For the Sake of Love
Loev, a film by Sudhanshu Saria, seeks to normalise love between same sexes...
At first glance, Loev is a universal story that could have taken place in any city from Boston to Budapest, but a closer look reveals an invisible, fourth character in every scene: the politics of India. India’s highest court recently passed Amendment 377 into law, declaring homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment and making criminals out of millions of its citizens. By extension, the court made it very easy for any cinematic work endorsing or depicting this love to be censored, obstructed and banned. It was in this environment that Loev was shot, in absolute secrecy. When hot shot Wall Street dealmaker Jai thinks of putting some pleasure into his 48-hour business trip to Mumbai, his young, music-producer friend, Sahil, drops everything, including his reckless boyfriend Alex, to help him execute the perfect getaway. Hiking the hills and canyons of Maharashtra, amidst half-attempted conversations and sudden silences, business calls and old jokes, the friends discover there is more than just time-zones keeping them apart. Things take another turn when Alex shows up with a new male companion by his side, throwing up old conflicts and bringing unanswered questions to the fore. The complex legal and social codes gagging these men shape the way they express, understand and recognise love. Gender, sexual-orientation, creed, class—all these superficial divides seem irrelevant in the court of love. Love is mercilessly confusing, painful and euphoric to its patrons, no matter how one chooses to spell it. Sudhanshu Saria, the director of film, tells more in a freewheeling chat…
Love is an integral part of mainstream Indian cinema and your way of showing love here is different. What do you have to say about that, given the fact that the audience is more inclined towards Yash Chopra-Karan Johar movies?
Love is just love. This is a love story too and it adds to the wonderful discussions I’ve seen in Yash Chopra and Karan Johar movies. I’m convinced I would have earned his vote of approval had Mr Chopra been alive. And I’ve
been messaging Mr Johar to try and watch the film but haven’t had any luck so far. I’ll tell you if he does. Hopefully, he likes it.
While making the film, whom did you keep in mind as your target audience?
I really wasn’t thinking of any one audience when I was writing it or making the film. Having lived all over the world, I really embrace audiences everywhere as mine and Indians are quite aggressive as well about getting their hands on content they are interested in. I just focused on keeping the budget small, so the risk wasn’t too crazy for my partners Arfi and Katharina at Bombay Berlin Film Productions.
What were the challenges that you faced while working on the project, especially with the fact that you shot the film in Mahabaleshwar and Mumbai? I mean, how did you gather the confidence to shoot in India?
I really didn’t know how the authorities or locals would react to us, so we just kept our brief vague and always talked about this as being a film about friendship. Even crew members weren’t given the whole brief in case someone reacted negatively and caused problems. It just felt better to be safe. Given the short shoot and our meagre budget, we really couldn’t afford to trigger any strikes or protests.
How did you choose the cast?
I didn’t care about stars or saleability. A lot of the film is shot in long takes, so it was essential that the actors were able to hold the camera for 12-20 minutes at a time. I think we looked at about 200 men for these parts, before ultimately casting these guys. Casting truly is the hardest part of directing. The chemistry between them, their looks, and the skill level—it all had to be perfect.
So, how has the LGBT community taken your film? Are they happy or not? What is their reaction?
We have gotten nothing but love from them for making the film and portraying the characters with as much dignity as we have. The messages started coming ever since we did our first festival screening and released our trailer, and it hasn’t stopped. The film isn’t easy and generates a lot of discussion, and there certainly are audience members who react strongly and even negatively sometimes, but I see that as a sign of love as well. My goal is to affect people, poke them, bother them—the worst would be if they shrugged and moved on. Even if they hate it, I embrace that as a sign of their engagement with the material.
What does the film identify basically, because though the pronunciation of the title is ‘love’, the spelling is ‘loev’?
The title is just another opportunity for me to acknowledge that though the love appears different because it’s between men, it is actually just love, the same love we have been taught to confine to heterosexual relationships. The spelling acknowledges the difference and the pronunciation erases it.
There’s a darkness lurking at the edge of the film that has already inspired conversations. What does the film provoke?
It asks us to think about the difference
between asking someone out and feeling entitled to a yes, about how to behave in a one-sided relationship, about consent. There is also tremendous social context with respect to gay rights and how queer men feel in our society, how they have to hide in plain sight.
You’ve been making short films since 2010. Why suddenly a shift from them to a full length film?
That’s the natural progression; one can’t make a living making short films. I had my heart broken, and instead of dealing with it through alcohol or therapy, I decided to write about it. I really wanted to focus on behaviour in relationships, how to pursue someone and how to handle rejection and dig up some discussions around consent. Making the characters men was both exciting and useful for these discussions and even though I knew it would trigger some insecurities for the audience and our gatekeepers, I decided to move forward with it. It’s 2017, about time we acknowledged the pluralities around us.
Can you talk about your experience with the LGBTQ circles in Mumbai?
I don’t really seek out cliques or circles in that way. The folks I’ve met who identify in this manner have all been absolutely ordinary and completely relatable, going about their lives and pursuing love, sex, stability and promotions. There was nothing I found that was out of the ordinary and the film is reflective of that. I know that the communities I’ve interacted with in Mumbai are very liberal, progressive and educated, so I certainly don’t think they represent the struggle most people face in our country. But, it’s nice to see that this bit of queer utopia does exist somewhere in our country.
What is your family’s reaction?
I have no idea. I never bothered asking them. To me, they are just like any other member of my audience. I care that they are entertained and moved by it, but I have no intention of seeking their permission or altering anything they don’t like. This isn’t a hobby; my work is my purpose in life and I wouldn’t compromise on it for anyone.
In India, there is a popular belief that playing a gay character ruins an actor’s career. What is your response to that?
There are plenty of unemployed actors who have taken no risks. Good talent always rises to the top. Actors should focus on finding good parts that showcase their versatility and not worry about such things.
Why did you choose Netflix as a releasing platform?
What other release model is there that can take my film to 180 countries and 100 million people instantly at the push of a button? They saw and acknowledged the worldwide fan base we had built over the one year of festival travels. That, combined with their terrific brand value in the marketplace, what they stand for, their commitment to quality and their dedication to good content, made them a perfect fit in my eyes. We are fortunate and lucky they picked us for this kind of an exclusive worldwide deal.
With all the brouhaha after Anurag Kashyap’s Udta Punjab, things (fighting against censor diktat) are no longer all that bleak. What is your take on that?
If you have power and influence on your side, you can probably fight these fights, but I am an absolute nobody, so I wouldn’t dare take anyone on. I keep my head down, do my work and hope it has a chance to find its audience. I’ll leave the commenting to those with mightier resumes and better lineage.
How do you think we humans handle love irrespective of gender?
It’s not something you can be academic about. It’s just a feeling. We all crave it and we all feel it; you can’t control it when it arises within you and you shouldn’t. There is nothing sadder than love that is rejected out of fear of judgment or social persecution.