‘Films are best cultural diplomacy’

Nimrat Kaur

Nimrat Kaur

Ritesh Batra believes each film has its own journey. If so, then The Lunchbox is on a long and successful one, with the latest feather being its nomination for the prestigious BAFTA. There was much uproar following the government’s decision to not send The Lunchbox as India’s official entry to the Academy Awards but a BAFTA nomination almost two years later shows the timelessness of this rare and honest Indian film. For him, the reach of a nomination at an international awards function far outweighs actually winning the award. Add to that the opportunity to stand beside cinema greats and “that’s honour enough,” he says.

“A good film cannot be suppressed,” says Ritesh, explaining how the film has surpassed expectations. “Films have their own destinies and the success of a small film such as mine only proves that. As a filmmaker, my job is limited to telling honest Indian stories and to make sure they get seen. Festivals such as the Oscars, Cannes and Sundance provide a platform to expand this reach and whether a film wins or loses becomes secondary.”

The film is already among the highest-grossing foreign language films in Europe and North America — a distinction it received after Sony Pictures bought it at Cannes. “If we visit the U.S., it will not feel like a foreign country. We understand their culture, their language and their food… We experience American stories as our own, but I doubt Indian films translate as well to Americans. Our films too must be able to do that. Cinema is the strongest form of cultural diplomacy.”

Ritesh says he felt an inherent positive energy throughout the filming, months of editing and sound design. But that alone doesn’t make a film work. “Eventually, the audience is smarter than any filmmaker or critic,” he adds. While his film was lucky enough to get noticed, are there other films like The Lunchbox that don’t see the light of day?

TheLunchbox released in around 600 screens in India when similar films release in a maximum of 20 to 40 screens. The wide release wouldn’t have been possible without the backing of names such as Karan Johar and UTV. We don’t have specialty distributors who back indie films, and hence, access to such films becomes difficult. India has around 7,000 screens as opposed to 19,000 in China and 40,000 in the U.S. An effective forum is required to ensure better visibility,” he says.

While smaller films find it easier to get noticed in the West, why is it tougher in India?

“Film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin and Sundance aren’t just cultural events like the ones we organise in India. Essentially, international festivals are markets where distributors watch a film and then buy it to be marketed across the world. Our fests too should follow a model like this and I feel the Mumbai International Film Festival has much potential to serve as a bridge between the maker and the buyer,” says Ritesh.

While admitting that understanding film business is essential for a successful filmmaker, Ritesh says The Lunchbox afforded him the pleasure of focussing on what matters more.

“I feel it’ll be less difficult now to raise money for my second film and ensure its reach. But these are less important things. The most important thing — writing — hasn’t become any easier,” he laughs.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 6:11:26 pm |