10 things to muse over while watching the trippy 'X: Past is Present'
X: Past is Present seems like it has been made mostly on the editing table.
In the spirit of X: Past is Present, here is 10 vignettes, 1 review
If you’ve watched Charlie Kaufman’s latest little gem, Anomalisa (it was screened at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2015), then at one point in X: Past is Present, you’ll probably sit up with a jolt in your seat. (Funny, the way cinema works.)
It is one among a handful of moments peppered across the film that make you realise what you’ve been watching unfold before you is a rare kind of film.
It’s bothersome, because it makes you question your comprehension of the vast canvas of morality, while also making you marvel at how gigantic the thought behind this ostensibly small endeavour is. It wanders along several trails, neatly tying up a number of ends while leaving so many others open and even lost. Some of them perhaps unintentionally, while so many others in ways that can only be described as genius.
Radhika Apte is a special lady. She effortlessly occupies the screen the way few others do. And she always manages to make a character seem like a real person. But then a small bit of her transcends everything else, perhaps because the actor truly enjoys playing the character. That sparkle in Radhika’s eye is always visible.
In X, she plays a rather special lady in the lead protagonist K’s life as well. (K is played by Anshuman Jha and Rajat Kapoor at different phases in the character’s life.) At one point in the film, her character Rija goes from being a respectful, polite person to being claws-out vicious in a split moment. It’ll make you shudder; and perhaps admire Radhika Apte even more.
Of all films in recent times to have found a reasonable theatrical release across the country, X has to be the worst dubbed. Aesthetically and technically, it hangs out awkwardly like an extra limb. Any flaw in the audio of a film breaks the illusion of cinema like nothing else.
Even the viewer who isn’t explicitly aware of the concept of dubbing will always be able to sense that something is amiss, and such a viewer is most likely to break away often during X. The ‘average Joe’ – as one of the directors of the film, Sudhish Kamath had once described the common film viewer – might disconnect from the film at a primal sensory level.
If you’re one of those that were even mildly curious about how the part of the film directed by Q would shape out and whether it would even blend in with the rest of the film, given the esotericism of his filmography compared to the other directors; well, his bit is instantly recognizable because it’s as trippy as you’d have hoped. Yet, it manages to blend in with the film rather well. That would surely have taken some doing.
X seems like it has been made mostly on the editing table. With 11 directors directing separate segments and each segment being written by different writers as well, the kind of task putting this film together can only be imagined. Yet, one suspects that if the film was shown to someone who had no idea about the story behind how it was made, they wouldn’t be able to tell that it was directed by 11 directors; the film is surprisingly seamless.
At the same time, the edit is disruptive in the most beautiful manner. Not only is it non-linear, it’s non-planar. If there’s one real takeaway from the entirety of the existence of X: Past is Present, it is this: Editing is the most crucial and most underrated part of filmmaking, because it is essentially rewriting something that you don’t have complete control over. (Note to Editor: This is often true for print journalism as well. Bravo.)
If you’ve read Raja Sen’s pieces on Madhuri Dixit and the good KKK (Kareena Kapoor Khan) respectively, you’ll sense that he has a literary fetish for the alpha female. Now watch how this translates into Huma Qureshi’s character in X, in the portion directed by Sen. A goddess in every sense, she isn’t there for too long, but she’s unputdownable.
The core of the film is the relationship that K shares with 10 women. So important are these 10 women in his life that even though K is present as a character in every scene of the film, his relative visible screen time is unbelievably less. That’s how important the women are.
Yet, of the 10 actors portraying these women, less than half truly make an impact. The rest range from forgettable to downright weak. It bogs X down so very often. Surely it couldn’t have been so hard to find 10 good female actors for this kind of film? The western suburbs of Bombay are crawling with serious talent waiting to find the right break. For a film that has so much at stake, this oversight is almost unforgivable.
X is an indulgent film, of that there is no doubt. A lot of it seems like the respective director has smoked their favourite filmmaker right before filming. Those are directorial choices that we can disagree with, but we can’t question the director’s right to make that choice. However, this also alienates the viewer often. You really want such films to do well so that more such films are made, but X is unlikely to make a significant dent in that regard, because even purely within the limited audience it caters to, it is unlikely to be universally appreciated.
With a runtime of about 105 minutes, the intermission in X comes about a third into the film. That means the second ‘half’ is approximately twice the length of the first. To say that is unusual would be severely understating it. But it also gives birth to a possible new structure for films narratives in the future. If the overall length of your film is optimal, then rather than being encumbered by the prospect of having your interval point somewhere around the middle, you could find a place for it to cause the least disruption to the viewer’s relationship with the film.
The last spoken word of X: Past is Present is perhaps the most delicious treat the film has to serve. It is paradoxically both, a punch in the gut as well as a rather apt ending for the grotesque tale you’ve just witnessed. And Swara Bhaskar spices it up so very well before dishing it out. It’ll leave you staring at the screen even as the end credits roll.
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