Interview: Ritesh Batra, director, Café Regular, Cairo

By Nandita Dutta • Published on March 23, 2012

Still from Cafe Regular, Cairo

[R]itesh Batra’s short film Café Regular, Cairo is the hottest Indian property in the festival circuit currently. The film has been selected at Tribeca Film Festival, International Film Festival Oberhausen, Fribourg International Film Festival and International Film Festival Rotterdam. Arte France (Franco-German TV network) has bought the television rights of the film.

The film shot in Cairo with local actors and a local crew is about a conversation between a young couple in a café. It shows the changing face of relationships in modern day Cairo with  exceeding simplicity. Ritesh Batra tells us more about his film:

How did you get the idea to make a short film in Egypt?

Past year and a half, I lived in New York and was working for Tribeca. They sent me to teach at Doha Film Institute and that is how I got to travel a lot to the Middle East including Cairo. I made friends with a novelist and an upcoming actor and started working with them. This film developed as a result of an organic process. We had a lot of meetings and rehearsals and then shot the film in two days with a local crew and a local producer. The actors just paraphrased their dialogues in Arabic.

There is another film that I’m working on which is set in Amman, Jordan. In fact, I wrote the script of my feature film ‘The Lunchbox’ sitting in Cairo.

How did the concept originate?

I was spending a lot of time in those countries, had made a lot of friends there. I wanted to make a film about relationships in modern day Cairo. The so-called indie movement in India is making films about big things, big issues. Everything is more like an agenda, they

Ritesh Batra

are not really stories. We don’t see regular life and personal stories in our films.

In Café Regular, Cairo, the actress is actually a novelist who wrote a book about the woman’s body and stopped wearing the ‘hijab’ which was a big deal for her family. The film is just a look at regular lives and relationships in Egypt.

How did you manage to get a local producer?

Alaa Mosbah is a local filmmaker who decided to produce my film. Now we are writing another script together.

A film with two people shot over a conversation in a café. Didn’t you have any apprehensions?

I did have some apprehensions. I had thought of three different endings for the film. At least one of them had to work.

I had never worked on so small budget and with a small crew before. We shot everything in real time on live locations. I learnt how to incorporate environment into the story, and that gave us some really nice moments in the film.

I never shared the script with the actors, but wanted their conversation to follow a certain trajectory. We did a lot of unconventional homework and rehearsals to make the actors comfortable with each other.

So what do you think people are connecting with in the film?

Honestly I didn’t think it will go to these many festivals or that I will be able to make money selling this film. What is working is that it is a very personal story which can happen only in Cairo, yet it is universal. There are no fancy camera movements yet there is depth in the film.

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