Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

The disaffection of youth may be utterly commonplace as a theme of independent cinema, but Gandu (or Asshole) is still nothing short of revolutionary in its Indian context. For a start there is that title – a Hindi term of abuse frequently used in informal settings, but excluded from any kind of polite or even family conversation in Bengali, ensuring that the mere mention of the film by name is already going to cause a stir.

And in a culture where until relatively recently even on-screen kissing was considered edgy, Gandu depicts masturbation, fellatio and intercourse in a manner graphically hardcore enough to get not just Indian conservatives but even British tabloids very hot under the collar. Throw in the use of hard drugs, and even hints at the taboos of incest and homosexuality, and you have a film that represents a transgressive broadside against every value held dear in Bollywood.

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In Howrah, West Bengal, an unnamed and unemployed young man (played by Anubrata) both owns, and more than lives up to, his soubriquet Gandu. Displaying a discontent more in keeping with his age than his actual circumstances, Gandu hates the well-appointed middle-class apartment in which he lives rent-free with his mother (Kamalika), and ungraciously despises her for regularly sleeping with the local entrepreneur (Shilajit) who pays all their bills. Channeling all his rage and vitriol into rapping (presented as aggressive one-man music videos), feckless Gandu wastes away his time playing violent computer games, wanking to on-line porn, smoking weed and dreaming of superstardom – all the while complaining of his 'fucked-up life' to anyone who will listen.

Lately Gandu's best audience has been Ricksha (Joyraj), a laid back, Bruce Lee- worshipping rickshaw cyclist into whose life the would-be DJ literally came crashing. As this odd couple drifts from marijuana to heroin, they go on a long trip together in which Gandu meets his maker – or at least his director – and sees all his dreams (winning the lottery, having actual sex, finding fame as a musician, severing his family ties) come true.

But is any of this real, or is it all just the last-gasp fantasy of an asshole rapidly losing his grip on life? Let's just say that while the designation of this film in its opening title as 'An Overdose Joint' may evoke the movies (or 'joints') of Spike Lee, it also hints at one possible explanation of what is really going on in the hallucinatory final third.

For if the film begins with a fly-on-the-wall naturalism, and is regularly punctuated by split-screen vox pops (on the meaning of the word 'gandu', rap and pornography) as though a documentary, by the end it has become a more abstract, illusory affair, with the protagonist's dreams and nightmares intruding upon reality in disorienting fashion. The married woman (Rii) who regularly sits beside Gandu in an Internet cafe while skyping her husband becomes in the young man's drug- addled imagination both a vampiric incarnation of the goddess Kali, and a gaudy hooker right out of a porn-fuelled fantasy – and while all three of these women are played by the same actress, at the moment of penetration the hooker is in turn transformed briefly into Gandu's own mother, much to his horror.

It is a strange, Freudian presentation of male desire unable to transcend experiences limited to a dysfunctional home life and the cyber world – which is to say that, for all its unblinking explicitness, Gandu's sex scene is too self-consciously artificial, and too subversively probing, to qualify as the kind of titillating erotica it so skilfully apes. This is the Kama Sutra rewritten for a new age of repression and alienation.

Ad-man and occasional filmmaker (the Bengali feature Bishh, the documentary Love In India) Qaushiq Mukherjee directs, DPs, co-writes and co-edits under the name Q, even if he also appears in a paradoxical cameo as a director named Kaushik ("he makes films and smokes a lot of hash") working on a new project named Gandu. Shooting in elegantly crisp black-and-white (save for one luridly coloured sex scene), Q makes evident his impressively eclectic influences: not just the early films of Spike Lee, but also Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish, Harmony Korine's Kids and Gummo, Darren Aronofsky's Pi and Requiem For A Dream, and Anton Corbijn's Control.

The film is not without its problems. Though crucial to the narrative, Ricksha is also desperately underwritten, and his 'quirky' martial arts obsession makes a poor substitute for the sort of real, rounded character whose company it might be more interesting to keep. Nonetheless, Gandu is a vibrant provocation, aimed at showing a side of Bengali life that has never been seen, while all at once mimicking and mocking the punkish rebel spirit of its cause-less protagonist, lost in his own 'complete head fuck'.

Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2011
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A young, Bengali, wannabe rapper slides into drugs and porn to escape reality and discover his dream.
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Director: Qaushiq Mukherjee

Writer: Kaushik Mukherjee, Surojit Sen

Starring: Anurata Basu, Joyraj Bhattacharya, Rituparna Sen, Shilajit Majumder

Year: 2010

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: India


London 2011

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