Experience ‘LOEV’ at MAMI
The MAMI Mumbai Film Festival has a pedigree of showcasing the best of world cinema and selecting films that surpass the paradigm of not just filmmaking but also the subjects that films are centered around. One such film is Sudhanshu Saria’s LOEV, which has made it to the India Gold section of the festival this year. The film tries to bring the otherwise quote, unquote controversial subject of homosexual love out of the closet. Here’s what Saria and the producer of the film Arfi Lamba have to say about this highly anticipated film.
Sudhanshu Saria, Director, LOEV
What is LOEV about? Please talk about the backdrop that the film is set in.
I think it’s about behavior in love and the boundaries between friendship and love. And how confusing that line can be sometimes. The film is set in Mumbai, in a more educated and financially comfortable slice of our society. It’s also very 2016 where we all, in a way, are citizens of the world, no matter where we live, listening to world music and consuming media made all over the world. So we have those influences but we still have to operate from the context of India where the politics can be confusing and at odds with this global context sometimes. For example, Sec 377; it’s a little hard to explain why this law is still applicable and upheld in 2016 India.
Artists are the first to question the paradigm and that’s expected of us
Having shot the film in the hills of Maharashtra, was it difficult scouting for locations? How important are these locations to the story?
Everything is relevant and everything is political. At least, that’s how I view media and that’s what I tried to remember while creating the film. So it’s very relevant that these characters live in Mumbai, and it’s very relevant that they go to Mahabaleshwar. The neighborhood that the characters stay in was crucial to me and so was the hotel they go to because it all informs the story and the context. Scouting the locations is very much like casting your characters – a good location will give your audience so much free information about the scene. Of course when you have no money, that job becomes a 100 times harder so I’m very grateful to my producing partners at Bombay Berlin and to the team that they put together for bringing so much local know-how to the table.
Considering the film’s subject, was the casting process a challenge in any way? What was the audition brief to the actors?
I was quite concerned about that but Mumbai really surprised me. One of the first people to read the script was Atul Mongia and I primarily took the script to him so that he could read it and confirm my fears that no actor in Mumbai would want to do this. Certainly not for a first time filmmaker. But Atul started connecting me to people and over and over I saw that most actors were just hungry for a good opportunity and were looking for meaty roles.
We were quite guarded about the film because we didn’t want to cause any unnecessary controversies. During the first auditions, we didn’t really tell anyone what the film was about. Once we started our shortlisting process, we shared the script with the actors and really started to get them into the characters.
Thankfully, barring one actor, everyone we offered the film to agreed to do it. I am so grateful to them because there would be no film without them. All of them expressed reservations about the content in the film and how they would be portrayed but these were sensible concerns and we solved them together.
I wrote the film from a place of shame and guilt
Homosexuality has recently found a lot of expression through the medium of film. Do you feel that this is the glorious phase? What has given rise to this voice for the LGBT community? Also what does your film aim to achieve and convey?
I’m surprised it’s taken so long. Artists are the first to question the paradigm and that’s expected of us. Maybe it has something to do with the 377 decision that has spurred people on and provoked them into picking up their pens and cameras and putting some of this truth up on-screen. In any case, I’m glad it’s happening because it will help move the needle on the ignorance around us. I don’t really care for the bigots who come from a place of hatred but I do want to reach those who are accidentally homophobic, not from a place of intention but from a place of ignorance. So, I was constantly thinking about that as I was writing and filming. Love belongs to everyone, it’s everyone’s concern and everyone’s business and even if this particular love appears to be foreign and different, I want them to trust it and just try the film. I have a feeling they will see their own relationships in there.
We are going to tell a story that fights a good fight, entertains people and speaks to our times
How was the writing process and how has it affected your life as a writer, director and a person at large?
I wrote the film from a place of shame and guilt. I didn’t think anyone would want to make it so I gave myself the license to be as honest as possible. The reception that this film has received and the love it has got has been so illuminating. It makes me want to be as honest, as giving and as naked in whatever else I do because that is what our audiences are hungry for. If we are going to use their time and all these resources to step into public discourse, we really owe it to them to cut deep and pull out from our genuine lives. It makes for a better world where we start to realize that we have real companions, like-minded people, who believe in the things that we believe in. It makes you less alone.
Where do you draw inspiration for your stories? What kind of films excite you?
As a viewer, I love crossing genres. I don’t really care if it’s an Ocean’s heist film or The Witch or Peddlers or even a Dilwale. I go with gusto and I go to get entertained. As a storyteller, I feel a sense of loyalty to those stories that I don’t think others are going to tell for various reasons. It’s like fighting for the little guy. Thankfully, my needs are fewer so I’m okay with making relatively little money. I’m a responsible partner and it’s important to me that whoever believed in me makes their money back but it’s okay if it’s not a 100 million dollars.
We will be satisfied with a little less but are going to tell a story that fights a good fight, entertains people and speaks to our times. Of course none of this happens without people who are willing to strap up and take risks. In that regard, I am grateful to people like Arfi, Jasleen and Katharina and my actors for believing that films like these have a reason for existing and to MAMI for giving the film a platform.
Even if a particular love appears to be foreign and different, I want people to trust it and just try the film
Arfi Lamba, Founder, Bombay Berlin Film Production
As a producer, what do you look for in a script to back? How did LOEV happen?
That’s an interesting question. None of us can ever tell how love happens. (laughs) Jokes apart, the journey of LOEV has been as mysterious as the phenomenon of love itself is. I heard the script and it took me ninety seconds to say yes.
It has been a tedious way up. But one that was filled with so much love and surprises that when I look back, I feel that the film had more power to carry us all forward than we had to push it anywhere. The film has not stopped springing miracles for us and is winning hearts the world over.
The challenges that we faced were the same that any love story which is away from the norm would face
What was your level of involvement in the project?
My business partner, Katharina Suckale and I came on board at the very beginning. We have been involved at every step from financing to the production, to sales and distribution and festival promotions. LOEV is our baby!
What are the challenges that you faced while working on this project? How did you overcome them?
The challenges that we faced were the same that any love story which is away from the norm would face. Ours was not boy meets girl or vice versa story. LOEV is a complicated story between three boys. Such love is difficult in the real world and filming it was no different. There were as many obstacles. Financiers would back out at the last-minute. We would often hit a wall and things would go grim every other day.
But there was strong passion for the project. Those who decided to join hands to help us make LOEV were men and women of great fortitude. We owe everything to the team and to the wonderful actors for having as much faith in this beautiful story. The captain of the ship, Sudhanshu, managed everything with ease.
What’s your role in Bombay Berlin Film Company?
We do not believe much in role-play (Smiles). Bombay Berlin is a very open creative production house and all those who come on board to work with us become family. We all work together as a team and I somehow do not believe in hierarchies.That said, I am the founder of this beautiful film production house along with Katharina Suckale.
This year two of your produced projects are at MAMI – LOEV and Road to Mandalay. How do you see festivals giving a boost to your films in particular and company as a whole?
Festivals are meant to celebrate films and filmmakers. When you are an independent filmmaker with a beautiful gem like LOEV at hand and you don’t know how to take it to people, festivals come as a big platform. For a film like this, where no one will step forward to support you for distribution, simply because the theme is different and because they lack vision, such festivals are truly a sigh of relief.
LOEV has been a huge success in every festival that it has been to. It is a brand now and cannot be ignored on the home turf. And we are really thankful to MAMI for bringing LOEV home.
The journey of LOEV has been as mysterious as the phenomenon of love itself is
You are also an actor. How do you balance the two hats? Do the learnings of one field support the other?
As an actor you are all heart. As a producer you have to be really strong-minded. Especially when you are an independent film producer. You are actually like a bride’s father; saying sorry and folding hands in front of everyone so that your film gets made.
That said, I have a heart and a mind under the same hat. This hat is very beautifully decorated with feathers of achievements from both professions. And I am proud that I decided to do both and will try to excel in both too.