The first gay kiss in Bollywood happened just six years ago in the movie Dunno Y (Sanjay Sharma), a year after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India. Sadly, the country has now moved backwards and two years ago it recriminalised gay sex. This makes the graphic content of LOEV, which includes a gay kiss and violence, very subversive for current Indian laws and standards.
This is a very unusual Bollywood movie, not just for its audacious content, but also for its narrative and format. The film shuns easy entertainment devices in favour of much more complex personal and social reflections. Also, the film has very little music, which is also memorable for a movie made in Mumbai.
The film – which was partly made in secrecy under the false description of “a movie about friendship” – shows aspiring musician Sahil (Dhruv Ganesh) living with his careless and feckless boyfriend Alex (Siddharth Menon). He forgot to pay the electricity bill and also left the gas on, risking an explosion in the small and dark flat Mumbai where they dwell. Sahil then sets off in order to spend two days with his old friend Jai (Shiv Pandit), a handsome and successful businessman now living in the US. It turns out that this “friendship” with Jai is very colourful and sexual: they travel together to the countryside and the mountains in order to enjoy an intimate and romantic time together.
There is a lot of tension and buildup towards the gay kiss between Sahil and Jai, and apparently most of the crew did not know about it until it materialised towards the end of the movie. In addition to the gay kiss, this sequence also includes some nudity and a very unexpected twist of violence, and it is sure to shock unaware audiences in India.
LOEV has a beautiful cinematography, with good use of natural light, candles and darkness. This gloomy atmosphere is suitable for a country that chose to marginalise its gay community. There are also many conversational takes inside a moving car – a device very common in Iranian cinema -, thus allowing audiences to understand the emotional complexity of the characters as well as to enjoy the external landscapes. The acting is also touching and convincing, and the first-time director finds a good balance between conversation and silence.
There are, however, a few odd elements in the film. Alex is fully aware of the relationship between his boyfriend and Jai, and they all even enjoy dinner together. It is never clear whay drives such degree of acceptance and complicity: is it money, is a believe in free love and polyamorous relationships or is it plain disregard? In the end of the movie, Alex asks his boyfriend Sahil whether he is in “loev” with Jai, suggesting that the relationship is neither love nor friendship. Perhaps “loev” is “the love that dare not speak its name”, as in the phrase famously mentioned Oscar Wilde’s trial. Or perhaps it’s something else. This is not clear.
Nevertheless, LOEV is a mighty and gripping movie showing the complexity of homosexual relations, as well as exploring their personal social connotations and implication. It is a remarkable achievement for a first-time director with a very limited budget and in a country with strict censorship and homophobic laws.
LOEV was shown in BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival in 2016, when this piece was originally written. It has now been made available for viewing on Netflix – just click here for more information.
The film is dedicated to the lead actor Dhruv Ganesh, who died of tuberculosis shortly after the film was completed.
Watch the film trailer below: