Hollywood veterans Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, who have over 50 years of experience, added more depth to the simple tale of Netflix’s “Our Souls At Night”, says Indian director Ritesh Batra, who finds love stories of older characters more gripping.
Based on an eponymous novel by Kent Haruf, it tells the story of two widowed neighbours, who begin sleeping in bed together platonically to alleviate their loneliness, and a real romance begins to blossom.
Batra, whose earlier credits include the widely acclaimed “The Lunchbox” and another Netflix film “The Sense Of An Ending”, was roped in by Redford to direct “Our Souls At Night”.
“Robert is the producer of the movie, so he has developed it, and gave me a chance to work on it. Robert and Jane were already on board, and the film had a great casting. Bruce Dern is there for three scenes, there’s also Judy Greer and Matthias Schoenaerts.
“All the casting definitely made the film deeper, and all these actors always wanted to go deeper into the material… Apart from the script, they would always go deeper in their prep and rehearsal. I got a chance to rehearse with Robert and Jane for a week… That was extremely helpful,” Batra said over phone from Mumbai.
He was in Mumbai for the India premiere of “Our Souls At Night”, organised by Jio MAMI Film Club with Star. The film, which had its global premiere at the Venice Film Festival, will have its US premiere in New York next week, before its release on Netflix on September 29.
For Batra, it was “great” to be able to collaborate with greats like Redford, 81 and Fonda, 79, who defy age with their enthusiasm.
“They have been acting all their life. Between them, they have a hundred years of experience in cinema. So, it was great for me. Robert is such a good director himself, and it’s a great collaboration.
“Everyday, it was going about deeper down into the material, and also about keeping it simple and dignified… That was a big impetus of this movie. That’s the way the novel is and the characters have a way of doing things simply,” Batra said.
The fact that he’s an Indian director didn’t matter, he says.
“I don’t think we ever discussed it… We discussed the material a lot. But at the end of the day, it’s about the characters and the material when you collaborate on a movie. It’s not about anything else… They trusted me. I don’t think about it any other way. Not about representing (India).
“Representing is a natural consequence of who you are.”
Back home in India, he feels the audience will embrace “Our Souls At Night” for its theme.
“In India, people like love stories. I think people will like it because of that and because of the two actors and the nostalgia associated with them,” Batra said, pointing out that the actors are celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Barefoot in the Park”.
As a director, Batra has a different way of looking at a love story — and it’s far removed from the masala entertainers the Indian audience has grown up watching.
“If a love story has to work, it can’t be about external obstacles, because we have seen that and done that to death.
“What I really enjoyed about ‘Our Souls…’ is that all the obstacles the characters face are internal… It’s about the baggage of life, and that’s what I enjoyed,” he explained.
Also, what about Fonda commenting at the Venice Film Festival that Batra was cutting the sex scenes between Redford and her too soon?
Batra laughed, and said: “She was just having fun… But she’s very funny and fun to work with.”
After the international projects, Batra will be back soon on homeground to direct a project titled “Photographer”, but he preferred to remain tight-lipped about it, letting “Our Souls At Night” get its spotlight.