Quite often, in this luscious and luminous love story as I journeyed with Jai and Sahil through a rocky terrain on a pilgrimage of passion and heartbreak (reminded me of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain), I forgot the gender of the two protagonists.
This, I soon gathered, is why this striking study of repression, guilt, passion and self-articulation has been rejected at many LGBT film festivals as being not “gay” enough.
Thank God, at least one filmmaker has shown himself to be courageous enough to stand up and say, “Hey guys, it doesn’t matter if the lovers are both of the same sex. What matters is the love, not the sex.”
Loev is a tender yet brutal, slender yet sturdy road film strewn with clues to the heartbreak that eventually awaits those who dare not love beyond the prescribed boundaries. Writer-director Sudhanshu Saria doesn’t waste time in constructing backstories or deconstructing the complex relationship of his two characters to make their passion more accessible to us.
The narrative unfolds with a disquieting naturalness. The flow of emotions is never outsourced. It is insinuated organically into every scene, so that we are never required to stare with stupefaction or, God forbid, embarrassment, at the same-gender relationship.
Nature in all its rocky-mountain glory, stands a silent witness. We may be awed by the visual majesty. Nature is never in awe of itself. The influence of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, specially in the way the rocky terrain is used to define the theme of forbidden love is palpable. Saria uses the rugged outdoors of Mahableshwar to spotlight the repressed emotions. The aerial shot show deep ravines and chasms in the rocky mountains. Significantly, Sahil jumps effortlessly over them. Jai stops.
The intimate moments never creep up on the two men apologetically. When they kiss, boy, they really kiss. Passion is never unwelcome in the film, even if in one sequence, it turns unbearably ugly. In another one, Shiv Pandit is required to hold his co-star, the late and mourned Druv Ganesh, in what is a theme-defying moment of tenderness and lust. It is a moment of epic sadness and comfort.
There is a disarming lack of artifice and ostentation in the way the two protagonists’ characters are written and played. And thank God, Saria found the perfect actors to play the two parts. Shiv Pandit, one of our most underused young actors whom “Bollywood” hasn’t been able to slot (quite like this film which mercifully doesn’t look towards “Bollywood” for approval) as the Manhattan’s desi hotshot on a weekend in Mahabaleshwar with a charming young uncloseted gay man, is unassuming and credible. Dhruv Ganesh’s eloquent eyes and effortless body-language are unforgettable.
The two protagonists evidently have a shared history which comes undone in unexpected ways as the film unfolds.
Charming, disturbing and sometimes haunting, Loev is that same-sex love story that finally defines homosexuality on screen without resorting to titillating tropes and semi-apologetic back stories. Nor is there any self-congratulations in the way Pandit and Ganesh play the two main parts. They are friends and possibly lovers, full-blooded and restless, impelled by a sense of reckless yet reined-in self-exploration.
The two actors look exceptionally comfortable together projecting their characters’ uncomfortable predicament with persuasion and integrity. There is a third actor Siddharth Menon who plays Alex, a bit of an attention-seeker in a film where tranquility is preferred over ostentation.
There is a provocative ambivalence to their relationship. And a key rape sequence (echoing Heath Ledger’s assault of the half-heartedly protesting Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain) raises some very disturbing questions on consent, passion and guilt.
Shiv Pandit and Dhruv Ganesh have surrendered to their roles with a lack of bravado that this film constantly demands from its actors.
We cineastes are always searching probing and looking for relevances that perhaps do not always exist in the cinematic experience. Here is a film that tells us, it’s okay to look beyond the obvious because that’s what the characters are doing all the time.
This film not only re-defines love and passion in the context of the Indian reality, it is a new beginning for cinema on unconstitutional love in India.
(The love of Lata Mangeshkar’s voice and Hindi movies – in that order – has propelled Subhash K Jha to the pursuit of journalism for over 30 years.)