The director’s next is on Julian Barnes’ Man Booker winner
Kunal Guha (MUMBAI MIRROR; March 16, 2017)

How did you come across The Sense Of An Ending?
I’m a fan of Julian Barnes and read the book in 2011. I looked into it after The Lunchbox and learnt that someone was adapting it for BBC. A year later, it came to me as an offer to direct and I jumped at it.

What were the challenges of adapting characters not conceptualised by you?
When I first met him in London, Julian Barnes told me, “Go ahead and betray me.” This isn’t a book you pick up and say that it should be made into a movie. It has the character of Tony Webster talking in first person to readers and movies are not told like that but through relationships. We have to find, flesh out and create relationships to tell a story. The biggest challenge was in the process of adapting it, how far away do you go from the book and how close do you stay. You need to figure out whether you want to be first or second cousins since you can’t be siblings.

There is a flatness to cinema but when you pick up a piece of literature and your brain engages with it directly, it brings a lot more depth to the work. This is because the brain has infinite dimensions. Cinema is a powerful medium but, in many ways, not as powerful as literature.

How did you ensure you didn’t betray Julian Barnes’ readers?
In the movie, all the actors bring their lives to it. It’s great to have actors like Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling because in every scene, they are working on it like a pebble in clear water — honest, simple and unaffected. And later, when you get to the editing table, you just have to arrange these pebbles to ensure it delivers emotionally. For the readers, it’s never going to be the book onscreen.

Would you rather call it a tribute?
You can say that if you like but don’t say I said it. (Laughs) Or you can compare it to an apple. A successful adaptation complements a book. Cinema is a collaborative medium. Charlotte Rampling comes to the screen with all the tragedies and triumphs of her life. Is it a tribute? Well, hopefully, it’s not an insult.

What were the production challenges of filming in the UK?
Since the story is set both in present day and in the ’60s, it has to feel true to both periods. Given our restrictive budget, we had to shoot within London. Fortunately, the British take good care of their history and there are some well-preserved schools and bridges. We shot the past on weekends and the present on weekdays. And as I’m not British or old enough, I took cues from Jim and Alan Rickman (who passed away shortly after the film was shot) — like in the ‘60s, you could buy half a cigarette and these were smoked by schoolboys, I’ve used that in the movie. The challenge was immersing myself in the period and to ensure it was a truly British movie.

The British are believed to be really reserved, did that factor into your storytelling?
That is a cliché but then all clichés are true. The ‘British reserve’ is a real thing. These conflicts wouldn’t exist if they were more candid.

How does one crack the festival scene? Does lobbying count?
I don’t think it counts much because every festival evaluates films differently. It’s a market where films are bought and sold. Festival directors are powerful people who are there for their taste in films. From the looks of it, it seems those in Berlin like political stuff, Cannes appreciates ‘different’ films and Rotterdam, the edgy stuff. But A-list festivals are important to get to international buyers. At the end of the day, you’re trying to find a wider audience.

Do you have a fascination for older characters?
I’ve never thought about it. Even in Our Souls At Night (Batra’s next) I thought the conflict between Robert Redford and Jane Fonda’s characters would be enhanced because they don’t have enough time. But then, as it turns out, well they do, like in The Lunchbox. Life teaches you things but after you’ve invested a certain amount of time, you realise that ordinary life is difficult. And I’m not talking about extraordinary circumstances like planes getting hijacked.