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A real nowhere man

The climax of Shakun Batra’s first feature film Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) saw the romantic interests — played by Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan — not ending up together. And in the trailer of his latest, Kapoor & Sons , Batra throws at us a bunch of bitter, complicated characters of three generations of a family fighting each other.

Not only does Batra subvert what we consider a traditional romcom and family drama, it is also significant that he does it under the banner of Dharma Productions: a production house that is associated with formulaic, ‘safe’ movies. According to Batra, the subversion is unconscious and that he is stuck somewhere between indie and commercial cinema.

Middle Ground

“Phantom Films (formed by filmmakers with indie-cred) thinks I’m Dharma and Dharma thinks I’m indie. I’ve come to terms with that because I know I’m not making a Masaan ; at the same time, I’m not making a Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, ”he says.

Another illustration of his ‘in-between’ status in the industry is the video he directed for stand-up collective All India Bakchod’s Genius of the Year featuring Alia Bhatt: one of the first instances of Bollywood’s newfound sportiness to laugh at itself.

Batra has trained at the Vancouver Film School and assisted Farhan Akhtar, Abhishek Kapoor and Ram Madhvani: filmmakers of the multiplex era whose exposure to world cinema shows in the films they make. And Batra’s role models are the masters of this middle ground: Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne, Jason Reitman, to name a few. He says, “They have all made movies with stars and for studios but they have a personal voice. That’s what I’m trying to achieve. Imran and Kareena still had a star-like aura in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (EMAET) but the actors in Kapoor & Sons aren’t playing stars. It was a conscious decision to make them play characters and be relevant for the story.”

Kapoor & Sons is about a Punjabi family settled in the hills of Coonoor, headed by a 90-year-old patriarch who is a former army man. Featuring Alia Bhatt, Fawad Khan, Siddharth Malhotra, Rishi Kapoor, Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah, it is about people who haven’t seen each other for a long time, coming back to live together under the same roof. There are secrets that have been brushed under the carpet and it all starts to surface.

“At the core it is about knowing that people we are close to don’t know us at all. It’s about accepting them the way they are because you really can’t change family. It also plays with the idea of time,” adds the Delhi-bred writer-director.

Few filmmakers get critical of their own films, especially if they’re successful. But Batra is refreshingly self-analytical. While, he says thematically, Kapoor & Sons is more mature and deep than EMAET, stylistically he has become more austere. “There was too much showiness of craft in EMAET. We shot in fancy Las Vegas. I was being a Wes Anderson fanboy trying out centre-framing, timed tracking shots, colour palettes and carefully constructed compositions. Kapoor & Sons is a smaller film in terms of mounting and the approach I’ve taken this time is to hide the craft as much and concentrate on the story, the characters."

The 33-year-old, who’s interest in cinema, ironically, began with his love for visuals, says, "I wanted to be a cinematographer. But with age and experience, I’ve become more of a character, plot person. They are bigger than camera or actors. For me Woody Allen is greater than Steven Spielberg because he is able to tell something deep in a light manner without the theatrics and the scale. I’m not a fan of jib shots, for me two people sitting across the dining table and having a conversation is a very cinematic moment,” says Batra who has a moderate built, wears nerdy glasses and has a casual cinephilic air about him, much like his movie god, Allen.

The fan within

We dig the fan within him a little more and ask him about his favourite movie characters of all time. He names Alvy Singer (played by Allen himself) of Annie Hall, Benjamin Braddock of The Graduate and Max Fischer from Rushmore.

It’s a no-brainer that Batra loves to spend time watching movies and TV shows. The making of Kapoor & Sons had kept him out of the loop. During the making, Batra watches movies that keep him “in the zone”. “A large part of Kapoor & Sons is set inside the house. So I watched family comedy-dramas such as Hannah and her Sisters, The Kids Are All Right and Monsoon Wedding.” The last one, he says, was the first family drama that blew him away at a time when he was tired and bored of sugary Bollywood family dramas of the 90s, where parents were looked up to as gods. With a few days to go for the release of his own family drama, it’s time for Batra to complete the circle.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 6:13:57 AM |

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