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FIRST PERSON: Sudhanshu Saria on Bringing His First Feature ‘Loev’ To The Screen

FIRST PERSON: Sudhanshu Saria on Bringing His First Feature 'Loev' To The Screen

Everyone
wants unique. But when faced with something that doesn’t quite fit into
an expectation, people don’t quite know what to do with it.

I’ve
just finished my first feature film “Loev” in Mumbai, India as a
writer/director and am in Tallinn, Estonia for the film’s world premiere
at the Black Nights Film Festival. It’s playing in the Tridens First
Features competition here.

Six
hours ago, I was sitting in a 15th century tavern in old town Tallinn
drinking mulled wine with my sales agent. Loic is a Frenchman who
founded and runs Wide Management. He saw the film at a rough cut stage,
“got it” and picked it up right before Cannes this year for his company
to sell. Now between sips of wine, he was sharing some of the feedback
with me. Not so good. 

This
film I’ve made is a nuanced, mature sort of story about a complicated
love. It’s about that awkward layer in friendships where both parties
aren’t quite in sync with what they want from each other. And the two
characters happen to be men. In India. Where sodomy was very recently
criminalized and made punishable by life imprisonment.

So
it’s not a gay film with shower scenes and nubile twinks or someone
coming out to someone else and killing themselves for it. And it’s not
an Indian film with naked kids running around the slums or women getting
tortured. And it’s not a typical romance with swooning music and the
usual frustrations that always get solved by the airport scene when the
lovers unite. I’d like to think it’s unique. And therein lies the
problem.

Maybe
we should re-cut it, my agent suggests. Maybe we introduce more
romance? Or make it more edgy, go after the art-house? Make that one
scene more brutal? We take another sip. We take this sip because we both
love the movie. I know he loves it because he had a long, passionate
phone call with me where he described these very features of the movie
as being its greatest strength. Like me, he too was sick of the cliches
of both these genres. He was excited to find this romantic film that
happened to feature two men in India that wasn’t just a gay or Indian
movie.

He
knew what he was asking me to do and I could see that it was killing
him. Neither of us were able to understand why this was happening. Maybe
the distributors wouldn’t go nuts for our film but we were quite
certain about the festivals. I remembered being in production and being
quite excited about being able to present India in a new light —
characters driving BMWs and staying at the Four Seasons, grappling with
feelings instead of stealing food or wiping the snot off their noses. I
was excited to contribute a different film to gay cinema where the
characters were allowed the dignity of grappling with the same sort of
heartache that straight characters experience on screen. But the
festivals hadn’t been jumping either. Here’s what one very prestigious
festival head said, “This story can take place in Boston or Budapest or
even Berlin, so how is this Indian?” I remember sitting across the table
wondering if the Indian-ness of my film was being questioned by the
European man.

Until
Tallinn called. Sometime in July, I got a passionate letter from their
programmer waxing poetic about the film and how much they wanted it. The
words gay or India were never mentioned. To him, it was just a movie. I
remember reading it three times to make sure I hadn’t missed that.
Obviously we said yes. Maybe the tide was turning. Maybe this push is
what we needed. Maybe we weren’t crazy.

Now
months later, in the old tavern, Loic and me were questioning that
momentary respite. Maybe we should cut it. In two hours, we would walk
over to the very first screening of the film. I wanted to drink wine
because I wanted to get that rational part of my brain drunk. I just
wanted to focus on this Estonian audience that had paid good money and
picked my film over the ten others playing that time slot and made time
for our film. For the next four hours, I wanted to indulge myself.

The
film ended. I walked inside for the Q+A with my programmer Maria.
Couple of people left, most stayed. My team joined me on stage and we
started. But we didn’t get very far. One of the other actors in the film
had passed away earlier in the year from tuberculosis. I was talking to
the audience about this, and I got a little emotional. When I looked
up, the audience was choked up too. Maria wanted to continue but she
couldn’t. The air in the room was charged, the emotions were running
high. She offered to cancel the Q+A and instead just let everyone be
present in the moment. People started to stand up. I didn’t quite know
what to make of it but they were honoring the performances, these
characters and their journey.

Gradually,
my actor, producers and I went outside and stood in the hallway to
thank people for coming as person after person came to hug us, thank us,
moist eyes and all. It was overwhelming. I hope every filmmaker gets
the audience I got that night.

This Article is related to: Features