The London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) synopsis for Gandu very wisely warns you to leave your mum at home, as the numerous frames devoted to oral sex and pornography make for uneasy viewing even in the most unflappable company.
That the film was denied a general release in India meant most of the London audience was mentally prepared for an entirely off-the-censorship-scales experience, and it certainly delivers on that count.
The film opens innocuously enough with an attempt to capture the invective nuances of the word “gandu” – quite simply “asshole” - but encompassing a wider connotation of sheer asininity with an undertone of homophobia.
As a profanity, it transcends language barriers and is used quite liberally across most of India. As a lead character, it is the ideal protagonist for writer-director Q (Kaushik Mukherjee) to present his sketch of reality fused with a drug-fuelled haze. Bengali rap music inspired by the UK’s Asian Dub Foundation adds to this subversive turn.
Q’s Gandu (Anubrata Basu) is a lonely 20-year-old boy/man with a passion for rap – the only outlet for his angst-ridden existence. He dreams of cashing in on a lottery win some day and becoming a famous rap artist with fawning fans offering him sex in abundance. But until then, he is confined to a life of stealing from his mother’s illicit lover Dasbabu (Shilajit Majumdar) while they are in the throes of passion in an oddly airy Kolkata flat.
A chance collision with Ricksha (Joyraj Bhattacharya), a rickshaw-puller with a fanatical Bruce Lee devotion, offers him a welcome diversion from dwindling away hours in an Internet cafe playing video-games and watching porn while fantasising about the young woman in the next booth who is lost in her own hesitant attempts at cyber sex.
Ricksha injects hard drugs into this already heady mix and that is where the film seems to tumble into a gratuitous spiral. The audience is left muddled as Gandu floats between reality and hallucination, with a prolonged sex scene jolting them into a further state of disquiet.
Soon the freedom of working beyond the constraints of a script turns into a curse.
The film’s strength lies in its visual and narrative style; shot largely in black-and-white on a single-lens reflex camera to capture the bleak existence of its key characters. Q proves that the filmmaking process does not have to be a slave to high-end equipment and big budgets.
But Gandu ultimately seems to fall victim to its own hype, losing its rebellious thread at several points. Just like its lead character, it flounders for some semblance of the very structure it claims to have rejected.
This mixed feeling finds an unusual respite in the musical treat on offer as part of LIFF’s Gandu Circus experience soon after.
For a brief hour or so, the musicians behind the film – Five Little Indians – prove just how universal punk rock can really be. Trance sessions with their mentor from the Asian Dub Foundation and British Tamil musician Susheela Raman had everyone up on their feet in the aisles of the usually more sedate BFI Southbank film theatre.
You may have detected a whiff of pretentiousness, not least because of the lead singer’s own crack on deliberate public display through his shorts as a nod to the whole ‘Gandu’ experience.
But the genius of this circus lay in eventually leaving even the hardcore sceptics “punked out”.
- Aditi Khanna
Aditi Khanna is Senior Editor at India Inc. www.indiaincorporated.com