• Ben Turner

Loev **

Starring: Shiv Pandit, Dhruv Ganesh, Siddharth Menon, Rishabh Chaddah Director: Sudhanshu Saria New to UK Netflix this week is the Indian indie drama Loev. Back in 2003, the Indian short film The Pink Mirror caused enormous controversy in its homeland for its depiction of both gay and transgender people on screen. Eleven years later, Loev still had to be made in secret, without even the crew knowing the full extent of its plot in order for it to be made without opposition. Now, the two films are both on Netflix and while their content and filmic quality are vastly different from one another, the contexts in which they were made were not, with laws still in place that discriminate against and, in some cases, persecute LGBT people. Considering its clandestine shoot, the film has markedly modern and slick feel to it. It follows Jai (Pandit), who meets Sahil (Ganesh), an ex-flame visiting from New York, for a weekend. Having previously argued with his fickle boyfriend (Menon), Jai finds himself greatly attracted to the now westernised Sahil, but finds his obsession with his emails and work schedule frustrating. But as the two explore the countryside together, Jai begins to realise that despite his life in America, Sahil is the one least comfortable with his sexuality. What looks initially to be a burgeoning romance soon morphs into something much more complicated as the two struggle to reconcile their feelings in themselves and toward each other. Based in part on director Saria's own experiences, it's is very clear the influence his time in America has had on both the content and style of his cinema. Greatly resembling the mumblecore style du jour currently prevalent in indie cinema, the camera switches between long static takes and sweeping vistas, with jump cuts mid-sentence and extreme close-ups on Pandit's doe eyes. While this is interesting stylistically, it doesn't distract from the fact its content is actually pretty dull. And even when it makes big U-turns in its plot (there's a violent sequence that seems entirely from a different movie), it drags its feet, with long and laboured scenes that don't contain the tension to make watching it worth anyone's while. Essentially, this is style over substance jumbled into a big messy pile of contradictions. It wants to show stark realism, but stumbles into the realms of melodrama. It wants to give social commentary, but actually has a questionable and jumbled message itself. Admirable though the filmmakers are in their intention to depict such a taboo subject in their home country, it would need a much more singular vision for this small-scale film to make the point the director clearly intended. As indie and/or LGBT cinema goes, this is pretty average fayre. Pandit and Ganesh anchor this film with a pair of strong performances. Pandit especially, whose character is self-assured and well developed, is a good example of how LGBT people can live happy lives within an oppressively homophobic culture. Ganesh, who is playing against type from his usual action-hero persona, makes for good contrast, whose sparkle and charisma masks something much darker. The film only features four speaking roles and while the two leads are very capable, it relies too much on their chemistry to fill the frame when not enough effort has been taken in exploring their character. The film picks up pace once the other characters eventually appear, but it takes a long time coming, by which point even the most persistent viewer's interest will likely have waned. India has one of the biggest film industries in the world. But where some centres of Asian cinema are storming ahead in their depictions of LGBT people (see The Handmaiden for a prime example), India is yet to catch up. But until attitudes in the country change - Loev was shot in one sixteen day cycle, often in guerilla style - LGBT people's depiction in the arts will struggle to catch up.