In India, where same-sex love is still a taboo (and sex is illegal), uttering the word “love” is a challenge, but “loev” signals there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Director of Photography:
Running time: 90 minutes
If there is one abiding image that is familiar to and may even represent most gay men – especially those who grew up or were ever in an environment that was less than accepting of their sexuality – it is two people awkwardly squeezed onto a single bed. Whether it is at home, where the parents assume their son is sharing a room with a friend, or at a hotel, where out of embarrassment or fear no booking was made for a double bed, the desire to hold each other easily but uncomfortably overrides the physical restrictions of the single bed.
Homosexuality is not only taboo but also illegal in India, where an infamous 2013 decision by the country’s supreme court found the Penal Code’s section on “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” did in fact include sex between two individuals of the same sex (technically, men). This fact makes the production of Loev, an Indian film about men who have sex with men, utterly remarkable. Not only does the film’s creation constitute a courageous act on the part of writer-director-producer Sudhanshu Saria, but it is also a very accomplished film in its own right that sidesteps many of the traps into which many so-called pink films from the other side of the world often fall. It also includes that beautiful, recognisable image mentioned above.
In the film’s opening scene, we find Sahil, a 20-something musician from Mumbai, all alone in his apartment. It is pitch black, and as his face is illuminated by the candle he lights, we see he is not impressed. It is nearly 40 degrees, there is no air conditioning because the power is out, and he is in a rush to pack for a weekend trip. His boyfriend Alex arrives and admits that he forgot to pay the electricity bill, but Sahil tells him he had also left the gas running. The mood would be tense if it wasn’t for Alex’s carefree attitude, which is nonetheless rooted in an understanding of his boyfriend’s emotional state. He takes Sahil to the airport, but not before we see him trying unsuccessfully to put his arm around his shoulder.
This moment in the car when Sahil pushes his boyfriend away is key to the film, as it not only underlines his anger but also hints at his feeling of shame when it comes to being intimate with his boyfriend in public. His old friend, Jai, who has become a workaholic businessman in New York City, returns to Mumbai for a short visit, and the two head off to the idyllic countryside of the misty Mahabaleshwar, a night’s drive south of the teeming metropolis.
What makes the interaction between Jai and Sahil so compelling and contributes to the film’s serious treatment of its characters is Jai’s attitude towards his friend. There is no tension or judgement. Jai talks to Sahil about Alexander the same way he would have if his friend had been in a relationship with a woman. The underlying assumption of normalcy distinguishes the film’s approach from the traditional anxiety that tends to accompany gay films, even in more accepting countries. At the same time, however, director Sudhanshu Saria does not ignore the lingering disapproval of homosexuality, especially in the countryside, although such moments are fortunately used for context, not to create some contrived moment of drama.
Loev‘s many long takes (the camera is very mobile but lets the scenes breathe thanks to extended silences) emphasise the real-world setting of the story and are further proof of the director’s talent as a filmmaker. It bears mentioning that this is his début feature film.
The film’s title is equivalent to the U.S. expression “lurve” and allows the speaker to suggest “love” without saying the word. “Love” is a difficult word to say for those who fear the consequences of such a declaration. Men in particular tend to avoid the word, even when their feelings are clearly within the orbit of the definition, and that is certainly the case for Sahil, whose relationship with Alexander is unmistakably filled with compassion and patience even though he refuses to call it by its rightful name.
The final scenes are riveting and reveal a great deal about all three of the main characters. The film comes to a very satisfying conclusion without sugar-coating or glossing over the problems that remain or throwing open the closet door to expose all the secrets hidden inside.
Loev is a timely film that, far from seeking to understand the status of gay men in India, treats them as any other group of individuals with the same problems and desires as anyone else. This approach of normalising their identity is crucial in a country that still struggles to accept people who do not fit the perceived status quo, and in so doing, the film, focused primarily on the tension between a friendship and a relationship, marks an important milestone in the depiction of characters who also happen to be gay.
Viewed at the Black Nights Film Festival 2015