Dec 16, 2013

Gandu




It seems with the culture-distorting and deracinating power of globalization and Americanization, India has finally caught up to the late-1960s American cinema underground, at least if one were to judge solely by the independent ‘anti-Bollywood rap musical’ Gandu (2010) aka Asshole directed by controversial Bengali auteur ‘Q’ aka Qaushiq Mukherjee (Love in India, Tasher Desh). Paraded around the world, including Yale University, the 2010 South Asian International Film Festival in New York City, and the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival, among various other places, as a revolutionary work due to its innately transgressive and subversive nature as a rare Indian film that features unsimulated sex, hardcore drug use, raunchy anti-social rap music, and various other forms of ‘western’ post-counter-culture cosmopolitan liberal degeneracy, Gandu is an intentionally juvenile work with a potent punk rock spirit about a young loser Bengali graffiti ‘artist’ and amateur rapper who lives in the trash-ridden and poverty-stricken bowels of Kolkata. Like any pretentious auteur, Mr. Q opted for shooting most of Gandu in black-and-white film stock (though he actually used a high-definition Canon EOS 7D Single-lens reflex camera), which admittedly gives the film a more gritty and timeless feel, but also makes it rather reek of deluded self-importance. In a September 2012 interview with Travis Carwford for Artsploitation films, director Q described his reasons for directing the film as follows: “GANDU was born out of a hunger that became a challenge, to make a film without the boundaries of morality that my society has built around us. To be able to go back to the basics, and make the film without virtually any support system barring my immediate resources. The idea of working on a rapper’s story was on my mind for some time, and also the image of a rickshawala. I wanted to make a punk film – pungent, noisy, and dirty, something that is prohibited in Indian society.” And, indeed, Q was not lying as the film was not only shot on a miniscule budget with only eight crew members and no official script, but Gandu was also banned in India, thus demonstrating that Indian cinema has come a long way since Jean Renoir directed The River (1951) aka Le Fleuve and helped launch the careers of both Indian auteur Satyajit Ray and his cinematographer Subrata Mitra. Indeed, with its lack of narrative structure/plot, decidedly degenerate social outcast protagonist and equally debased supporting characters, Cinéma vérité-like interviews with real-life folks, pointless Chelsea Girls-esque split-screen scenes, patently pessimistic depiction of capitalist urban life, and less than puritanical portrayal of sex (and mostly decadent/dysfunctional sex at that), Gandu is—for better or worse—the first anti-Hollywood/anti-Bollywood Warholian Indian flick, thus making it a truly revolutionary work worthy of cinephile attention.




Gandu aka Asshole (Anubrata Basu) is an asshole born from a loser lineage of perennial assholes (or so his enemies say) as the bastard son of a busy Bengali whore who merely wanders around his superlatively shitty city all day and starts all sorts of nihilistic ruckus, essentially acting like a social retard for social retard’s sake. To financially support himself and and not starve to death, Gandu steals money from his overweight mother Kamalika’s (Kamalika Banerjee) boyfriend Dasbabu (Shilajeet Majumdar) while the two lurid love turds are having radically repellant sex. According to Gandu, “An asshole life is a fucking asshole life,” and to keep himself semi-sane and cope with the patently pathetic nature of his gutter-bound existence, the young Bengali bastard composes a crappy musical cocktail of punk/rap with juvenile lyrics like, “In a dark corner of your room I lurk. You feel love I feel like puking. Your sins burn you, You sit up. Petrified of losing your youth. Some fuck will run away with it. I’ve seen a lot of swines around. I sit and think in the dark corner of your room. When will the mask FALL OFF YOUR FACE?”. Indeed, Gandu is no Nietzsche, nor even a Tupac, but his angst is authentic and his art and dreams all that he has and thus he uses them to fill the gaping void in his sub-proletarian soul. One day, Gandu is walking around like a jackass and bumps into a fellow dreamer and Bruce Lee-wannabe named Ricksha (Joyraj Bhattacharya) who smacks him around like a little bitch for getting in his way and having an arrogant attitude. Gandu must be a majorly masochistic fellow because he has a dream that night about being buggered by Ricksha and the two become best friends in a mostly platonic fashion shortly thereafter. Among other things, the two chaps rap for impoverished child audiences in seemingly war-torn ghettos, smoke heroin, watch pornography, and buy bootleg Bruce Lee VCDs from China. Eventually, Gandu is caught stealing and watching his mother screwing her boyfriend, so he and Ricksha smoke some heroin and hit the road and go on a sort of drug-induced spiritual pilgrimage where they are given a strange drug by a Sadhu and a poet tells the rapper he is the star hero of a film (thus comprising a rather bizarre film-within-a-film sequence). Not long after, Gandu magically wins the ’50,000 jackpot’ in the local lottery and goes to find a “nice girl to fuck” aka a prostitute (portrayed Rii Sen, who plays two other female roles in the film, including the Goddess Kali), which he does in the sole color scene featured in Gandu. After gaining carnal knowledge from the amorous ‘Angel,’ Gandu decides to record a five-song rap demo as he dreams of one day getting a “Red Carpet welcome on the Streets of New York.” With the Goddess Kali teasing and molesting him in the dark, Gandu somehow rises from the Bengali rubble and rabble and becomes a big rap/punk star; or does he?!? Indeed, in the drug-and-delusion-addled world of Gandu, nothing is as it seems.





Featuring a culturally mongrelized Bengali rap-punk soundtrack, unsimulated scenes of little Bengali boys busting little loads and a fully unclad Goddess Kali playing with young boys, and an all-around westernized take of urban Bengali living, Gandu has the grand distinction of being the most degenerate Indian film ever made, but, of course, that was auteur Q’s goal. Of course, Gandu also stands out in that it is a Bengali film as opposed to Hindi flick, which director Q put in perspective when he stated in an interview, “India has hundreds of cultures, languages, religions, and philosophies. Every region, or state, has its unique history and a strong sense of identity. Hindi is technically our national language, and has northwestern Indian origins. Bengal is in the east, and has a very different approach to life. Currently, under the umbrella of India, the homogenization process has made urban life fairly similar, but the basic differences exist. It would be politically incorrect to begin this subject of difference in our cultures, because I will vehemently proclaim the Bengali culture to be the best in the world, full of ancient insight and pagan values, modern intellectual abilities and a desire to be strikingly different from anyone else, but then, I am a Bengali.” Indeed, despite its anarchistic, anti-social, and iconoclastic essence, Gandu has an unmistakable ‘Bengali völkisch’ feel that seems to betray its overall ‘message.’ Indeed, as someone who has been to enough punk concerts and has seen enough erotic flicks to have nil interest in seeing such things appear in a bastardized form in an Indian film, I think that Gandu’s most potent and preternatural qualities lie in its dark mysticism and surrealist imagery, especially in regard to those scenes featuring Kali. Oftentimes compared to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) and the films of Gaspar Noé, Gandu certainly does seem like a less violent Bengali take on I Stand Alone (1998), albeit with a more spiritual and, in turn, conflicted, view of the rotten third world urban hellhole it portrays. Whether looked at as a piece of locally-directed Bengali ‘poverty-porn,’ culturally-mongrelized punk-rap musical, Indian arthouse flick, a postmodern Indian response to Hesse’s Siddhartha, and/or a revolutionary landmark in Indian cinema, it would be simply xenophiliac puffery to describe Gandu as a ‘masterpiece’ in any sense of the word, yet it has at least inspired me to keep an eye on the future of Indian cinema, which is no small accomplishment. 



-Ty E

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