The mystery and energy of India propels hyper-productive English director Michael Winterbottom’s Dev Patel-Radhika Apte starrer “The Wedding Guest”, a Special Presentations title of the ongoing 43rd Toronto International Film Festival.
The film, a road movie, crime drama and love story rolled into one, opens with a young Briton of subcontinental origin arriving in Younganabad in Pakistani Punjab ostensibly for a wedding and then goes on to throw the enigmatic male protagonist, played by an understated Patel, into barely explained situations that involve a runaway bride (Apte) and her dodgy NRI boyfriend of four years (Jim Sarbh).
The idea behind “The Wedding Guest”, Winterbottom says, was in his head ever since he filmed “The Road to Guantanamo” over a decade ago.
“I could not make the film back then,” he adds, “but the rural part of Punjab where the film was shot struck me as a good setting for a another film.”
“The Wedding Guest” pans out in parts of Pakistan, Amritsar, Delhi and Goa. Patel, who asserts that he was drawn to the project “because of Winterbottom” and chose to board it as a co-producer so as to ensure that “the energy wouldn’t be dissipated”, says the film’s different locations impacted the narrative.
“The various Indian states influence the tone of the film, with Goa triggering a sense of freedom for the two principal characters,” says the British-Indian actor who began his career with the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008.
Ten years later, Patel is in a position to get an entire independent film project off the ground.
“It was a short screenplay with very little dialogue,” says Winterbottom. The director sent it to Patel and the latter not only read and liked it, he also offered to raise funds for the film.
“I did not want the energy to dissipate,” says Patel.
The actor was in Toronto for the world premiere of Australian director Garth Davis’ “Lion”. The year before that, Patel was seen in “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, a biopic about mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.
The power dynamic in “The Wedding Guest” between the hero and the woman he abducts is what drives the drama.
“She is thrown around like a piece of luggage to begin with, but she gains control as the film progresses,” says Patel of the character played by Apte.
Winterbottom, a prolific and creatively adventurous director, has filmed several of his films “In This World” (2002), “A Mighty Heart” (2007) and “Trishna” (2011), which also premiered in TIFF on the subcontinent.
Playing Indian characters in cinema helps him understand his roots better, says Patel.
“These roles help me understand my grandparents and parents better,” he adds.