Monday, 25 June 2012

"Gandu": The UKAsian Review

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.

'Gangs of Wasseypur': Epic, Beautiful and Disjointed

At a Q&A following the UK premier of 'Gangs of Wasseypur' at the London Indian Film Festival 2012, the film's mercurial director Anurag Kashyap was asked why he routinely took the road less travelled when it came to making movies.

Kashyap was emphatic in his response, saying that he enjoyed making things difficult for himself.
'Gangs' is a classic case in point: a hugely ambitious, 7-hour epic some 4 years in the making and one which marries myriad storylines and themes and featuring a cast of nearly 400 different characters.

So, does a cornucopia of cinematic elements make a movie great?
Contrary to how the film was described prior to its release, 'Gangs' is not about Bihar's notorious coal mafia, although the highly organized criminal network that stole vast quantities of coal from state-owned mines in the impoverished state  features prominently in the backdrop to the saga.

Instead it is first and foremost a sprawling revenge drama.
And as with all familial sagas, the plot - as such - is terrifically long-winded to define in a paragraph, let alone an elongated sentence.

In a nutshell, it all starts back in 1941 and the rivalry between two families - from two distinct sects of Islam - over supremacy in the coal pilfering business.  
Tigmanshu Dhulia plays Ramadhir Singh, a coal mine owner and gang lord who falls out with his henchman Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat).

After Shahid is murdered, his son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee) vows revenge.
That oath of vengeance is the central theme of the movie: the blackening, sullying soot that engulfs everyone from the coal miners and henchmen to the mine bosses and politicians proving a fitting metaphor for the crippling desire for vengeance that consumes and slowly destroys the families involved.

'Gangs' is about ordinary people but the cast is anything but ordinary.

Manoj Bajpayee is manifestly one of the finest actors of his generation and as Sardar, he is sensational, marrying a slightly disturbing goofiness with a murderous hostility, superbly moving from uncertain lover to snarling killer and back again.

In one scene, he stabs a rival before stepping back, childishly jumping up and down, uncertain as to how he should continue before gleefully stabbing the man repeatedly.  In another he travels through the streets of Wasseypur, publicly and very affably threatening Ramadhir Singh with myriad painful reprisals.
It is truly a career defining performance.

The support cast is uniformly excellent: in particular the amazing Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Richa Chadda as Sardar's son Faizal and wife Nagma respectively.

Siddiqui is a delight as the brooding heir apparent, his every movement and expression painstakingly deliberate and nuanced.  Chadda is at the opposite end of the scale: an uninhibited feminine force of nature lashing out with unconcealed rage at her less than heavenly lot in life.
The actors have plenty to play with.

The script by Kashyap, Zeishan Quadri, Sachin Ladia and Akhilesh is outstanding, delivering regular doses of immensely entertaining verbal volleys.

The one-liners are tremendous as well: "I'm going to insert a barbed wire in your rectum and fly you like a kite!" is a personal favourite, notwithstanding the fact that this particular use of barbed wire was a method of torture preferred by the Sri Lankan government against communist insurgents in the late 1980's.
The brutality and the bloodletting is uncompromising and is juxtaposed with moments of tenderness and romance and humour that lend the movie a compelling authenticity.

That authenticity is further enhanced by the film's delightful background score.
Composed by 29-year-old Sneha Khanwalker and Piyush Mishra, the music of 'Gangs' features a vibrant collection of devotional folk songs that pitch perfectly frame each pivotal moment of the narrative, lending urgency to some and emotion to others.

Faizal's courtship of Mohsina is curiously tinged with Bollywood melodrama and is one of the higlights of the film, alongside an hilarious yet disturbing encounter between a police officer investigating a murder and the butchers responsible for chopping up the murdered man.  Each moment is rendered with a sparkling musical accompaniment.

Aside from plenty of those moments, 'Gangs' is resplendent with various themes: from love and religion to colonialism and corruption.

And each of the moments has been crafted with plenty of care.  In fact, Kashyap's main strength lies in his meticulous attention to detail.  He is a slave to his craft.
The opening scene is an astonishing, 9-minute long sequence shot in one take.

The plethora of different elements however is the film's primary weakness.

Entertaining though it is, there is a lack of cohesion to the film not helped by its' length.

A narrator - Piyush Mishra - helps explain who's who and what's what but the story is disjointed, muddled and unnecessarily so. 
'Gangs' is hugely entertaining, a fine riposte to the tedious, conveyor-belt of cinema that Bollywood has become but Kashyap seems to have ventured too far to the other end of the spectrum.
How typical of him.
- Viji Alles

Director Gurinder Chadha carries the flame

‘Bend It Like Beckham’ director Gurinder Chadha carried the Olympic torch on Saturday 23rd June 2012. She ran the Blackpool to Manchester segment near Burnley.  Blackpool is where she shot her first feature film, the unforgettable ‘Bhaji On The Beach’ and Manchester was of course home to a football team connected to a certain Mr Beckham!

Says Gurinder: "It was a complete and utter exhilarating experience, I am honoured and blessed to have been selected as one of only a few thousand out of all of Britain's 56 million population to run with the Olympic flame. I shall treasure my torch and display it in my house next to my OBE!"

Gurinder could barely contain her pride: "My goodness, I don't think my parents would have ever imagined I would have such honours showered on me when they first arrived on British soil in the sixties. I am proud to be a British Punjabi and when I first took hold of the flame I said to myself 'Bole Sonihal'. Saturday has been a great day for me and my community!"

- Reports