From sharing screen space with Vidya Balan in his Bollywood debut (Kahaani), to making a mark in Parched and Bhoomi to winning the best actor at the 65th National Film Awards for Nagarkirtan, actor Riddhi Sen has added another feather to his cap. He has now made his debut as director with Coldfire, a Bangla short film at the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival.
The story, based on Nabarun Bhattacharya’s short story of the same title, was written in 1982. The director, however, has changed the timeline and set it in 2029. The film revolves around a salesperson GB who is out to sell a gadget called coldfire, that promises to enhance the experience of death in more ways than one. Excerpts from an exclusive interaction:
Why are you calling Coldfire a dystopian dark comedy?
The story was written in 1982, even before I was born. Yet, the story is equally relevant today and will keep being relevant all in 2029, when I have set the film. In fact it is futuristic in essence and can be relevant in all times to come. Screenwriter Aniruddha Dasgupta and I have readapted the story.
What made you shift to direction this early in the career?
I have always wanted to be an actor, it is my first love. But in the last three years I have been thinking about direction quite seriously. When I read the story, it haunted me for a long time and I decided I needed to make this film in 2017. But I wasn’t prepared and needed to first learn how to make a film, which is definitely not a cakewalk. I have taken three years to actually learn the skills of filmmaking, before I started working on this film.
You have explored class difference in the film, a topic not many filmmakers are still comfortable with…
Class difference is an essential element in all Nabarun Bhattacharya films. It is part of our society and no, it cannot be eradicated from our society. But yes, it can be addressed and that address should happen frequently so that people realise that it is not the ideal way to deal with each other. Cinema is a widespread medium that can influence a large number of people. The more awareness that we can create through cinema, could lead to a slight difference in outlook, but change is impossible.
Since this has been a year of innumerable deaths all over the world, do you think the audience is looking for an escape from death?
You know the concept of death as a subject for a film got me thinking when my grandfather passed away because that was the first time I actually went to a crematorium. When you actually see a person burning up, that is when you begin to rethink a lot of things and it gives you a perspective about time. No matter what the status of the person was when alive, he is ultimately reduced to ashes. We do have a very negative understanding of death. Once you have a perspective about death, it becomes easier to choose your path in life. We are not trying to preach anything in the film, all we are doing is holding up a situation where the audience will inevitably ponder about the meaning of life when they step out of the theatre.
Since most of India’s population is below the 45-age bracket now, what kind of impact do you think death has on your audience?
Exactly, when you are young you don’t care about such things. By the time we grow up and are in ours 50s we look back and think about the amount of time we have wasted already. I agree one cannot and should not be productive all the time, yet we also need to realise what are the things that matter in life. We are living in an age of digitisation and social media has taken over our lives in more ways than one. So I feel it is all the more necessary for our generation to de-clutter our lives and focus on values.
If you were to write a dystopian story, what would be the nightmare you would be building it on?
I think robots taking over the earth would be my nightmare. With artificial intelligence being so effectively introduced in all phases of life around us, a day could come when that could actually happen. We are fast losing the human touch and being increasing dependent on the internet. You will see even when a group of people are together, they are not talking to each other. They are all looking at their phones. Dystopia is also now, it is not the future anymore. We don’t have any privacy anymore. Right from our bank accounts to our love notes, anything can be traced online. We are living the nightmare now!
Let’s talk about the new normal…do you think OTT platforms will impact the movies, especially the theatre viewing experience?
It has changed a lot. But I believe OTT is the best platform to showcase short films. No one will come to a theatre to watch a 30 minute film. They want a bigger experience. So for short films OTT is a blessing. It brings great viewership and makes releasing the film easier. Even Satyajit Ray combined two or three short films together and created a larger movie viewing experience for his audience. So even if a short film is released commercially, we need to combine it with two or three films of similar genre and theme.
You also have strong roots in theatre and recorded plays are another new normal these days. Are e-plays the future of theatre?
I don’t believe in filming plays. I don’t think theatre is a medium that can be digitised at all. The platform is such that you need to be seated in the auditorium to feel the essence. An e-play is neither theatre nor cinema. It gets lost somewhere in between. Even in terms of finances, we need to think of ways of getting more people into the theatre and give them a strong reason to come to the theatre and not to subscribe for digital platform to watch a play.
So what is your next project?
I want to do a full length film now. But I haven’t decided anything yet. It could be a love story or a romantic comedy. Or it could also be about a person who is in love with his city, like someone who narrates a love story between himself and the city of Kolkata. Nothing is final yet.