Warning: there’s some seriously bad language that is going to crop up in this post. If you’re the kind that is offended by obscenity, perhaps you should skip a couple of posts and read about “Tangled” instead.

Near the end of “Gandu”, the hero comes into some cash and his best (and only) friend tells him, “You keep rapping about fucking and tits and cunts but you’re a virgin. Why don’t you get a girl and actually fuck someone?” The hero, after whom the film is named, is pretty excited by the idea (predictably) and he enthusiastically says, “Yeah. I’m going to get a girl, and I’m going to fuck her, I’m going to fuck her hard.” This is followed by him scrunching up his face and thrusting his pelvis in a manner that obviously simulates intercourse in his opinion. Next thing you see is a girl in a wig pouring some frothed milk into a coffee cup. The hero shows up. She miaows. The two of them sit on either side of the coffee cup and then lap some milk up.

Not that “Gandu” till this point had been coy about sex but I saw that scene and I thought, “Great. Adolescent boy says he’s going to fuck someone ‘hard’ and then proceeds to drink milk.” My sneer was entirely misplaced because what followed was a scene that is probably best described as pornographic and certainly more graphic than anything I’ve seen in Indian cinema and most of what I’ve seen in foreign cinema. It was also misplaced because the film had already shown more nude panting than I’ve seen in years but I’d been told by a couple of people that the last bit is “like, whoaaa!”. So this milk lapping was, well… Freudian and not “whoaaa” by any stretch. But things certainly stretched and it soon became obvious that the milk was there for a reason. While the two people were at it, I wondered why on earth the director Q had kept this scene because it didn’t seem necessary. By this time “Gandu” has shocked and provoked the viewer almost relentlessly. How was a girl in sequins and a wig (even if it is Q’s girlfriend Rii) going to top hallucinatory visions of a crazy Kali devouring naked, stoned boys? But it wasn’t just sex for titillation or even for shock value. The point of the elaborate performance is to lull the audience with technicolour hedonism so that when the director throws in a few seconds of black and white, you don’t so much see what’s been festering in the hero’s mind as have it slammed into you. If you’d stuck your hand into your pants while Rii twisted Gandu’s nipples, chances are you yanked your hand out somewhat violently when the black and white shots exploded on screen. In case you didn’t, I suggest you make an appointment with a therapist. Pronto.

So I did finally get to see “Gandu” and  despite reading and hearing so much about it, I have to say it surprised me. Not so much because of how… ahem… uninhibited the actors are — although it’s pretty jaw-dropping how far they go — but because I really wasn’t expecting the storytelling to be so sophisticated. I was expecting a pretentious film, filled with adolescent adrenalin, sex, drugs and a simple, predictable story about the angry youth. It is all that but the story is told very, very smartly and rather than being wordy (as most decent Bengali films tend to be), it’s bubbling with suggestions and hints that make sense but are difficult to articulate because you pick them up in nuances and details.

The basic storyline doesn’t tell you how much director Q has packed into it, but here we go anyway. The film is about a young man who is known as Gandu (the meaning of this abuse can range from “loser” to “asshole”). He’s unemployed and lives with his mother who is the kept woman of a man called Das-babu. Gandu buys lottery tickets, smokes and writes rap lyrics, while his mother and Das-babu engage in noisy coitus. He wants to get the hell out of this world but has no idea how to actually do this. Gandu ends up making friends with a cycle rickshaw puller called Ricksha, who is a devotee of Bruce Lee. The two of them hang around Ricksha’s slum, do cheap drugs, eat chowmein and talk crap. Then Gandu’s luck starts changing, and that’s pretty much where the movie ends. During the course of the film, Q manages to bung in sex and abuse in every possible nook and cranny of the story. Remarkably, however, you’ll realise by the end of the film that the sex in particular is really a pretty well-used storytelling device. As gratuitous as it seems, it’s there to provoke and distract. Admittedly I’m a fusty old woman, but ultimately I don’t think it’s graphic sex that stayed with me after I’d finished watching it but rather the insightful portrait of modern youth that “Gandu” presents. The director, Q, is surprisingly self-aware. He makes fun of his hero and of himself (Das-babu, who appears only to fuck Gandu’s mother and leave his pants around for Gandu to pick his pocket, is never seen without his Ray-bans, like Q apparently). He knows the world and the mindscapes he’s showing in the film intimately. He knows the pretensions and frustrations, and he communicates them without resorting to clichés. Oh, and he’s also written the lyrics and is Gandu’s rapping voice.

“Gandu” is recognisably Calcutta but it’s the Underland version where instead of the unemployed, Leftist poet/artist, there is an angry rapper; and the long-suffering wife/mother who is trapped in her house is also the mistress whose orgasmic whimpers can be heard in every room. The film falters in a couple of sequences and the one that didn’t make sense to me at all is the bit where it goes all meta with Gandu learning there is a director called Q who is making a film titled Gandu. Why? Who knows. But all in all, “Gandu” can hold its own against any festival film by a young director anywhere in the world. There are some fantastic little scenes, like the one in which Ricksha and Gandu finally become friends or the ones that have Gandu venting to Ricksha. The cinematography is outstanding; the editing is mostly sharp; the acting is good; the dialogues are filthy but realistic in both their language and delivery; and there is a directorial vision, which is hard to come by in Indian cinema, whether mainstream or otherwise. This last part I was not expecting.

Apparently, Q is of the belief that “Gandu” can have a theatrical release in India, which suggests to me he’s been smoking the stuff that Gandu and Ricksha smoke in the film. I just hope he and whoever else is involved in the process have the sense to distribute/stream the film online and make its soundtrack available sooner rather than later. I really do want to be able to blast “Horihor” (its chorus exhorts a guy called Horihor to masturbate dilligently; I shall refrain from delving into the delicious philosophical angles suggested by Gandu and Ricksha singing this song together. Let me just point out Horihor means a union of Shiva and Vishnu.) and imagine the docile conservative couples nearby unwittingly bobbing their head to the beat of the song.

7 thoughts on “Q tip

    • One goes on a torrential search, perhaps? There are a few dvds of the film floating around Bombay, among the filmi crowd, I think. I was lucky that a friend had one and organised a screening.

  1. one of my favorite satyajit ray films is jana aranya, probably because it’s the only one where someone says the immortal bengali cuss words boka choda in context. that’s all i had to say. oh no wait, there’s more: there needs to be a cultural space (including your reviews) wherein the words – ‘artist, poet, leftist’ are dispensed vis a vis the ontological qua cultural boundaries of that fabled city. personally i associate calcutta with a lot of hard drinking, foulmouthed individuals. i room with an irishman. trust me, that’s nearly all i associate it with.

  2. caught up with Gandu at its official Indian premiere at BYOFF…your analysis is near perfect ..my reactions have been more or less similar…however I believe it’s possible to read this film as symptom of a much broader condition in ‘alternative sensibilities’ Indian cinema has been displaying lately … global cinephillia is finally producing some rather startling creating assimilation and at one level Q seems to be much more interesting than his self-admitted influences like gaspar noe or kim ki-duk for instance…to work with narrative loop and yet to surpass the standard ‘mid game film’ structure that Hollywood churns out so often and to completely overthrow the narratives of redemption that characterize so many Asian extremes…i suspect this is a landmark film for quite a few reasons and interestingly the film text provides us with a useful platform to reflect on those very conditions ..the film’s historical reflexivity far more relevant than Q’s own ..which is perhaps why that ‘meta’ section doesn’t quite work like rest of the film ..and we have not began to discuss the fantastic raps n sound design yet …

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