Inside the main auditorium of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata, the air of expectation is a palpable, seditious being. The hall is filled to near capacity with film students, cinema and theatre professionals, writers, musicians and others from Kolkata’s young, freethinking set.
Within moments, the black and white Bengali feature film has the audience engrossed in its conscious and consistent chronicle of the coarse and the confrontational. There are some early walkouts, but the audience, by and large, remains seated as the film unspools the life of its young protagonist, the rapper Gandu, and his passage through petty larceny, domestic abuse, drugs, sex, hallucination, multiple realities and final musical consummation.
Q for controversy: Q (centre) with Rii and Anubrata in his Kolkata studio.
The making is in the vérité mould and distinctly stylized. The narrative is so delightfully perched that one doesn’t even mind when it falls off the edge with the film-maker introducing himself in the film and the conventional script format going for a toss. The acting is top drawer, especially by Anubrata who plays Gandu, and acts like he is playing out his own life in the film.
Gandu, released in the festival circuit in 2010, ends with an extended and brightly lit vivid sex sequence in colour, a riotous naked dance by its three primary actors, accompanied by a volatile score. As the team gathers on stage after the 80-minute film, the audience takes its time to applaud. When it does, it comes in spontaneous bursts.
For self-taught film-maker Quashik Mukherjee, who goes by the moniker Q, Gandu is a score settled at multiple levels. It was some SRFTI students who had earlier derided Q’s work on his unfinished film Tepantorer Mathe (2003). Q replied with Le Pocha (2004), a documentary on Bengali alternative music with a cock-a-snook style and a title that mocked the Bengali penchant for all things classically French. Now, he has returned with Gandu.
After a clutch of screenings in the international festival circuit, the film is slated to appear at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah, US, later this month and, according to Q, is a riposte to the “sexual hypocrisy of Indian society, which refuses to acknowledge the centrality of sexuality in all philosophies”.
The 37-year-old film-maker admits that his unabashed portrayal of sex is a tool for audience “titillation”. “It’s a banana shown to an audience before letting them into a bigger cinematic plot,” says Q, in his dimly lit studio in Lake Gardens, overseen by a wall of complex graffiti art. “It’s also about overcoming self-censorship. For me, sexuality provides personal insight.”
Erotic art is our heritage, the narrator says in Q’s documentary film Love in India (2009). Following the similar connect between Indian heritage and sexuality, Q’s upcoming documentary film Sari will study the “spiritual, textural and sexual” connotations attached with “the world’s oldest fabric”, now reduced to mere ceremonial attire.
Love in India boldly reviewed the film-maker’s relationship with his actor-girlfriend Rii (who gives an audacious performance in Gandu), while studying the mythology of passion in ancient India against the current social order defined by dichotomies, moral and physical policing.
It provides a peep into the mind of the film-maker, which pokes, probes and unsettles every rigidly held moral and social apple cart, not unlike the films of Lars von Trier, Gaspar Noe and French and Japanese shock cinema—all of which Q owns up to.
“Internationally, shock cinema has existed for 50 years. We’ve adjusted it according to our morality. But it can be readjusted,” says Q, with the confidence of an artiste who has now earned his spurs. “I like the way Gasper Noe treats cinema as a physical tool where the audience provides the third dimension.”
In Gandu too, the film-maker experiments by turning the camera on the ordinary public, quizzing them on their understanding of the Bengali street slang gandu and “pornography”. “Stupid”, “f*****”, “loser”, “moron” and “delightful propaganda”, “necessity”, “I’m an Indian” are the sets of answers we get respectively. Viewers are left to decide for themselves.
Post-screening, as the SRFTI audience discusses the creative opportunities that the film can prise open, Q knows what is most “liberating”: the fact that the low-budget, digital SLR-shot film was funded through a close-knit cooperative model; that it wasn’t made keeping in mind the censor board certificate or commercial release; and his rejection of most sociocultural norms.
His earlier Bengali feature film Bishh (2009)—on three women turning sexual predators for a night—was made with external funds and for theatrical release; reasons, Q says, why its “form was extremely constrained”. “Gandu binds me no longer to the ground rules,” he says, reflecting on the viral buzz the indie film’s trailer has generated online. “Multiple marketing platforms are available. It has thrown up endless possibilities.”
Gandu will be screened at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah, US, 22 January; in the Panorama section at the Berlin Film Festival, 10-20 February; and Bring Your Own Film Festival, Puri, 21-25 February.
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