A Mesmerising two days spent between Mumbai and the surrounding mountains. Loev’s central will they, won’t they relationship is haunting.
With homosexuality still technically illegal in India, prison sentences possible for sexual activity and the march for LGBTIQ rights facing an increasing backlash in the country of late, it’s no surprise that Loev writer/director Sudhanshu Saria chose to film his impressive feature debut with cast and crew sworn to secrecy.
Shot over the course of 16 days and largely in English, Loev relays a deeply affecting and complex relationship between two men whose relationship to each other takes on a chimeric quality.
Opening on Dhruv Ganesh’s Sahil stumbling around his Mumbai apartment because his cute but immature boyfriend Alex (Siddharth Menon) has failed to pay the electricity bill, though they share a natural intimacy, theirs is clearly a strained relationship. As a result, Sahil is looking forward to escaping for the weekend, catching up with old school friend Jai (Shiv Pandit), a sharp suited businessman visiting from his new home in New York in order to seal a big deal with local property developers.
There’s a strange sort of chemistry between Sahil and Jai from the outset, captivating with stolen glances, the momentary frisson of a lingering touch and an ambiguous dance of admiring words, hinting at a closeness in their past, romanticised by both. Clearly they do not see each other simply as friends, but can they manoeuvre something more? Is Sahil willing to leave Alex, and what of a hinted at broken marriage for Jai back home?
Cruising through shimmering lights in a red BMW convertible, strikingly intimate, hand-held cinematography follows the men as they leave the city for the mist-shrouded heights of Western Ghats, where the subtleties of forbidden love are teased out by a quaint hotel directing them to a room with two single beds and the startled looks of locals when the pair dare to hold hands.
It’s a testament to both Saria’s movie literacy, leaning heavily on indie films like Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, and the seemingly effortless but deeply impressive performances from Ganesh, who tragically died of tuberculosis shortly after completing the movie, and Pandit that their leisurely wandering captivate from start to finish as they share a quite moment in an empty cinema, goof about over dinner and Sahil serenades Jai with a guitar solo in a souvenir shop.
But there is simmering tension here too. Sahil is strangely resistant to physical contact, a fact that clearly frustrates Jai, but the latter is also too embroiled in his business deal to fully surrender to the simple joys of a hike in the mountainous terrain and is overly concerned with what people might think. Sahil is not convinced that Jai is comfortable with his sexuality at all.
Avoiding both the brashness of Bollywood and the tendency towards poverty porn of much alternative cinema coming out of India, Loev is a magnificent debut, even if the aftermath of a shocking and confronting third act occurrence, interesting in itself though certainly problematic, isn’t entirely successfully addressed in the closing scenes. Both Ganesh and Pandit are to be commended for their rock solid central turns, with Menon also impressive when a late arrival, bizarrely dressed in tailcoats, places a mischievous but also tender Alex right back in the midst of this truly queer, in all senses of the word, drama. He brings with him smart comic relief from Rishabh J Chaddha as Alex’ employee-cum-lackey and possible also extra-relationship dalliance.
A film that will leave you with much to think about after the credits roll, Loev is a strange and unusual creature both oddly familiar and refreshingly alien. Excited to see what Sari does next, all of the performances are impressive, with Ganesh a sad loss indeed.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords