SXSW Film Review – Loev
Loev, the first feature from writer-director Sudhanshu Saria, is at its most beautiful and heartbreaking when it focuses on what is said when the characters aren’t speaking, and what is avoided when they do. This is a film about love between two people who can not show it openly in their country, India, because it is a crime punishable by life imprisonment. It is about what is shown and told and heard and felt between friends, and the unfamiliar among those we know best, and not knowing what you exactly want.
As gay men living in Mumbai, Sahil (Dhruv Ganesh) and Alex (Siddharth Menon) must structure their behavior carefully. Alex is more carefree but also more irresponsible than Sahil, forgetting to pay the electricity bill in their tiny flat and leaving the gas on before leaving for the day. In the opening scene, Sahil irons his shirt in the dark bedroom by candlelight, furious as to the danger they were both in. Alex laughs it off as a foolhardy mistake and promises to be better, though the reactions of both men to this statement makes it clear neither believe it will happen. Outside the tiny room is the constant din of the street, making their world even more insular and strained.
Sahil, a burgeoning music producer, is about to reconnect with an old friend for a few days, and seems relieved to be free of babysitting the impish Alex for a while. As the men ride in the car on the way to the airport, they remain close, though Alex instigates most of the tender touching and glances. Sahil is restrained, watchful, and still frustrated both the recklessness and impenetrability of his boyfriend.
Jai (Shiv Pandit) has arrived in Mumbai on a business trip from New York City where he now lives. He dresses and grooms well and rents a BMW for his friend to drive, but he’s not on Mumbai (or Sahil) time yet, as his phone is permanently attached to his ear. He and Sahil know each other well enough to direct each other through body language and hand signals; when Jai isn’t taking a business call, they catch up on their jobs and family obligations.
This small getaway is a big deal after cancellations and buried plans, and the resort at Mahabaleshwar in the Western Ghats, with its gorgeous views of the hazy sunrises giving way to early-morning fog cascading down the mountainsides, offers a seclusion that can either be freeing or inhibitive. Soon, Sahil becomes the more jovial one, playfully pecking at Jai’s Western restraint and carriage. Jai wants Sahil to recognize and release the musical talent in himself that he looks for in others – indeed, the songs Sahil plays on the car stereo and with a guitar in a marketplace are about nature and truth and setting the heart free, and Jai hears this, too.
“I’m melting in your heart as we speak.” Words are spoken sarcastically; gazes and touches are more honest, more cautious, more prolonged. Conversations about family pressure, especially concerning mothers, brings their faraway lives a bit closer. The pressure to be a dutiful son, to protect and provide for the family, are shown in conversations Jai has on the phone with relatives in New York and the truths he shares with Sahil, because Sahil sees this, too.
Gestures and advances are initiated, then halted, in a frustrating push-and-pull that reaches beyond two friends who aren’t sure whether to take their relationship to the next level. They are feeling Mumbai, New York, distance, culture, the spirituality of the land…all these invisible cushions between them. As they traverse the paths and cliffs of the mountains, Sahil seems to be nourished by the outdoors, while Jai grows more withdrawn. He wants Sahil to feel what he is thinking before he has to say it, and the rift between them grows broader and deeper.
The scene at the hotel room back in Mumbai rips everything, from the film’s tone to its pacing, apart in a gut-wrenching mix of desecration and heartbreak, as if rending a relationship to pieces might possibly allow something new to rise from the debris. One character reemerges as the constant, as frustrating as that may be, while others revert to their previous personas, only this time their behaviors are more calculated and self-aware.
This film had to be shot in secrecy due to its subject matter and you can feel the shroud over the production in the outdoor scenes, at once majestic in scope and sombre in the limits imposed on the characters to act freely. Tragically, actor Dhruv Ganesh died as the film was in post-production, making his performance as Sahil – all edges and extremes and beauty and light – even more desperate for the happiness of which he continues to sing, even as others might not choose to hear.