Qaushik Mukherjee, aka Q, is the rare filmmaker who is actually pleased to see people walking out on his film. It happened a few weeks ago at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York, where his provocative new Bengali film, Gandu (Asshole), premiered to the world. It was the hallucinatory, protracted and exceedingly explicit sex sequence towards the end of the film that apparently caused some of the audience to head for the exit, leaving the director curiously content with their reaction. “It is an extreme film. I would have felt disappointed and disregarded if it didn’t offend people,” he says. For him, any acute response—love, hatred, disgust—is a welcome affirmation of himself as a filmmaker and what he has chosen to do in Gandu.
You have to watch Gandu to make sense of both the director’s intriguing views and the intense audience reactions. This is a bold and audacious film, of a kind not seen before in India. From its use of cinema as an art form and its daring sex scenes to its incisive comments on society and its many hypocrisies, it pushes the envelope in a raw, discomfiting manner. Whether it’s the mother figure, relationships, love, sex, materialism or even religion, the film takes potshots at everything that we hold sacred. “As a society, we have forgotten protest, and as an artiste I think I need to keep questioning,” says Q. The film challenges our safe, middle-class morality by treading the fine line that separates the aesthetic from the pornographic, making us think hard even as it titillates in equal measure. It’s sure to leave the house divided on whether the sexual explicitness adds to the impact or is merely a measure of the filmmaker’s self-indulgence and pretentiousness.
The film is a gritty, compelling, at times enigmatic and inscrutable portrayal of this bleak world, brought alive by persuasive performances from little known actors (especially the mesmerising, electric Anubrata in the lead role). It is made with tremendous visual flair. Shot brilliantly in black and white (only the final sex sequence is in blazing colour), the geometric frames highlight the emptiness and barrenness of lives on the margins. The fantastic music, on the other hand, from the calcutta group Five Little Indians, uncoils Gandu’s nervous energy.
Outer Space: Ricksha (Joyraj) and Gandu feel the aftershocks
Q is no stranger to bold sexual themes. He had earlier examined sexuality in a mythological context in his documentary Love In India. “It was about mystical sexuality against the hypocrisy of urban sexuality. But it was done beautifully, with the flute playing in the background,” says Q. “With Gandu I wanted the punk rockstar side of me to emerge.” (Even as he says this, though, he sounds more like a new-age Bengali intellectual than a weirdo.) So, even as he was making Love In India, Q was crafting subversive lyrics by using random common invectives. And one day, while he was hanging out with Five Little Indians they began jamming and a song emerged in three hours. That was the nucleus of the film, and it had to be made in Bengali, he says. “We are a phonetic race. The Bong way of saying ‘gandu’ has a nice ring to it.” The film, financed on the cooperative model with the help of friends, was shot over 20 days—after a three-week workshop for the actors to get over their inhibitions, which they clearly did.
It’s the kind of experiment that happens rarely in India. If Gandu doesn’t look or feel like an Indian movie, it’s because the inspiration lies elsewhere. “I have no Indian cinema references,” Q confesses. The Calcutta-based ad professional-turned-filmmaker, who runs a company called Overdose, professes not to be inspired by the “classic” films as much as the radical, independent post-’90s cinema of Europe and Japan, films like Run Lola Run, filmmakers like Gasper Noe, Takashi Miike, Lars Von Trier, the Dogme school. “I like the post-modern techniques of video filmmaking,” he says. The film is also, he says, a homage to the classic French porn film Baise Moi and oriental, Japanese porn.
A few years ago, a Bengali film, Kaushik Ganguly’s Shunya e Bukey (Empty Canvas), about a man unable to accept a flat-chested woman as his wife, had created a furore. Gandu, artistically, intellectually and imaginatively, is leagues ahead, and is sure to ruffle many more feathers. After its recent screening at the 3rdi San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, Q is now working towards its European premiere, after which he plans to submit it to the censors. He is confident it will find its way to those viewers who are keen to see it, “We just need to be patient and figure out how.”
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The photograph of Red Riot Gandu (Anubratta) with Rii on the mast-head of this review is indeed arresting. Look foward to seeing this movie..
Unsure but reckon the word Gandu in the hindi speaking areas means a person who is a male homosexual.
Anyone reading this who's interested in watching Q's Gandu can check it out online at GetFilmi, along with a curated selection of other great legally licensed films - including classic Hindi Cinema plus new indie and mainstream releases: http://getfilmi.com/film/gandu-asshole
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