With the share of Hollywood
films growing at the Indian box office, studios are rejoicing, but there also are those like director Ritesh Batra
who see in this a sign for Indian producers and film-makers to rethink the way stories are told in Bollywood.
The award-winning director of 2013’s surprise hit The Lunchbox
feels that the success of Disney’s The Jungle Book
is a perfect example of how globally appealing stories are the order of the day.
“Look at the business it did in India. It was among the top grossers of the year (2016), rubbing shoulders with movies led by the Khans and Kumars of Bollywood.
The lesson I feel is to recognise that language is no longer a bar and that any film, adapted well to the local audience, will find takers. The only question is, who will invest in such projects,” he says.
The Jungle Book made Rs 189 crore (net after tax), making it the third highest collecting film of 2016, behind Aamir Khan’s Dangal (Rs 387 crore) and Salman Khan’s Sultan (Rs 300 crore). The film’s success was attributed as much to the appeal of Rudyard Kipling’s classic in India, to the way Disney
adapted the marketing and release of the film in the country. It was released in India a week before the US, and the marketing was pegged around the nostalgia Indian audiences feel towards the story, thanks to the 90’s animation by the same name that aired on Doordarshan
back in the day.
Batra elaborates that Indian stories and actors are now gaining popularity globally and at the same time, western content is becoming increasingly accessible to Indian audiences. “So now would be the perfect time to explore stories that merge the two cultures, use talent from both sides of the globe, and make films that would be true indo-western collaborations. But again, who will invest in such a project?” he says.
Batra’s next release is The Sense of an Ending, an adaption of the novel of the same name by Julian Barnes. “A very British film,” as Batra describes it, it stars Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter series), Charlotte Rampling (London Sky, 45 Years), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and Harriet Walter (Babel, Atonement). His next project, currently in post-production is the Robert Redford-Jane Fonda starrer Our Souls at Night. The film is also an adaptation of a novel by the same name (author Kent Haruf) produced by Netflix.
Batra was approached by Redford after the legendary actor saw The Lunchbox
to direct the script which was already in development then.
While it may seem that Batra has ‘migrated’ to Hollywood, he insists that he’ll go where the stories take him. “It’s just a coincidence that the two releases after The Lunchbox are English films. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I like writing my own scripts and that takes time. Then the challenge is to get someone to produce them. I faced the same with Lunchbox and despite its success, I feel that I shall face the same issue going ahead. I am working on something to be shot in Mumbai and am looking at a couple of other projects, but its too premature to name them or give out details,” he says.
He, however, adds with emphasis, “You just need that one meaningful ‘yes’ at the end though. So you keep trying. You have to be careful about who you partner with because in the end, its your product and the partnerships are paramount to its success.” The Lunchbox
scripted history when it collected double in the overseas (Rs 57 crore) than the domestic box office (Rs 28 crore), with around Rs 27 crore coming from France
Apart from directing, Batra also runs a creative production house by the name of Poetic License. The mandate for this entity is to develop stories which are multi-genre and then take them to different distribution platforms. Essentially looking at mini-series format (five to seven episodes usually), the team and Batra have been working towards creating compelling concepts and stories for around two years and he hopes to have the slate going into production sooner rather than later.