When most of us think of Indian cinema, the first thing that springs to mind are the bright, festive films of typically associated with Bollywood. This is a good starting place to approach Gandu, from renegade director Q, because in most ways it is an anti-Bollywood film, a dark response to that segment of the Indian film industry.
The very title, Gandu, is Hindi slang for asshole, so right out of the gate, the film sets itself up as abrasive and confrontational. In fact the movie is so controversial that it is banned in India. Filmed primarily in gritty black and white, the story is grim, bleak, and hallucinatory, garnering apt comparisons to filmmakers like Gaspar Noe (Enter the Void, Irreversible) and Wong Kar Wai (Chunking Express). Explicitly sexual, the film features multiple instances of non-simulated oral sex, and one extended look at the lead player masturbating as he watches porn.
Gandu (Anubrata Basu) lives in the slums of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) with his mother, getting by lifting bills out of her cheesy lover’s (he wears aviator shades during sex) wallet while they go to town on each other. His existence is haze of drugs, games of chance, hanging out with his Bruce Lee-fixated buddy Rickshaw (Joyraj Bhattacharya), who just happens to drive a rickshaw, freebasing by the train tracks. A slacker and graffiti artist in his spare time, Gandu dreams of becoming a rapper.
Gandu has a definite DIY punk rock feel and aesthetic. Fueled by fast paced rhymes and raw music, his dark dreams of sex, drugs, and fame plays out like a fever dream, and his lyrics are full of anger, angst, and directionless rebellion. He has no hope for the future, no prospects, and the constant pulsing, reckless tunes serve as a narrative device, driving the pace, plot, and film forward.
Just when his life seems to have hit the most hopeless low, things take a drastic turn. Gandu and Rickshaw go on a metaphysical road trip, and after their drug-addled, spiritual journey, Gandu winds the lotto jackpot, records a demo, finally finds a hot girl willing to have sex with him, and starts down the road to fame. The only portion of the film shot in quick blasts of color, all of this may very well be nothing more than another vivid hallucination.
A frenetic velocity and energy infuses every frame of the film. Split screens, frantic edits, and an urgent visual style grabs you and propel you forward into the void with all of the infectious power and force of an adrenaline-filled club anthem. Thematically dense, dealing with identity, morality, sex, drugs, hope, Gandu is dark, pessimistic, and divisive. It’s also a fantastic, fun, frenzied slice of finding hope in a hopeless life.
The DVD by Artsploitation is a worthy package for such a unique, unusual film. First it comes with a well packaged, 12-page booklet. It contains an introduction from Q, as well as a lengthy essay from film critic Travis Crawford, that dives into the meat of the film, including distinguishing Gandu from what is traditionally considered “Bollywood”. Both parties, Q and Crawford, come together for an interview the touches on the origins of the story, the influence of music, what project Q has lined up next, and much more.
A 33-minute documentary takes you behind the scenes of the film in almost every conceivable way. In a series of archival footage and interviews, Q talks about how the story is heavily improvised and sprung forth from a musical collaboration. You follow the cast and crew around the world as they show the film at festivals like the Berlin International Film Festival, and Slamdance in Park City. One especially interesting segment deals with the explicit sexual content in the film, from the mechanics of filming the scenes, to the thematic implications.
Music videos, trailers, additional featurettes, and more round out the more than 58-minutes of extra material on this home release. While Gandu the film is definitely the draw, and the main reason why you should check this out, the bonus features certainly add to the package, and add a great deal to the movie watching experience.