For the Sake of Love

Loev, a film by Sud­han­shu Saria, seeks to nor­malise love be­tween same sexes...

Society - - FOR SAKE OF LOVE - | By VI­NAY AGRAWAL & DE­B­JANI GHOSH|

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.

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