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Friday, September 5, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Ritesh Batra

Ritesh Batra, center
Photo by Michael Simmonds, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
By Ritesh Batra and Joshua Handler

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Ritesh Batra, writer/director of the highly acclaimed film, The Lunchbox, his feature debut.  The Lunchbox is currently one of the highest grossing independent films of 2014.  The following is edited from our phone conversation. 

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
Of course it's important, you know, it's important to be engaged with each other through films, so for that reason, of course.  It's very, very important, and I mean it just turns out that independent and world cinema is sort of the biggest source of original voices because wherever there's a big industry like in India, or like in Hong Kong, like in L.A., it's generally not easy for sort of original voices to get their foot in the door just because of the nature of industries you know, independent cinema is where a lot of...original voices get a start.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
Of course it's important, I mean, film is such a sort of strange art form because it's an amalgamation of every other art form, you know from writing, photography, painting, music, it all sort of comes together in film, and I mean now audiences have so much of a shorthand of understanding movies, you know, because of just the accumulation of cinema culture over the years, and of course its important to see films of the past and learn from them...we have so many tools to use while telling a story, we just need to kind of step back, and, you know, it becomes hard to focus on the storytelling these days because there's so much other [stuff] involved.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when creating THE LUNCHBOX?
Well..I love the work of Bergman, the work of Louis Malle, the work of Woody Allen, but I mean of course all my favorite directors influenced me, but my sort of whole thinking or thoughts while making the film is that how do I tell this story in the simplest of ways, you know, how do I focus on the actors, how do I showcase the actors' work with the camera, so I was all about being minimalist with the approach of making the film.
Because everything is so character-centric in these filmmakers' [the ones mentioned above] films, everything just really comes from a place of character - so experiencing the world of the story through the character.  Because you know if you've ever been to India, if you've ever been to Bombay, it's a very overwhelming place, and it's a very colorful place, and it's very easy for this place to overwhelm any story, so I had to keep a discipline about how I was shooting it, how I was thinking about it, so that everything came from a place of character, that the place didn't overwhelm the story or the characters.
What's one Indian film and one non-Indian film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
One Indian film that I would recommend everyone see is by a filmmaker named Guru Dutt, and the film is called PYAASA.  Because it's a wonderful film, and it's a very old film, I think it's from the '50s, it's a wonderful film. 

And non-Indian film, I mean theres a lot that I love, of course, but I love Louis Malle's MURMUR OF THE HEART.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Monday.

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