To Put Your Mind Into Something

José Sarmiento of the 2014 Talent Press met up with Indian film director and screenwriter Ritesh Batra.

Ritesh Batra

"If you need distribution in place before you have the courage to make a movie then it’s not a movie worth making. There are many other ways to make money than making movies. If you need to make money, please find some other way to do it. You make movies to lose your money. That is the purpose of making a movie, to put your life into something not get something out of it." (John Cassavetes)

To meet Ritesh Batra is to get into a peaceful laid-back mood. I must confess, I was trying to be controversial with my interview, trying to get the filmmaker to talk about the many compromises filmmakers make after becoming successful. This, of course, followed the panel “Help! I made a successful film“ at HAU1, where Ritesh, together with Antony Chen and Jan-OIe Gerster, talked about life after their first successful projects. They covered a range of subjects from the most intimate and personal (the relationship with their loved ones), to the political (censorship, cultural policies, etc.). All of them, in their own way, seemed to be aware of the fact that making a first successful film carried some particular consequences in their life.

“It’s not like I’m Steven Spielberg all of the sudden”, says a confident Batra. “I’ve been blessed with this wonderful film and now I’m surrounded with a nice group of people that I enjoy working with, and that have helped me so much.” Suddenly, the atmosphere relaxed a lot, even when we began to talk about the really controversial issues: his film, supposedly an obvious pick for the Academy Awards, was rejected by the Indian academy, stirring a long controversy. “We made a lot of noise. I was angry, my producers were angry, not only because the film wasn’t selected, but because what was selected, a horrible film that actually used footage from an American film. So if that’s what the government wants, maybe they deserve to have that. But it’s a long fight we have to win.”

I dropped the Cassavetes quote somewhere in the interview, and Ritesh answered humbly: “I completely agree. I spent three years of my life investing my time and money. I didn’t have to make this film, and I’ve been so lucky to have this kind of reception. I think, yes, that you put much of your life into your art.“ It was a sincere answer from a man that seems to have kept his essence intact after so much success. “I’m afraid, of course, of what’s going to happen now, how could I not be? But I will just stick to writing and reviewing projects in the next months, as soon as all this is over.” He added, “I’m afraid, but I’m not about to run around naked through the streets because of anxiety. Whatever happens will happen”.

And with that, the Zen journey through Batra’s mind came to an end. A pleasant experience with a humble man.