A film born from tremendous stores of youthful energy, spontaneity and vigor, but aesthetically mature and nuanced, Gandu is a groundbreaking work of independent and provocative cinema, and one of the first ever to appear from India. Directed with great skill by Q (born Kaushik Mukherjee), it’s a piece of heretofore unseen angry-young-man cinema from southeast Asia that is about as far removed from a Bollywood spectacle as possible.
Twenty year-old Gandu (Anubrata), which loosely translates as A**hole, is a dour slacker from the gritty streets of Kolkata. With no job, no friends, and no goals, he happily accepts the pejorative name that nearly everybody bestows on him, and channels his anger into punk and rap songs that he hopes one day will make him famous. He lives alone with his mother (Kamalika), and survives by stealing money from the wallet of Dasbabu (Shilajit) a sleazy Internet café owner with whom his mother sleeps with in lieu of paying rent. Much of that money is spent on drugs and lottery tickets, with the rest going back to Dasbabu’s café, where he downloads porn, plays video games, and spies on a fellow customer’s video chats with her husband. A chance encounter with a Bruce Lee-obsessed rickshaw driver (Joyraj) results a friendship of sorts, and the two soon begin experimenting with heroin and dreaming of getting out of the ghetto.
Shot in highly aestheticized black and white, there’s more than a hint of social realism in Q’s warts-and-all approach towards life on the streets of Kolkata, but the film has its roon in experimental cinema. There are several nods towards the films of French provocateur Gaspar Noe (Irreversible, Enter the Void) particularly in the colorized drug tripping scenes, which include moments of graphic sex that are virtually unheard of in Indian cinema. (Several press representatives from India covering the Berlinale were vocal in their outrage at the film.)
For a film with such a sense of immediacy, there’s also a remarkable maturity to the direction, which even in its jerkiest handheld moments seems well thought-out and planned. Yet even though the film captures a rarely-seen subculture with performances that are refreshingly raw and honest, the work ultimately falls into the style-over-substance category, and at times its 85 minute running time feels a bit longer. That it contains some meta-moments, and is clearly calculating in its graphic depiction of drug use and extremely explicit sex scenes, reveals a cleverness on Q’s part as controversy is a surefire way to get people talking. His previous work as a documentary filmmaker (he directed a handful of features on similarly outré subjects) is evident throughout, and Gandu has only the slightest hint of a traditional narrative.
Still, for a country that cinematically is known worldwide for its glossy, big-budget musical productions, Gandu will no doubt go down as an important document in the annals of Indian film, and will perhaps be remembered as the first salvo fired in a digital revolution that gives birth to a new form of independent cinema.
Directed by: Q
Produced by: Dipankar, Q
Starring: Anubrata, Joyraj, Kamalinka, Shilajit
Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.