After the dream run of The Lunchbox, writer-director Ritesh Batra is preparing to direct the adaptation of The Sense of an Ending, a Booker-winning novel by Julian Barnes. The Mumbai-based director, a fan of Barnes, says this novel holds a special place in his heart. When he received an offer to direct a film on the book, Batra readily accepted. He has been busy with pre-production work and will start shooting in the UK soon.
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While his debut film explored the relationship between a lonely housewife and an ageing widower in the backdrop of Mumbai’s dabba delivery system, The Sense of an Ending is about a retired divorcee —to be played by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent —delving into the memories of an unpleasant past. “Written in the first person, the story is told beautifully through relationships,” says Batra. He usually writes the scripts of his films but, this time, British playwright Nick Payne is working on the screenplay. “When you come to trust the instinct of the writer as much as yours, it’s not that difficult,” says Batra.
Being a Bandra boy, Batra has, in the past, said that he would mostly work on stories based in Mumbai. One of his next projects, The Photograph, is set in the city and he is planning to shoot it next year. Since the The Sense of an Ending’s setting is the UK, Batra is planning to spend the next six months there to familiarise himself with the surroundings. “I did the same thing for The Lunchbox. I embedded myself with dabbawalas since our lives are very different from theirs,” he says.
On the books-versus-film debate, Batra says, “I don’t think any movie that I have watched is better than the book. But again, I have watched movies which work on their own terms. The English Patient is a great book. It is also a great movie. Ditto The Namesake. Reading the book is one thing, experiencing the movie is another. The story unfolds in different ways.” While working on this project, he admits to have learnt a little more about adaptations. “It is more difficult than writing an original script. The key to a good adaptation is that it has to work on it own terms. It can’t borrow the structure of the novel. It has to convey the essence of the novel. It has to exist as a complement to the novel. The book cannot be the screenplay,” he says.
In a very “modest and measured way”, Batra is also stepping into production under his company Poetic License. “Everything that we do now would be a co-production. It is important that movies are set up smartly in a way that we can share it with the world,” he says. He is open to producing work by other directors, but only if he can add value to it or has spare time to shepherd it.