It’s always tricky making a puzzle film because you assume that the audience is smart and/or care enough for the characters to put it together… but wait, this is not to say we made a perfect film. Far from it. Because the execution sometimes gets in the way. But we will let you judge that after you’ve seen it again.
Right from when we started editing and putting the film together, we decided we didn’t want to use supers to tell you which chapter happened when and in which city because we wanted YOU to put the puzzle together. This is like a Lego narrative but you have to put the chapters together.
However, now that the film is out there for all to see (available legally on Spuul), it’s time to let out a few clues and secrets on how the chapters are all inter-connected and why people who have been seeing/judging them as stand alone “stories” missed the bigger picture.
The difference between X – Past is Present and other non-anthology films made by multiple directors is that this movie employs a serialized narrative, not an episodic one. Which means that the chapters are inter-dependent and inter-connected in more ways than one.
So here are the secrets to put the puzzle together. Trust this would help you enjoy the film all the more the next time you see it. In the order, the secrets unfold:
1. In Hemant Gaba’s 17 Presents, Shireen tells young K he’s late as he gets into the car and follows it up with a question: Where’s the watch I gave you?
This is the watch he loses at Aunty’s place during Nalan Kumarasamy’s Summer Holiday. Hence the quick memory flash of Aunty taking off his watch.
There are more flashes that connect this episode with Nalan’s – especially his “First time” with intimacy during the dance to the pop song ‘Tonight’. And this is the song that’s triggered when K hears the mystery girl call her Mom ‘Shireen’ in the opening scene.
2. In Anu Menon’s Oysters, K pitches to a producer in London the story he was inspired from his days in Kolkata… Pratim D Gupta’s Eight to Eight, where he shared a room with a girl he never met.
There are more flashes that connect this episode with the present day narrative when he walks into a girl changing and she asks him: Never seen a girl change before? Not like this, he says because the last time he saw a stranger change, he was filming her.
3. In Rajshree Ojha’s Biryani, K gets a call he disconnects as he lays the table. We hear his phone beep till the person calls him on the landline confirming his wife’s biggest fear – that he’s cheating on her with Ayesha from Abhinav Shiv Tiwari’s Audition. This is mirrored in Abhinav’s episode with similar imagery with him texting someone else – another actress. Both these women drink wine as does Sanjana from Sandeep Mohan’s Fin. K is constantly replacing the character he wants with a different woman. He loves to make Biryani and little does he know how a secret from his childhood was buried in Biryani in Nalan’s Summer Holiday. Also hinted in this chapter is karma of another deed he did in Suparn Verma’s Yaadein when Rija tells K she got rid of the child.
4. In Pratim D Gupta’s 8 to 8, we see the girl after K leaves and see the whole conversation. Because this is not part of his memory. This is the film he made. We know it’s a film he made because we see the same shots being screened at the beginning of Sandeep Mohan’s Fin. He leaves Kolkata because his father died (something we learnt earlier in Anu Menon’s Oysters as he shares his story with Sophie). He has romanticised his stay and turned it into a movie because of the poems exchanged. One of the lines from the poems exchanged end with: Some relationships are best left in closed books. This is why K keeps his relationships in his books and movies. He reveals to the mystery girl that if he met the girl, he would have settled into the mundane boring routine of life. And films are the What Ifs of the things you never got to or will do in life.
5. In Q’s Ice Maid, we see K is tripping on MDMA after all the women have left him at the end of Abhinav Shiv Tiwari’s Audition. He connects himself to Devdas except that as he’s trying to write he’s realised that Paro and Chandramukhi have become the same person for him. His tendency to replace the mistress type with the wife has gone on too long that they have become the same person. He is truly lost. Hence all girls are played by Rii. Everyone he meets in life are the same person… a realization he shares with the mystery girl in bed when she asks him about Ice Maid, a film she had auditioned for. Ice Maid is also K’s last film. He hasn’t been able to write ever since. He’s trying to find out who is he haunted by. Who is the ghost? Woh Kaun Thi is the script he’s trying to write in the present day timeline but he’s blank. This is also the arthouse climax of X Past is Present. If you stop watching the film here, it’s a story of a filmmaker who lost his mind and can’t tell between fact and fiction or girls in life and movies anymore.
6. In Sandeep Mohan’s Fin lies the Happy Ending to the film most people would have missed. But the key to the secret lies in the opening lines: “Do you believe in God? Science? Time-travel?” These are the exact same lines at the end of the movie when K finally gets the closure. Yes, it did seem like mental time-travel and not physical time-travel but if you want to believe, K would have gone back to the happy person he was when he met Sanjana. As mentioned earlier, the film at the beginning is his first film “Eight to eight” and safe to assume he made this movie because of the London producer from Anu Menon’s Oysters.
7. In Abhinav Shiv Tiwari’s Audition, he sends a text meant for Heena to Ayesha at the end of the episode and we finally understand how he moves on and replaces women with the exact kind he’s used to Rija, Ayesha and now Heena. He doesn’t want to have a baby with Ayesha because of his baby issues in Rajshree Ojha’s Biryani and Suparn Verma’s Yaadein. This is a broken man who is constantly running away from anyone trying to tie him down. When he tells Heena that all Woody Allen movies are the same, she shoots back a question: Love fades? Not because all Woody Allen movies echo that sentiment but because K believes that too. And this is also why he believes that every filmmaker including himself has only one story to tell, something he shares with the mystery girl in the present day timeline.
8. In Suparn Verma’s Yaadein, we see a younger K voiced by Anshuman Jha pleading with Avantika to not leave him. He caused an accident he’s haunted by in the dream within a dream and wakes up with a pregnant Rija lying next to him in bed but this time K is older (voiced by Rajat Kapoor). Hence, it’s easy to deduce that K married Rija because he didn’t want to lose another woman because of his fear of commitment. This was also his longest relationship. We know this because Rija gives him a Patek Phillipe watch on his fourth anniversary, one he never wears until she left him. This is the watch he loses in the swimming pool in the present day timeline. Also, at the end of the chapter, we realise that the last thing Avantika said before the car crash was that she was pregnant. She says: You ll kill OUR baby. He had no idea she was pregnant with his child. Which is why Rija aborting the child makes him feel like a baby killer. He jokes about killing a baby in the present day timeline and instantly regrets having made that Bollywood joke. The owl necklace Avantika wear is the car is the exact same necklace the mystery girl is wearing in the room if you watch carefully.
9. In Raja Sen’s Knot, we understand K’s fear of knots – he had a bad experience in Nalan Kumarasamy’s Summer Holiday when Aunty tied him to the bed. He has spent most of his early adult life obsessing about his past. Vina is the one who made K realise he is not the kind to be tied to a corporate job by breaking him down for wholly different reasons, of course but the power trip made him realise he had to change careers and he took up a job in Kolkata as a sound engineer in Pratim D Gupta’s Eight to Eight. We also see how similar Vina is to Sanjana from Sandeep Mohan’s Fin the way they twirl their hair – identical shots. At some level, he likes women who call the shots but also runs away from them when they try pinning him down.
10. In Nalan Kumarasamy’s Summer Holiday, we realise how he lost the watch given to him by Shireen. At the beginning of the chapter, he realise how he is a motherless child and had a Dad in the army and that’s probably why he’s never really learnt love. An incident in the village had scarred him for life and broken his trust in women. The watch stood for time, faith, trust, innocence and life itself. The film was born out of this episode. When Kumararaja came up with this story, we knew this had to be the climax and we had to create a character who was a product of this chapter. This is also the only chapter apart from the present day narrative where we get to look at K directly. In all other chapters, we look at the world through his eyes, we look at the people around him. All other chapters employ the first person narrative and he himself is blurry or out of frame. But at the beginning of Summer Holiday, we see the young K come into focus from an out of focus frame and he takes his wayfarers off. This is who he was before he became the K behind the wayfarers in the present day timeline.
11. In yours truly’s Past is Present, it’s easy to tell who the woman in the lift is even if you don’t recognise her voice. It’s the woman he has had the longest relationship with, one he calls every few months drunk, the one whose watch he started wearing after missing her. The one who loves him and let him go because she has accepted him for who he is. A nomad. A drifter. She has set him free because she knows he has issues. Luckily for K, he meets someone who makes him believe with a series of co-incidences all in one night. One girl had triggered off memories of all the women in his life. At which point does co-incidence become divine design? At which point does a man of science become a man of faith? When the girl gives him a watch she calls a “time-machine” we can either respond to this as a person of science or a person of faith. If you believe in a larger God, maybe K went back in time (grew younger again mentally or physically, whatever you are comfortable believing) to that place he lost his watch/time/faith/trust/innocence/life and got it back with closure. If you believe in Science, maybe a series of co-incidences were what a man under influence needed to introspect, turn back the car to the place he lost his watch/time/faith/trust/innocence/life and got his closure and the choice to use a younger actor is a mere creative choice to show the boy get his watch back.