Free Press Journal

Opportunity to work with Robert and Jane was a precious moment for filmmaker Ritesh Batra


Getting to direct Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, two iconic Hollywood stars, in his third feature film “Our Souls At Night” was a priceless experience for filmmaker Ritesh Batra. Batra landed the film — an adaptation of Kent Haruf’s last novel of the same name — after Redford saw his award-winning directorial debut “The Lunchbox”.

“Robert had seen ‘The Lunchbox’ and he told me he had loved it. He said he’d love for me to work on this. Then I read the script, I had already read the novel. I was interested in doing this because the opportunity to work with him and Jane is just priceless,” the director said.

A real love story

“Our Souls At Night” revolves around two widowed neighbours, who seek companionship after the death of their respective spouses in a small Colorado town. Loneliness is something of a recurring theme in Batra’s previous films but he said “Our Souls At Night” is more real a love story than the Irrfan Khan-Nimrat Kaur starrer “The Lunchbox”.

“The two movies are different, they have a different milieu. This is a more real love story than ‘The Lunch box’. It’s really about people with a lot of baggage in life and how they share it with each other. May be that’s why one may think there’s a connect.”

Easy camaraderie

“Our Souls at Night” is the fourth onscreen collaboration between Redford and Fonda after “The Chase” (1966), “Barefoot in the Park” (1967) and 1979’s “The Electric Horseman”. Batra, 38, said the process of getting the two together for acting was “very easy” thanks to the intense prep and their camaraderie. “We spent a week together rehearsing, just me, Robert and Jane in a room. That was helpful, because we established a communication. A lot of the scenes in the movie are them on the bed talking. So we had the set of a bed and we spent a lot of time, exploring those scenes.”

The challenge

Batra said the challenge for both the actors was to pretend that they did not know each other. “The characters don’t know each other so well, they get to know over the course of the film. But they’re great actors so a lot of work for them was to pretend that they don’t know each other so well.”

More than the pressure to live up to the hype the film had created because of the casting, Batra said the real challenge for the team was to adapt Haruf’s book in a “dignified” way. “Robert was involved because he was the producer, so he got to see various cuts. He was also all about making it true, simple and dignified. Haruf’s writing is very dignified and mellow, he loved all his characters. We really had to come from a place where we also love all the characters, including the ones causing the conflicts.”

The film, scheduled to release on Netflix on September 29, had its Asian premiere on Thursday at Mumbai Film Festival.