Many for the price of one: welcome to the portmanteau movie, which features several short films bound by a common theme, character, location or element. The number can range from four to many more. For the upcoming Drishyam Films production, 11 is the talismanic number. X: Past is Present features 11 directors helming 11 episodes in the life of a slippery filmmaker who goes by the name K (probably inspired by Franz Kafka’s character in the novel The Trial). K, played by Rajat Kapoor, has 11 ex-girlfriends, and each of the episodes explores K’s relationship with them.
The portmanteau film, also known as the anthology film, might seem like a case of too many cooks dipping their hands into the same broth, but it has proved to be a useful and enduring way of tackling a single idea through different stories and narrative treatments. One of the best-known films in this genre is Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993), based on the stories of Raymond Carver. Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) comprises 11 vignettes with one common element: each of them features the consumption of coffee and cigarettes.
The anthology film has inspired several Indian productions over the years. Satyajit Ray's Teen Kanya (1961) features three stories by Rabindranath Tagore. Dus Kahaaniyaan (2007) contains ten tales without a discernible grand theme. In Mumbai Cutting (2010), an unreleased anthology, 11 directors tackle various aspects of life in Mumbai – a concept inspired by Paris, je t'aime (2006) and its sequel New York, I Love You (2008). Bombay Talkies (2013), consisting of four shorts, pays tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema from divergent perspectives. Shorts (2013) was made up of five stories connected by the broad theme of urban living. The entire film is available on YouTube.
What makes X: Past is Present different, according to its contributors, is that all its stories are intricately and inextricably woven to make one large narrative. Sudhish Kamath, one of the 11 directors, says that what makes the latest project different is that "none of the individual threads are stand-alone films", but are "connected in multiple ways, via character relationships, cause and effect, karma... by the end, there are several connections that complete the picture".
X: Past is Present is, then, a full-length feature with multiple directors. "I think a whole lot of credit goes to the editors of the film," Kamath said. "They had a clear-cut idea regarding what to preserve for the integrity of each piece without breaking the continuum the larger story.”’