Film Review: X: Past is Present3 min read . Updated: 24 Nov 2015, 03:55 PM IST
Eleven directors in search of a film
X: Past Is Present has the right number of directors to make up a cricket team. Perhaps they needed a coach as well, someone to look at the bigger picture, as it were, and tell them whether they were on track. X has been promoted as a work of great ambition and daring: one man’s story, a kind of portrait of an artist as a young and middle-aged douchebag, told by 11 film-makers. What it ends up as is a hydra-headed misfire.
X begins with a jaded-looking middle-aged film-maker, K (Rajat Kapoor), striking up a conversation with an unnamed young woman (Aditi Chengappa) at a party. Their talk—awkwardly scripted and delivered, like much of the film, in English—stretches into the night, and is the film’s framing device. K tells his companion about his past loves, whom we see in 10 separate flashbacks, each handled by a different director. Neither Kapoor nor Anshuman Jha (who plays the younger K) is fully glimpsed in any of these flashbacks; it’s as if the remembrances were one long lucid dream, or a movie K is directing in his head. We only see the women, the exes of the title.
As might be expected when 11 directors—(deep breath) Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, Anu Menon, Hemant Gaba, Nalan Kumarasamy, Pratim D. Gupta, Q, Rajshree Ojha, Sandeep Mohan, Sudhish Kamath, Suparn Verma and Raja Sen—tackle different portions of the same film, the result is a grab-bag of styles, tones, attitudes and rhythms. The diversity itself isn’t a problem—one could overlook tonal inconsistencies if the constituent parts packed their own, specialized punches. But there’s hardly a segment which doesn’t fall apart due to indifferent acting, scripting, directing, or a hellish combination of the three.
There are episodes which implode spectacularly, like the one in which a young K, pitching a film to a potential investor, is schooled by his trophy wife (Gabriella Schmidt) in the consumption of oysters (“As if you were eating pussy," she says— like the audience hadn’t already guessed where the scene was going). Others defy logic, like the one in which K is condescending towards a fan (Richa Shukla) at a film festival, then propositions her, gets rejected, then slapped, and is ultimately invited home by her. Then there are the head-scratchers: like the final flashback, which seems to suggest that K’s deep-seated commitment issues stem from an early traumatic incident; or the episode directed by Q and featuring three Riis, which would require a much braver critic than this one to try and interpret.
The segment which worked best was the variation on the Italo Calvino story, The Adventure Of A Married Couple, which also formed the basis for Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Labour Of Love. Like that film, this segment is also set in Kolkata. It’s a wisp of an idea: K and a girl (Parno Mittra) are boarders in the same house; they stick to their rooms, read poetry, play guitars, and never meet. When he leaves, she’s heartbroken. That’s about it—no pop psychology, no look-ma-no-hands camera movements. It’s the slightest of the stories, but I’ll take it over the Dutch angled technique ex-wife episode, or the “meta" pretensions and deliberately sloppy camerawork of Q’s segment.
The performances are as widely varying as everything else in X. Swara Bhaskar is both funny and knowingly seductive, while Huma Qureshi lends intensity to an otherwise perplexing segment built around a mock interview. Kapoor plays his caricature of a self-absorbed director straight and ends up less magnetic than the film might have wanted; his scenes with the flat-toned Chengappa fall particularly flat. Most of the time, though, the actors are defeated by the writing, which ranges from stuff no one would ever say (“Why are you with this beast?") to things you wish they wouldn’t (“[Movies are] your ticket to escape from the misery of life").
Perhaps there’ll be those who’ll find something resonant in X, who might be moved to try and figure out the time-travel business teased towards the end. Personally, I doubt I would have thought less or more of the film if K and his friend had come across the DeLorean, travelled back to the start of the film and begun their conversation again. I wouldn’t stick around for the rerun, though. If past is present, my time is all the more precious.
X: Past is Present released in theatres on Friday