“X” – 2014 South Asian International Film Festival Review

The omnibus film, in which several directors contribute segments that are then strung together to create a feature-length work, is quite a common staple at film festivals. Usually these segments consist of separate films with different stories and casts, and as is to be expected, the quality varies from segment to segment.

Far less common, however, is an omnibus collaboration in which all the segments come together to make a single story. “X,” which had its world premiere as the opening night film of the 11th edition of the South Asian International Film Festival, is such a collaboration. “X” showcases the talents of some of the most interesting and innovative independent directors currently working in India: Sudhish Kamath, Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, Anu Menon, Hemant Gaba, Nalan Kumarasamy, Pratim D. Gupta, Q, Raja Sen, Rajshree Ojha, Sandeep Mohan and Suparn Verma. The segments that each filmmaker contributed have separate titles, which aren’t revealed until the end credits. The most remarkable aspect of “X” is the fact that, in spite of the quite disparate cinematic styles and narrative modes employed by these 11 directors, the film feels quite coherent and cohesive. If one didn’t know that many directors were involved in this piece, he or she could easily conceive of a single filmmaker attempting different styles in order to tell the story.

The main plot thread that forms the spine of “X” involves a famous film director, simply named “K” (Rajat Kapoor), who is at a film festival. Suffering from a wicked case of writer’s block, and going to a local nightclub to get his mind off things, he meets a young woman (Aditi Chengappa) who mysteriously seems to have some connection to the other women he has loved in his life. The film cycles through a journey across K’s past and how he has been affected by his previous romantic and sexual relationships, how much of this forms the basis for his films, as well as his regrets over how he has often used and mistreated them. Frequent flashbacks are peppered throughout, showing us how the formative experiences of the younger K (played by Anshuman Jha) have led to the person he is now. “X” plays frequently with the notion of fiction and reality blending and blurring the lines that separate them. The clever vignettes that come together to create this one story run the gamut from fairly realistic to nightmarishly surreal. These vignettes include such memorable episodes as: a voyeuristic encounter with a British woman; a “Chungking Express”-type situation in which a man and woman who share an apartment in shifts fall in love without ever meeting; and one in which one woman seems to split into two separate entities.

None of the ideas “X” addresses concerning artistic creation and the relations between men and women are particularly new. Hong Sang-soo, for example, has fruitfully mined such subjects for his entire career. But “X” never feels stale or like a retread; rather, the eclectic nature of the project injects an invigorating freshness to the proceedings. “X”’s subtitle is “Past is Present”; the film gains its ultimate resonance and poignancy by imagining that time, rather than an inexorably forward-moving phenomenon, is instead one that is quite fluid and whose powers to transform are only limited by our willingness to believe in them.

“X” had its world premiere at the 2014 South Asian International Film Festival, which runs from November 18-23. For more information, visit the festival’s website.