X – Past is Present : A Cinematic Experiment by 11 filmmakers
Call it a coming together of several talented filmmakers or simply a melange of different types of cinema, X – Past is Present is definitely a unique film. A filmmaker meets a mysterious girl who reminds him of all his ex – girlfriends. The story of each of these past girlfriends is explored by a different director stringing them together into a single narrative. X brings together a powerhouse of talent in the form of 11 directors, masters in their own right, and an ensemble cast comprising names like Rajat Kapoor, Anshuman Jha, Swara Bhaskar and several others.
Here we chat up with Directors Sudhish Kamat, Raja Sen, Qaushiq Mukherjee (Q) and actor Anshuman Jha on their experience of being part of this highly-awaited project.
Sudhish Kamath, Director
The core idea of the film comes from you. How did this concept come to you in the first place?
I wanted to make a film about how we are a sum total of our relationships. Since I had/have very little experience with relationships and had ended up dating mostly the same kind of people (and also had similar issues primarily because of who I was as a person), I thought it was best to interpret each relationship and each episode as a genre to give the film a more vibrant range and avoid repetition of themes and conflicts.
As a film critic, I have always been bothered about labels and different cinemas of India existing in isolation without much dialogue or effort to understand each other. The arthouse filmmakers saw commercial filmmakers as some kind of prostitutes selling their souls and the commercial guys saw arthouse guys as wankers pleasuring themselves. And that wasn’t the only divide. There was the global-local divide, the regional-national divide, the sensibility and genre divide… What if we could build a bridge between the different cinemas of India – without judgement, accepting each genre/style for what it was.
That was the idea behind X. And that’s hopefully, the film we have made.
You are also said to be instrumental in getting the 11 directors together. How did you go about approaching them and what was the thought process behind it?
I was moderating a film track at The Goa Project and I proposed this idea of a collaborative feature where filmmakers could come together to make one movie based on the story idea I had – a filmmaker who meets a mysterious girl who reminds him of all his exes… where each ex could be explored as a different genre, so that we could build that bridge between the different cinemas of India.
Since I couldn’t predict the outcome of working with a mixed bag of participants at The Goa Project 2013, I asked professional filmmaker friends with disparate styles of storytelling if they would be interested. Being a film critic, I decided right from the beginning not to repeat any genre and approach filmmakers with strikingly different styles – basically people who wouldn’t see eye to eye. They all said Yes.
Shiladitya Bora was a keynote speaker at The Goa Project. He found potential in the idea and pitched it to Manish Mundra when he was having lunch with him at Rajat Kapoor’s place when Ankhon Dekhi was being made. We created a Google Group. 300 emails and a 48 hour scripting workshop later, we were ready to roll.
QAUSHIQ MUKHERJEE (Q), Director
What made you say yes to X: Past is Present? What was the driving factor?
It was Sudhish Kamath. He proposed this bizarre plan, and as anyone who knows me a bit will agree, I am a sucker for the bizarre. The driving factor was the idea of making one film, which was super challenging, considering most of the directors didn’t know each other before this too well, and are hugely disparate in style and content. This was a unique opportunity, and I was game to play.
How have you treated your part of the film considering it is linked to a larger story plot?
We had a few sessions together where we decided on the what’s and how’s of the plot. I worked my story entirely out of those interactions. It was critical that every section contributes to the main narrative and drives it to the next. My section is a mad, short take on Devdas.
Raja Sen, Director
Why did you choose to work with Huma? What was your brief to her regarding this film?
Huma is an exceptional actress with a very dynamic screen presence, and most films would be lucky to have her. In my script, the character Vina had to be both physically and psychologically imposing, a woman who really knows what she wants and knows how to go for it. I felt Huma would be great as this cool-but-firm older woman, and my brief to her was to give the words a lot of edge. The dialogues are demanding, brusque lines of English and I wanted Huma to play with the tonalities, to go from playful to menacing to dead serious as and when the situation demanded. I think she and her co-star Anshuman Jha both enjoyed the verbal sparring, and some of their takes were dynamite. I think X will certainly present Huma — who has so far been seen in a mostly rustic, grounded avatar in her films — in a very different light. She’s super.
Was there a particularly challenging aspect of working on this film?
There were many genuinely tricky aspects of making X, not least of which was shooting my entire segment within one day. Having said that, I think it was even trickier for all of us directors to individually sculpt facets of the same protagonist, K, in order to make X a single, coherent film. We had to write our parts individually based on a framework we’d already decided upon, and then tweak each of them according to what the others had come up with. This was a unique and highly specific challenge, and led to a lot of infighting and disagreement, but overall I think it taught us a lot about filmmaking as a collaborative process.
Anshuman Jha, Actor
You’re a part of different segments that are directed by various directors in this film. Tell us about the experience of working with multiple directors? What were your takeaways from this project?
X-Past is Present is truly a cinematic experiment of the decade. One story, 11 Directors, it’s a rare idea. As an actor it was an opportunity to work with diverse minds in one project, an opportunity you don’t get often. Also, working with multiple heroines in one project – I got to work with two of my favorite contemporary actors, Swara and Huma. And one of my favorite South Indian Directors – Nalan Kumarasamy. We had a packed house World Premiere in New York at the South Asian International Film Festival which is memorable. So lots of takeaways on what began as just an experiment for me, including six stitches on my head thanks to an accident.
You’ll be seen on screen after quite some time. Why did you say yes to this film? How did you prepare for your role?
Last year I had two releases as the leading man in Yeh Hai Bakrapur & a guest appearance in Fugly, Alongwith the plays that I’ve been doing – ‘Dirty Talk’ and ‘The Boy who stopped Smiling’, there’s only so much I could have done. But for the past eight months I have taken a sabbatical from Theatre and now you will see me in more films, hopefully. X in November, Chauranga on January 8 & Robinhood Ke Pote in April. But I am already missing theatre so will be back on stage soon.
I said yes to X because I saw it as a challenge to play a character from 16 to 30 years of age. I ain’t even seen in two segments but only heard so I had to put some work in modulating my voice to gradually sound older. So the preparation invovled the age transition vis-a-vis the voice & look.