the Heart is one of the most beautifully written movies ever. Also the Japanese masters, who have been doing it since the Sixties, and even [Hirokazu] Kore-eda…they make Eastern stories but about conflicted societies. All those things that happened in Japan post-war are happening in India now, so I think everybody is looking to them.
ASFF: Do you think more films from India can get a global reach?
RB: I think a lot of people are very curious about stories from India that they can hang onto. So I think so, definitely. People like Riz Ahmed are succeeding in having what they call value, fans and box office. They are fabulous and they could headline a lot of movies coming out of that part of the world. So it’s interesting times, I think.
Photograph is released in cinemas on 2 August. For more details, click here.
1. Still from Photograph.