Is Q India's most dangerous filmmaker?
The letter Q. By its very nature, a difficult one. It doesn’t play nice with too many vowels and can become the bane of a Scrabble player trying to clear his tile rack. So it should be no surprise that the filmmaker who adopted the letter as his sole identifier is making cinema that is not easy to pigeon-hole.
Forget pegging his work as "edgy," like "Kaminey" and "Lafangey Parindey." The titles and contents of those films are child’s play compared to the eye-popping 87 minutes that are Q’s feature film "Gandu" -- a story of disaffected youth spiced with petty crime, angry rap music and explicit sex.
After five sold-out screenings at the 61st Berlinale this February, and an equally triumphant showing at the Slamdance festival in Utah before that, Q has been invited to more than 30 international film festivals to screen "Gandu," which translates in its politest sense as "loser."
The film has also picked up an international sales agent after being screened at the European Film Market, which runs concurrently with the Berlinale, and they are close to wrapping up negotiations to sell the film to five international territories.
As if all this excitement is not enough, the band that features in the movie has been invited to perform a European tour that includes confirmed gigs in Romania, Poland and Germany.
All of this has been achieved without any major consideration to opening the film -- which features full-frontal nudity and extended sex scenes -- in India, its home country.
A French cultural magazine, Les Inrocks, calls the film "anti-Bollywood par excellence."
How did all this come to pass?
In Q’s own words, the film was born “from a sense of despair. It arrived in the form of words, out of anger, and a sense of desperation and hopelessness. That is exactly how one feels if the desire is to tell stories, unhinged and unashamed, for that’s how stories should be told.”
Q is not of the belief that a filmmaker is solely an entertainer. To his mind, film is a complex art form, and its use cannot be restricted to providing frivolity.
Or as he puts it, “the undeniable oppression of mainstream candy floss culture, and the monopoly of middlemen only looking at profit has robbed us altogether from the power of truth in cinema. I really wanted to address this issue, and instead of ranting and wallowing, I decided to simply make a film that could possibly be defiled and denounced, but not ignored."
"Having said that, 'Gandu' was made out of pure love for the kind of cinema I love: the post-modern experiment that is taking over the world,” Q says.
While he has several stories he wants to tell, Q figured out that a character study would be most achievable with the resources he had at his disposal. The minimalist nature of the content made it possible for the team to manage resources and come up with a film that looked and felt international.
He did not want the limitations to impinge on the scope of the film.
So he felt that the story of "Gandu," inspired and informed by real events and real characters, lent itself to a visual and aural experience that would resonate with our reality.
The film was completed in a little over four months, with pooled resources (instead of an extensive fund-raising exercise), beginning with three weeks for making the music, four days of actual recording, 20 days of shooting and two months of editing.
The film was shot on the Canon 7D, a second generation high definition digital single-lens reflex camera.
To Q, this camera “is a revolution. I feel very strongly about the 7D, to the extent that it bothers me sometimes. The sad bit is that Canon should be supporting these experiments much more, but they are not."
"At least they did a kick-ass job of making the camera," he continues. "I feel somehow that the 7D, while it’s not a full-frame camera, somehow manages to capture the moving image far better than the 5D. The effect when it’s projected on the big screen is phenomenal. I think that this camera marks the end of cinema’s classic period.”
An opportunity for change
Q claims to have spared nary a thought for the repercussions of making such a film.
He believes that years of censorship and morality-policing in Indian entertainment have created a very serious problem in the minds of artists here.
“We have a self-censorship mechanism that clicks in the moment we embark on a project -- I am talking of the sensibilities of the Indian filmmaker here, and I daresay there’s not anyone out there who will have the balls to say what they really want to say, or have a character speak in the language that the filmmaker speaks while shooting the film," he says.
"Abuse, fantasy and darkness are inherent qualities of any person, but the depictions of these issues have always been frowned upon by society. So our dichotomy is manifested in our cinema. Of course, shock is a tool that is used in 'Gandu,' as is obvious from the title of the film. But the element of shock is nothing new in the world cinema space."
So there you have it. A filmmaker named Q has managed to make global audiences sit up and take notice of a little Bengali film shot in high contrast black-and-white.
Even as negotiations continue apace for the release of "Gandu" as well as the funding of Q’s next film, he is simultaneously producing a documentary on the production of India’s first art biennale, directing a feature-length documentary called "Sari" (to be completed by the middle of 2012) and working on a couple of fiction projects, one of which has been in development for 10 years.
Since funding is not yet in place, Q is reluctant to discuss this long-term project too much.
Gentle prodding did get him to reveal that it would be shot on the Arri Alexa camera in Bengal and Sri Lanka and would be a completely different film from "Gandu."
How dangerous does all this make Q as a filmmaker? Very, is your answer.
Simply because it appears that Q -- whose real name is Kaushik Mukherjee -- might be the first to prove that it is possible to make profitable movies while operating entirely outside the confines of the film industry.
The moment that idea makes its way into the larger world of aspiring filmmakers it could finally deliver a shake-up in Indian cinema that feels overdue by at least a decade.
For that to happen, those parties interested in distributing "Gandu" in their native markets need to pay up the euros, pounds or dollars.