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Director Ritesh Batra Gives a Photograph of Romance in Mumbai


By Jana Monji

In a brief 10-minute phone interview, director/co-writer Ritesh Batra, talked about romance and a changing Mumbai which is just as much a character in the sweetly chaste romantic film, Photograph.

Photograph tells the story of a chance encounter between a street photographer at the Gateway and a young accounting student. Pressured by his grandmother’s upcoming visit, the middle-aged Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) asks a woman who he photographed, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), if she would pose as his fiancée. As you can imagine, this will lead to a real romance.

The Gateway was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Becoming a tourist spot, it attracts many vendors, including photographers.

Batra, 39, related,  that “They have always been there. Back when I was in India. I left there when I was 18.  In the early 1990s and 1980s, they would come to your house and deliver them two or three days later” because “you couldn’t print them then.” At the Gateway, the past, present and future are represented and the photographers, “can only do what they can do.” Now, as depicted in the film, they are printing stuff and giving it to them. I get it has become harder for them” because of cellphones, yet “they are still around.”

According to Batra, filming at the Gateway has its challenges. While there were essentially only two or three shots, it took us several attempts to get them. When Batra sees the film, “I can see the crowd way back, out-of-focus, standing behind the rope and watching. Hopefully other people can’t, but that’s the craziness of shooting in Bombay. You have to embrace that or you’ll go crazy.”

Batra experienced much the same while shooting his debut feature film, The Lunch Box (2013). “You have to roll with it” and “be patient.”

The Lunchbox (2013), was also a romance and writer/director Batra won Best Screenwriting and the Jury Grand Prize at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival and received a British Academy Film Award Best Foreign Film nomination.

Sometimes, you “just keeping doing it over and over until people get tired” or “get used to it.”

Although Batra shot on location for The Lunchbox and at about the same time of year, he feels the city has changed, become more crowded. During the filming of The Lunchbox, he relates, “It was possible to schedule half a day at one location and then another at a second location.” For this movie, shooting was limited to one neighborhood because moving to another was “physically much more demanding” as the city’s gotten so crowded.” That’s two “vastly different experiences in the same city.”

The changes in the city are also reflected in the society. In the publicity notes, Batra has noted that increasingly people are thinking of themselves as “individuals rather than as part of a family.” This is part of the emotional tension for both Miloni and Rafi.

Batra isn’t sure why this is happening, but even as India was being reconstructed after the war and modern technology was increasingly available, “tradition always stays.” Rather than rehashing movies made in the 1970s and 1980s, Batra is “more interested in how these experiences are now” and how despite modernization there’s “a lot of nostalgia for simpler times.”  He added, “What interests me is this conditions, so marked by tradition and so many duties, duties toward families.” Yet “things are changing around us. All these new opportunities or lack there of are becoming more apparent.”

As both Lunch Box and Photograph are romances, one might wonder are Batra’s favorite romantic films. His top five are:

  1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  2. Casablanca (1942): “So full of longing” Batra said.
  3. Annie Hall (1977): “So New York.”
  4. Rust and Bone (French 2012)
  5. Pyasa (Indian 1957)

Photograph made its world premiere at Sundance (27 January 2019) and opened in the US this week and in Canada on 31 May 2019.

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