Some films are so abstracted that they exist fully only in their makers’ heads, and if we are to engage with them at all, it isn’t to know what happens next but to dive in for the experience – something like accepting a dare to stare at a lava lamp unblinkingly for a couple of hours. X: Past Is Present is one of those lava lamps, all right – but not because of its conceit, which is fairly straightforward. We meet a man named K (Rajat Kapoor) in a nightclub, and his interactions with a twentysomething (Aditi Chengappa) provide a springboard for memories of women from the past. For instance, K stumbles into this girl changing clothes – and we’re whisked into a flashback that shows him as a youngster spying on the woman in the window across the street. Did I mention he’s filming her? K is a filmmaker.
Few things are more masturbatory in nature than filmmakers making films about filmmakers – but when some of the filmmakers are film critics as well, you have a veritable circle jerk. Here’s the list of (eleven) directors of X: Past Is Present – Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, Anu Menon, Hemant Gaba, Nalan Kumarasamy, Pratim D. Gupta, Q, Raja Sen, Rajshree Ojha, Sandeep Mohan, Sudhish Kamath, and Suparn Verma. And they’re getting off – as they’re wont to, as they should – on the films they’ve watched. (And we are endlessly reminded of the films we’ve watched.) If the basic premise is reminiscent of Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women, Fellini’s 8½ rears its head when we discover K has a writing block. If K’s marriage (to Radhika Apte) takes us back to Basu Bhattacharya’s tales of independent-minded urban couples drowning in the rough seas of modern-day relationships, K’s flat-sharing with a woman he never meets brings to mind Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe (and also Wong Kar-wai). And think of the last time we had a leading man named K. It was in Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking, which was also probably the last time something this trippy, this gonzo, this self-indulgent graced our screens.
As the title suggests, X: Past Is Present is also about time. The film opens on the face of a Patek Philippe watch, and goes on to include an hourglass, an invisible Rolex – even a reference to time travel. Why? Because there are 24 hours in a day. Guess how many frames per second the typical film is made of. And on and on it goes. Eleven heads thrown back, eleven eyes closed, eleven hands moving in a blur. But what about the audience’s satisfaction? The trouble with X is that nothing sticks. Each flashback is directed by a different filmmaker, shot by a different cinematographer – the film is wild mix of moods, tones, textures. It’s interesting, certainly. But look past the style, and there’s little substance. (And no, in this case, style alone isn’t substance.) Women come and go, sometimes behaving like they’re in an Indian television soap, sometimes like they’re in a Euro art film – and this genre-mixing never descends from the head to the heart. No one is around long enough to make an impression, or make us care. It’s all high concept. K’s women are as much abstractions as K’s film, or even K himself, who, in flashbacks is shot mostly from the back and is seen fully only as a younger man (Anshuman Jha). You could play a drinking game with the possible interpretations.
The directors try to flesh out the various episodes with tenuous connections. We hear one woman talking about an abortion, and later, speaking of Bollywood films, K says that the hero and heroine tend to stare at each other intensely, “as if we’re about to kill a baby.” But this is claptrap lyricism, and there’s a lot of it. God’s a screenwriter… Day-to-day objects can become agents of romantic connection… K naam nahin hai; it’s a mask. And, my favourite, a new addition to the Farhan & Zoya Book of Hinglish-isms, “Main motherhood experience karna chahti hoon.” Because, you know, we’re too cool for “Main maa banna chahti hoon.” We say things like “fuck” and “pussy” on screen. After a while, I began to feel bad about panning Roy, which for all its solipsism at least looked good on screen and had some good music. Fine actresses like Huma Qureshi and Swara Bhaskar are stranded in nothing parts, mouthing off-camera lines and modelling an impressive range of innerwear. Some of the episodes are unwatchable, like the one about the hot ER doctor who says she likes Rushdie. Is this just bad filmmaking that reflects the director’s prowess, or is this deliberately bad filmmaking that reflects K’s prowess as he films her? Keep a towel handy as you ponder over that.
- The Man Who Loved Women = see here
- 8½ = see here
- Asha Jaoar Majhe = see here
- No Smoking = see here
- K naam nahin hai = K is not a name.
- “Main motherhood experience karna chahti hoon.” = I want to experience motherhood.
- “Main maa banna chahti hoon.” = I want to become a mother.
- Roy = see here
Copyright ©2015 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.