Director Ritesh Batra has been asked what it's like making the jump from Indian cinema to adapting a novel set in 1960s England a lot over the past few weeks.
The 37-year-old filmmaker told NBC News that he is never quite sure how to answer the question.
“I think every movie I make is an Indian movie, because I am Indian,” Batra said. “All you can do is be yourself, it doesn’t matter where the movie is set.”
Batra was first introduced to most Western audiences in 2013, when his film “The Lunchbox” — which tells the story of a lonely housewife and a middle-aged office worker who are unexpectedly brought together by Mumbai’s famed dabbawalas food delivery workers — received rave reviews at film festivals worldwide.
In “The Sense of An Ending,” Batra’s new film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, the director leads viewers through the complex life story of Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) as he is forced to reconsider a defining moment in his life after receiving an unexpected inheritance. The film moves back and forth between Tony’s experiences at boarding school as an adolescent, where he develops a deep friendship with fellow student Adrian Finn, and the present day.
Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Julian Barnes, Batra noted that the book was particularly difficult to adapt. “If you read the book, it features Tony speaking in the first person throughout,” Batra said. “When he is talking, you’re taking his word for it.” But as the story develops, whether or not Tony is a reliable narrator or deliberately lying to himself about the past is called into question.
While his latest film and “The Lunchbox” do not have many things in common on the surface, there was one thing that immediately struck Batra about working with the British actress Charlotte Rampling.“Irrfan and Charlotte are so similar in actors [in their approach to the craft],” Batra said, referring to “Lunchbox” star and veteran Indian actor Irrfan Khan.
While the director may consider any film he makes an Indian film, part of the buzz around "The Sense of an Ending" comes from the fact that adaptations of British novels tend to be directed by British directors. “I don’t think like that, honestly. Movie making is such a machine and the process is very difficult [so there is no time to think about those things],” Batra said. “I don’t think that I am ‘breaking into Hollywood,’ but it is a real honor to work with actors like Jim and Charlotte.”
When asked about a recent study that found that the number of directors of Asian descent in the industry has remained virtually unchanged for nearly a decade, Batra acknowledged there was still progress to be made.
“There was just one perspective in the field for a long time,” he said. “There needs to be more perspectives and diversity in storytelling, and I am glad just to be part of it."