Berlin buzz: Meet Q, Kolkata director who doesn’t mind his Ps
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Many like the film for, what its director Q — he was called Kaushik Mukherjee once upon a time — calls, "its terrific narrative", "the connect it makes with people's minds", leaving many thinking about it for long after the credits roll.
However, there are as many who have been offended by the film's explicit sex scenes.
And if Indians have been vigorously complaining about Gandu — some say it's "damaging to the country" — others too have been walking out of the film's screenings, disturbed by its relentless emphasis on sex, even as the director tends to dub it "sexuality."
Q and his Kolkata-based crew are, however, unapologetic. "We haven't heard from the people who have walked out, they went straight home. But I like people to walk out from my films. This is extreme cinema, it should have extreme reactions," says Q.
Anubrata, the lead performer, isn't as articulate. Dressed in a loose, dangling suit and with long, shaggy hair, he is playing the part of the rising, young star on the horizon, insisting that all he hears are congratulations, here and back home. According to him, everybody watches sex, and now they have an Indian context.
Q says he isn't afraid of the film being remembered for just its sexual content, including nudity, fellatio and masturbation. "Tackling sexuality and taboo is the most important thing about Gandu. If the people don't remember that, then what have I done?"
According to him, this is the reason he has so many scenes of the mother and her lover, even though it is established early on that it is one of the main reasons for the frustrations of the boy Gandu.
"I wanted to explore what a woman is for an Indian man — is she only the mother? That disconnects woman as a sexual device."
The other women in the film are almost all played by one person, Rii, Q's girlfriend. Q invites you to ponder how much of it is real and how much of her is fantasy.
In one role, she is the woman in the cyber café, talking to someone who could be her husband or lover over a webcam, in another she is the prostitute (in a blazing pink wig, a summation of many porn videos that Gandu has been shown watching), and in the third she is Kali or maybe the demon who haunts Gandu's dreams.
Those questioning these, including the use of the Kali imagery, are insecure about their own sexuality, says Q.
What nobody doubts is the stark beauty of Q's images, bringing forth the hollowness of Gandu's life and his loneliness in a crowded city. The director says that's the reason they shot the film in black and white, because "India in colour becomes exotica, and that is a fetish".
Q also says this part is meant to reflect the protest Bengali cinema of the '60s and '70s, of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. The film then moves to Quentin Tarantino territory, and only later, according to him, becomes his film.
However, none of this would have worked without the complete cooperation of a cast agreeing to go where few in Indian cinema have gone before. Everybody has been raving about the performances of Anubrata, who plays Gandu; another teenager who becomes his only friend, Riksha (Joyraj); and Rii — differ with the film if you want but you can't help but appreciate what the three have achieved.
Q says he didn't really have to look for a cast since all of them were his friends, except Anubrata, who was brought in by Joyraj. Apart from agreeing to shed most of their inhibitions, they also agreed with Q to drop their last names from the credits. Q says he has an issue with names. "These are the primary source of social intercourse, and end up making you act like the name. I really like Q, nondescript, it doesn't tell you anything."
So that's how the once Kaushik Mukherjee became 'Q', and now everyone, from the people he meets on the street, to his staff call him that.
Will Gandu find a release in India? Q questions the framing of the query in a manner, which can only generate a negative response. "Why not?" he asks.
His earlier film dealing with the Radha-Krishna story and its underlying sexuality, he says, is out in India on DVD. As for Gandu's release, it may be an ambitious hope, but it's nothing if not an ambitious film aiming very high, for some; very low, for others.