Raja Sen writes a billet-doux to the movies

Part 1: In Cinema We Trust.

It’s all about timing. From delivering punchlines to handling zippily pitched-up yorkers, from relationships to karaoke, it’s all about wielding the seconds-hand of the watch like a samurai sword and striking just right. We are when we choose to be, and timing dictates everything, the way you will remember what happens, say, tonight, or the way you might choose instead to fib about it.

Timing is the difference between a potential flirtation making for an awkward Wes Anderson mess of shuffled-feet and stilted conversation, and an efficiently magical Richard Curtis meet-cute to be recounted over many a celebratory dinner. With the words staying the same, the right pauses and stabs at the When can cast you as either Woody Allen or Ryan Gosling—so choose wisely.

Cinema gets the timing right for us.

We read books at our own speed, dawdling lazily over pleasurable pages or wolfing down sentences like a plot-hungry junkie. We gaze at a painting for hours or dismiss it with a glance, in exactly the way some comic-book panels arrest and invite us to pore over every detail while others keep our eyes on narrative, not penmanship. Music, you may argue, is also consumed as the creators intended—at the song’s own inherent pace—and yet constantly curated playlists and the ‘loop’ button ensure that while we do indeed listen to the same song at the same speed, we do it very differently indeed. Even those of us that don’t press ‘shuffle’.

When we watch a film, however, we fish into our pockets for our forever busy decision-making keys and check them in at the counter. For the next ___ minutes, we surrender to the film’s way of telling its story. Like it or lump it, we aren’t the ones choosing. Our hands are cuffed and jangling them around in protest can lead only to stern looks and growled shushes.

Most of my life is spent professionally watching unambitious cinema of substandard pedigree, cinema that revels in tawdry mediocrity and commercial crassness, cinema that infuriates, exasperates, stultifies, and cinema that barely tries. Sheer masochism, ladies and gents, is sometimes what wakes me up (and sends me to a movie theatre) in the morning, downing an unwatchable blockbuster for breakfast.

And yet one soldiers on, gladly. Because when cinema does get the timing right, it overwhelms on a cosmically staggering level. The stars align perfectly, the light is gorgeous, and hundreds of sunsets pale in comparison to the orange of even an immaculately-shot freckle. Because cinema is about believing—in characters, words, gags, relationships; in stories and their power; in messages and the complete lack thereof; in ourselves when we can relate to those on screen; and, when we can’t, in men with spit-curl’d hair who can fly. We believe because we want to. We believe because we must.

Read on Single Page | Part Two: The Importance of Seeing Earnest »
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Absolutely loved this piece, and I totally understand what you meant by "Cinema gets the timing right for us."


I've always believed that "cinema is all about believing", it always is about putting your faith in the unseen; we choose to believe in larger-than-life cinema because of our need for "something bigger than us".


I'd love if I got your opinion on my Bollywood piece, would love to hear what you think of my writing. http://theinvisibleassassin.blogspot.in/2011/10/bolly-wooed.html


Thanks, and Kudos!


love it, brilliant :) specially, 't’s all about wielding the seconds-hand of the watch like a samurai sword and striking just right.' 

What I Speak of When I Speak of Cinema

September 2012
By Raja Sen

Raja Sen is one of India's leading film critics. He also contributes profiles, interviews, culture critique and book reviews to various publications. In his own words he is a W.R.I.T.E.R. Foremost and at all times.