I was trying to run away from family business: Shakun Batra

The maker of Kapoor & Sons was inspired by Monsoon Wedding because of how family is portrayed

By Ushnota Paul
  • Published 10.11.18, 12:20 AM
  • Updated 10.11.18, 2:15 AM
  • 5 mins read
  •  

Shakun Batra has films like the breezy but unusual Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and the hard-hitting family drama Kapoor & Sons to his credit. He was in conversation at a masterclass with Sean Baker — the director of critically acclaimed independent films Tangerine and The Florida Project — at the recently concluded Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival. t2 caught up with Shakun after the masterclass at a suburban Andheri theatre.

Ushnota Paul:

How was the masterclass with Sean Baker?

Shakun Batra:

It was amazing. I absolutely love his films. In fact, there’s a film that I had not seen before called Prince of Broadway (2008). I just watched it and it blew my mind. I think he’s one of those rare filmmakers who have a very strong and unique voice and he decides to make very personal films in the age of studios. I hope some of his energy has rubbed off on me and I can use it in my work.

Ushnota Paul:

What’s the biggest takeaway for you as a filmmaker from this masterclass?

Shakun Batra:

His process. His patience with kids and patience with his own films. The amount of time he takes to make sure that they are right, trying to rediscover his own films while editing… some of us get too caught up with what we have written and think that’s exactly what we have to make. But I think that it’s a process and that a movie evolves as you go further.

Ushnota Paul:

We heard your mentor Karan Johar is producing a project that you are directing, on the late spiritual leader Osho...

Shakun Batra:

Well, the details of it still have to be sorted out. It’s definitely a subject that is very close to me and I grew up listening to him. But there’s nothing that I can confirm beyond that. It’s an ambitious project. 

Ushnota Paul:

There’s been talk about Aamir Khan playing Osho and Alia Bhatt being in contention for the role of Ma Anand Sheela.

Shakun Batra:

There’s way too many speculations about an idea that is close to me. And exactly for that reason I don’t want to talk and add to that speculation. I need a couple of more months to know what’s happening with it and then I’ll have clearer answers.

Ushnota Paul:

What made you pick Osho as a subject, which is a complete departure from the family drama world of your last film Kapoor & Sons?

Shakun Batra:

After Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, everyone wanted me to make a romantic comedy. They were like, ‘What is this family fighting with each other? Stick to romance’. I think as you grow older, there are stories that you feel more confident to tell. And I definitely want to evolve. So it’s not just Osho… if I have to tell any other story, I would still want it to be different than maybe just a family story, you know? 

Ushnota Paul:

You come from a business family and had no connection with the movies. How did filmmaking happen?

Shakun Batra:

I was trying to run away from my family business, that’s how it happened! It could’ve been boxing but I was not physically good enough. I was into photography and I really enjoyed finding visuals that spoke to me. It’s a very personal feeling when you’re looking through the camera and you feel that this is something that you connect with on a slightly deeper level. 

Ushnota Paul:

You have said that Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu happened because of a bit of luck since you had worked with Imran Khan, as an assistant director in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na...

Shakun Batra:

Let me tell you, it’s always luck. I love this quote that says, “Luck is important but what is more important is the groundwork needed for luck”, which is basically hard work, your writing… but luck is always important.

Fortunately, I had a script and fortunately I had worked with Imran and fortunately he was looking for something at the time. He read the script and said, ‘Oh you know, this could be interesting. Let’s do it’. 

Ushnota Paul:

Your films are known for their strong women. Where does this come from — something you’ve seen around you or believe in?

Shakun Batra:

I think partly because I have a woman co-writer Ayesha (DeVitre) and partly because of the women I’ve been surrounded by. They are very strong and I really look up to them for advice and guidance. I’ve a lot of close women friends like Ayesha or Avantika (Malik, Imran’s wife).

Ushnota Paul:

You have said how inspired you are by Woody Allen’s style of filmmaking.

Shakun Batra:

 Yes, inspired and influenced. Because it’s personal. Even though his stories are amazing that can be entertaining and there’s a lot of humour, but they are very personal. Only when I started watching his stuff that I realised that you can make personal films, you can tell what you feel, your deeper truths and you can put them in your films.

Ushnota Paul:

Apparently it was Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding that was the inspiration behind Kapoor & Sons?

Shakun Batra:

Monsoon Wedding was probably the only, or at least one of the first films, that depicted an Indian family the right way. It felt like, ‘Yes, this is what an Indian family feels like’. I have seen Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! but I haven’t grown up in a family like that. My family was much closer to the kind of chaos that I felt in Monsoon Wedding… and I wanted to kind of do that in my own way. 

Ushnota Paul:

Kapoor & Sons also portrayed a gay character with extreme maturity and sensitivity.

Shakun Batra:

I wasn’t trying to hold a placard and tell people, ‘Look, this is how it should be’. This was just my version of it and for me, this was the dignified version of it. But I can’t stop others and I have nothing to say to how others have treated it. I didn’t enjoy the way I had seen it and I decided to do it this way.

Ushnota Paul:

Do you think films have a real potential of changing society in some way?

Shakun Batra:

I think that’s a huge baggage or a huge responsibility to give to a film or a filmmaker. Although I do believe that they can start a conversation. Can they change society? I don’t know. Can they trigger it? Maybe. It’s important to not feel that weight when you’re making a film. 

Ushnota Paul:

What’s the best part of being a filmmaker?

Shakun Batra:

 I don’t see myself as anything else. So, I don’t know if there are perks to being something else. The best part about being a filmmaker is that I never wake up questioning why am I making films.

Ushnota Paul:

Netflix and other streaming platforms have changed the game. If you are told your next film will only release online and not in theatres, how would you feel? 

Shakun Batra:

If you’re talking about feature films, I think they need to be seen on the big screen. But now let’s talk about my favourite filmmaker Woody Allen... apart from once or twice, I’ve never seen any of his movies on the big screen. But they have impacted me more than anything that I have seen on the big screen. So the stories don’t really need to be on the big screen to impact you, although that’s where they should be viewed if you can. 

Ushnota Paul:

Do you stream content?

Shakun Batra:

I do now, yes. I have to start watching Dark — I’ve heard great things about it. I watched Maniac, which I enjoyed. I enjoyed watching Succession on HBO.

Ushnota Paul:

What are your all-time favourite movies?

Shakun Batra:

All Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, Howard Hawks films… all these masters, it’s so tough to choose. These are the guys I started watching when I was becoming more conscious about watching cinema.