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Raja Sen: The movie I can never review

By Raja Sen
November 19, 2015 15:27 IST
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Huma QureshiIt's *your* turn now, says Raja Sen.

I was left thunderstruck by an invitation to a press screening two days ago.

As of this minute, it still haunts me.

This is not, by any definition, normal.

There are screenings we critics look forward to based on our anticipation for an upcoming film, or based on a filmmaker's track record, and screenings we choose instantly to avoid based on the lack of promise, but that's about it.

A mild smile is cracked open when a film is being screened well in advance of release, often signalling confidence on the part of the makers, and there is often a frustrated whine on learning that there is no screening and we critics will have to watch the film Friday morning and hammer out a review with fingers forced to fly faster than mind does.

This e-mail, on the other hand, feels Kafkaesque.

It sits in my inbox, looking at me and sizing me up.

It haunts, as said, but also taunts.

It tells me of a Friday release called X: Past Is Present, an experimental film made by 11 directors, and tells me when and where I can watch it and what time it will start for sure, so I don't miss the all-important beginning.

Considering I am one of the aforementioned 11 people, reading this e-mail feels like a distinctly out of body experience. It's a too-literal illustration of how, for one week at least, I'm jumping ship and crossing over to the other side.

I feel thrilled and exhilarated and curious and many a good thing, but as with all people leaping from ship to ship, I also feel queasy.

What is X?

X is a radical take on storytelling, a sort of cinematic relay race where 11 directors take turns taking one story -- not 11 stories, not 11 short films -- and carving a narrative together.

It is a film about a filmmaker who meets a girl and the night they have together, but during that night he ends up thinking about the other women who have, in their own way, shaped his life.

Each director directs a different ex, in a different genre, with a different actress, with a different sensibility.

We had freedom as directors to write and conceptualise our segments, but we had to work together to create one protagonist and -- despite many digressions -- one narrative.

It's been an adventure, certainly, but a very messy one. Too many cooks and all that jazz, with much infighting throughout, but to me the true bravery of the X concept lies in the fact that it stays true to its genres even as it changes them.

The entire aesthetic shifts completely as the film evolves. This is not an arthouse film or a commercial one, but it has elements of everything, and something (ideally) for everyone: There is a highly poetic segment and one that is a sex-and-drugs trip, a light talkie comedy and a dark Tamil thriller... all in the same film.

And much more.

It's a very reckless way to take storytelling forward, but we have all stuck our necks out, and I hope the risk means there are bits in it that you can connect with.

Anyway, enough of the sales pitch. I hope you like it, and I had fun making it and learning along the way.

But here's the rub: Am I scared of the reviews?


Scared is the wrong word, but I'm nervous as hell.

Nervous as if, as Wodehouse said, I'd just swallowed up a tablespoonful of butterflies. I'm very, very curious to see what people make of our little X, how audiences respond and what the other critics have to say.

I hope X is a young film, a risky film, a quick and racy, sexy film.

But what I say doesn't matter.

I'm on the other side now, and while I'm not saying a review can't leave me crestfallen, but 11 years as a critic ought to have taught me that reviews aren't personal. It's all about the work, and it's all about perspective. We had some glowing reviews from American movie Web sites when we premiered in New York last year, but I want to -- need to -- hear it from a jury of my peers.

Bring it on, gang.

As for reviews that are scathing, I'm all for it.

Brutality is the reality-check filmmakers need (whether they want to believe it or not) and I'm all for a clawed review that rips my work to shreds.

I have but one request: For those who want to pay Raja Sen back with his own medicine, please word it well. Have some fun being cruel. Slay me with wit, with vigour, with enough panache that makes me want to share those comments even if they are unflattering.

Kill me, if you must, but do it using the right turn of phrase.

So, while I stare, helplessly and existentially, at the surreal e-mail still open in front of me, dear readers, do go review the film I can't.

It's your turn, and I'm waiting.



X: Past Is Present is directed by Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, Anu Menon, Hemant Gaba, Nalan Kumarasamy, Pratim D Gupta, Q, Rajshree Ojha, Sandeep Mohan, Sudhish Kamath, Suparn Verma and your very own Raja Sen. The film stars Rajat Kapoor, Anshuman Jha, Radhika Apte, Huma Qureshi, Swara Bhaskar and more, and is in theatres across India starting November 20.

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Raja Sen / in Mumbai