(Gandu is now available on DVD through Artsploitation Films. It previously screened at the 2011 Slamdance Film Festival and in the Panorama section of the Berlinale. Visit the film’s Facebook page to learn more.)
At the special Slamdance screening that was added to accommodate overwhelming demand, Indian director Q said his intention was simply “to fuck up your mind.” Inspired by both the visual energy of Gaspar Noe and the sexual energy of Lars von Trier’s The Idiots, Gandu displays a visual and aural energy that is rarely seen in indie film.
Gandu translates as “Asshole,” and that is the name of the young skinhead who lives with his sister in a big apartment. She has a regular visitor who seems to pay her for sex. While they are fucking, Gandu sneaks into her room and takes cash out of the man’s pants. Gandu writes punk rock/rap lyrics and screams them at the camera while the lyrics bounce off the corners of the frame. Displaying a modern graphic sensibility as well as a strange Bollywood musical panache combined with genuine feral anger, Gandu becomes a compelling character in his search for his place in a world that could care less what he did with himself.
But what really elevates Gandu beyond the typical angry-man-against-the-world film is that we enter into Gandu’s interior world, beyond his public displays of anger. We spend time with him when he is alone in his bedroom, writing lyrics and dancing. We see him crawling back to his room in shame when his sister catches him under her bed as she has sex. We are with him when a young rickshaw driver knocks him over in the street. Gandu stands up to him, in puffed up angry skinhead mode, but then the thin young rickshaw driver slaps him quickly in the face, Gandu doesn’t respond, the driver slaps him again, still no response, the driver walks off smirking. We then follow Gandu for a few days as he stews in his own anger, stalking the driver from a distance, who, between fares, practices Kung Fu moves. One night Gandu wakes up in a sweat after having a dream in which he and the driver are naked in bed together. The next day Gandu asks for a ride and they become friends.
At an internet café, Gandu listens over the shoulder of a girl who carries on a loud conversation with her distant lover. It becomes clear that Gandu’s anger is also motivated by sexual frustration, loneliness, and unemployment. The fact that we gain all of this interior identification with a character without resorting to any direct talk about those feelings is amazing.
The film bounces visually with a visual, musical energy that matches Gandu’s head-splitting angst. In Bollywood style, he breaks into song, directly addressing the camera when the mood or story demands it; we are with him when he and the driver get high by the train tracks and drift off into a song; we are bouncing off the walls with him when he is mocked by other people in the street as he listens to his headphones. The film changes tone as Gandu’s moods change. At one point, it also drops into a self-reflexive scene in which the Driver explains to Gandu that his songs have made him a star and that now they are making a film of his life. Q appears with another camera and both reverse angles reveal the cameras and crew. It’s a strange scene but one that fits into the film’s overall manic energy.
The literal climax of the film descends into saturated color with an extended sex scene that is utterly captivating and erotic. It involves a big bowl of milk and a woman playing the role of a kitten, one of the many erotic Shiva gods. What is so explosive though is not only that there is full frontal nudity but that there is a fully erect penis, and the actors have actual sex. Gandu explained in the Q&A that the actors were good friends and they really went at it, in the spirit of their favorite extreme films, such as The Idiots.
Q explained that this type of film is utterly taboo in India. Not only because of the overt sexuality, but because of the language and overt radical energy. Such visual displays of anger and defiance are very scary for most Indians, though common for angry young Brits in London. In smaller Indian cities, such public behavior is unprecedented.
Gandu is a film that most likely will become one of the first full-on low-budget true international indie film hits. It will probably get there not through traditional distribution paths, due to the sex, but via the internet. Already there is massive viral buzz on the film.
In true Slamdance tradition, once again, they have introduced America to a new type of popular low-budget indie. Gandu will next screen in the Panorama section of the Berlinale and I predict it will be unleashed on the world after that in simultaneous multiple formats.
— Mike S. Ryan