Artsploitation Films // 2010 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // December 27th, 2012
Will I die if I fall from here?
When I hear about a banned film, I will almost always want to see it. Censorship is, in no way, a guarantee of quality, but I want to know what caused the problem, whether it's content or politics, or some other strange and obscure reason that's harder to understand. Mostly, I want to see it out of principle, because there are people who can't, and it deserves to be taken fairly, for better or for worse. In the case of Gandu (a Bengali word that roughly refers to a worthless person or a bottom-feeder), pointless as I think any censorship is, I have no doubt why it was banned in India, and it is for many of those very reasons that the film is so fantastic to watch.
Gandu (Anubrata Basu, Chittagong), an aspiring rapper, spends his time lurking at internet cafes, smoking, and practicing his art in his bedroom, keeping himself in cash by stealing money from his mother's lover during their coitus. One day, while wandering around town, he runs into (literally) Ricksha (Joyraj Bhattacharya, Baishe Srabob), a Bruce Lee-obsessed rickshaw driver and, almost immediately, they become best friends. Together, they wallow, dissatisfied with life, so they travel to a remote location where they're given hallucinogenic drugs that very suddenly change their world.
Since its acclaimed debut on the festival circuit, Gandu has been compared to directors as disparate as Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and Gasper Noé (Enter the Void), but the film is very much an individual, while the relation to those films is identifiable, but mostly cosmetic. It has also been compared to India's Bollywood tradition, called an "Anti-Bollywood" film, but that does the film complete injustice; it's a completely different kind of film from an entirely different tradition that deals with themes that would never appear in Bollywood cinema.
Gandu is a noisy, rhythmic, and graphic film that revels in all these aspects with equal joy. The story tells of poverty and ennui, but the tone is far more one of celebration. Rap dominates every aspect of Gandu's life, and he turns all of his frustration and anger into words. He doesn't care what anybody thinks about it, and nearly everybody hates it. The only one who doesn't think his dream is stupid is Ricksha, whose obsessions are ridiculous enough to people that he finds it easy to accept what Gandu believes in.
Plus, if nothing else, they have drugs. I'm guessing that they're smoking heroin, though they aren't explicit about it, but it brings them together. When Gandu finally gets fed up with everything and his mother threatens to kick him out, Ricksha convinces him to go to this mountain drug den. There, they go a little crazy with visions of sexuality and, there, the film presents something of a Charlie Kaufman moment in which the director himself shows up to shoot a film called Gandu featuring Gandu. This mystifies the character, but also changes everything for him. When he arrives back, he wins the lottery and then, at least briefly, the film changes from stark black and white to pastel color as Gandu spends some of his newfound money on a prostitute.
At this point in the film, how much of it is real and how much is part of the drug? It's almost impossible to say, but that's what makes the movie so interesting and exciting. The narrative is linear, but strange and disjointed without ever being confusing. Writer/director/editor Q (Love in India) puts together a film like few I've ever seen. The image is often split into two, three, or four frames, which are sometimes different, sometimes exactly the same, and sometimes different angles or takes on the same scene. It's got a rhythm more like a music video than a conventional film that accentuates the character's music very well. It's fast and noisy, with heavy beats and a really interesting spirit that I fell in love with.
The performances, as well, are as strong as the story. The film was shot without a script, and the actors all do very well with their improvisations. It's a small cast, with the two leads, the mom, and Rii, a woman who plays three roles: the prostitute, a fellow frequenter of the internet cafe, and a vision in the hallucination, are everybody who has any significant screen time, but it's enough. They're all perfectly appropriate, with strong, believable performances from everybody.
So why is Gandu banned in India? While audiences in its native country might not accept the tone or style of the film, it's the explicit sexuality that keeps it from being seen. It's well shot, appropriate for the film, and never exploitative, but it is graphic, which flies in the face of Indian obscenity laws and, even in this country, will keep certain audiences from experiencing Q's unique and fantastic piece of work.
The DVD from Artsploitation Films does Gandu justice. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image transfer isn't as good as it could be; there are some digital errors in the edges of the black and white scenes, not all the time, but when it's there, it doesn't look good. The contrast is nice, though, for the most part, and the black levels are fairly deep. When the film goes to the color sequence, it is nice and crisp, with good flesh tones and color saturation. The edge issues are apparent but, other than that, it looks pretty nice. The sound is better, despite being a simple stereo mix. The heavily musical film performs very well, with good bass tones and very clear dialog. The music sounds great and there's very good differentiation between the two channels.
For extras, we start with a thirty minute behind-the-scenes featurette that adequately deals with most parts of the production, from how the performances were derived without any real script to the challenges of performing the more explicit scenes to its reception in its home country and abroad. By far, this is the best of the supplements. A shorter two-part featurette shows the group arriving in Berlin for the film festival where the film first gained notice. A 12-page booklet gives essays on the film and an interview with the director, a few music videos, and some trailers round out this very solid disc.
Gandu is a highly interesting and very exciting first feature from Q. The film will certainly not work for everybody, and the explicit sex and drug use will very probably turn off more sensitive viewers. Rarely, though, have I seen a film with such rhythm and intensity, with such an eye to its idiosyncratic style, and with such musically inspired editing. This is one of the most intriguing foreign entries I've seen in some time and, for more than just the censorship issues, Gandu deserves to be seen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Artsploitation Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Bengali, 1)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated