Ritesh Batra loathes talking about himself and his work, which might be why he seemed to be off the grid even though he’s been making successful films over the last few years. His latest, Photograph, premieres at Sundance Film Festival later this month, and though he’s characteristically cryptic about it, it’s safe to expect that the film taps into what he does best: exploring human relationships, longing and nostalgia. Photograph’s story was developed by Batra, 39, over nearly three years, and follows the life of Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a street photographer. When Rafi is visited by his grandmother, who is eager to see him get married, he convinces a shy stranger (Sanya Malhotra) to pose as his fiancée. As they battle class differences, the lines between make-believe and real intimacy begin to blur.
Shot around Gateway of India, Behrampada, Andheri, and Manish Market in Mumbai, the film is the first production from Batra’s company, Poetic License Motion Pictures. “We were trying to build scenes from the inside out. I tend to leave the script behind when I shoot. I like to keep it fresh by taking away lines and finding other ways to say things,” he says. The director is not a newcomer to the circuit of prominent international festivals. His first feature film, The Lunchbox, premiered at International Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2013, The Sense Of An Ending had its world showcase at Palm Springs in January 2017, and Our Souls At Night screened at Venice Film Festival the same year. And now, Photograph will be showcased as part of Sundance’s popular premieres section, alongside highly anticipated films by Gurinder Chadha, Anne Sewitsky and Joe Berlinger.
“I am excited to take the movie to a global audience,” says Batra, who wants Indian stories to resonate with audiences beyond the diaspora.
When he is not making films, he likes to read, cook, run, and travel. And for now, that’s all we’ll get out of him. “I hate doing interviews,” he reiterates. “I think about this a lot—how can I be out there and still hide? Let me know if you find out.”