Popular Indian Cinema & Q. Mukerjee’s Gandu

Popular Indian Cinema & Q. Mukerjee’s Gandu

Static Mass Rating: 3/5

Original release: October 29th, 2010
Certificate (UK): N/A
Running time: 85 minutes

Country of origin: India
Original language: Bengali

Director: Qaushiq Mukerjee (Q)
Writers: Qaushiq Mukerjee, Surajit Sen
Producer: Q
Composer: Five Little Indians

Cast: Anubrata Basu, Joyraj, Kamalika, Rii

Christian Metz once said, ‘cinema is difficult to explain because it is easy to understand.’ This paradoxical statement comes in handy when describing Indian cinema.

Indian cinema has grown considerably over the last one hundred years. A brief contextualisation of Indian cinema is in order to situate the film I shall be reviewing shortly. Bollywood Cinema or popular Indian cinema occupies an ambiguous space in Indian Cinematic history. A modern development brought through consumerism especially the diasporic market it is a ‘promoter of uncritical pleasure’ (Gokulsing and Dissanayake, forthcoming).

Art cinema or parallel Cinema on the other hand is dictated through realism and I would argue, they have little to do with consumerist expectations. However of late these divides are blurring and a new wave of Indian cinema uncritically distinct from the New Indian Cinema of the 1980’s (Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalkrishnan, etc) is merging. Another distinct feature of Indian Cinema(s) is the regional cinemas being produced in Bengali, Marathi, Tamil etc, which have their own filmic an aesthetic conventions and a distinct consumer. All these make Indian Cinema(s) a somewhat complicated body of work to describe homogeneously.


Gandu (Asshole) directed by Qaushik Mukherjee, who uses the professional name Q was released last year amidst much fun fare. The film belongs to the uncritical school of thought which does not seek to categorise itself within the strictures of parallel/art or popular/mainstream Indian cinema. It narrates the story of a young boy, Gandu (played by Anubrata Basu); who like most disadvantaged youth lives a routine life. Having been brought up relatively modest (the film hints at his mother being a sex worker getting benefits from Dasbabu) he sees life as a rather bleak journey. He lives within his own world filled with drugs and porn and sees little reason to move forward with life. Success isn’t something that happens to people in the world he inhabits.

A moment of critical rupture occurs with the introduction of Ricksha, a poor rickshaw driver. Together with him, Gandu steps outside his sheltered world. ‘While depictions of poverty and suffering or social ills is not new to the Bengali cinema, for a large part, these had been tempered by means of a certain view on human goodness and the underlying sense that hardship did not necessarily destroy the individual’s moral fabric and his zest for life’ (Gooptu).


However it raises some pertinent questions about the depiction of reality in this film. The goodness, if any within the characters are completely smothered through subjugation. Gandu’s mute humiliation by the local boys show how vulnerable societal hierarchies make us. Parallel Art films have always been the domain of the ‘respectable’ Bengali middle class (Rituparno Ghose, Goutam Ghosh, Aparna Sen et al). However this film challenges the very nature of viewership through its crudeness and stark imagery. The word ‘gandu’ a common parlance amongst the social outclass, is reclaimed by its very mainstream presence.

My main critique would be the lengthy sex scene where Gandu in a semi fantasy-reality sequence encounters the girl (Rii). It is the only sequence that has been shot in colour as opposed the entire film shot in black and white. Other than its aesthetic appeal I also feel that colour here has an underlying significance. Gandu’s life is dark and hence the entire film relies on this darkness, the jarring interjection of colour introduces a moment of transiency which is true for most of India. The sex scene which is definitely transgressive by all standards doesn’t seem to add anything to the film. In fact it was one of those sequences whose significance could have been the same even without the over explicitness.


Going back to Geertz, I suggest a culturalist approach to further review this film. One of the first questions this approach presents before us is how has this film explored the culture it has chosen to represent? The images in the film are polysemic and can be interpreted in a variety of ways, however the audience whose readings will be framed by shared cultural meanings and practices will be sadly disappointed as the film does not offer any axis of commonality that the spectator can identify with, especially since it hasn’t had a release in India and doesn’t look likely to ever. However despite this the film has done very well at most international film festivals where it has been praised for pushing the boundaries of Indian Cinema and introducing a new perspective of viewership.

The music by FLI deserves a special mention. It is commendable and like the rest of the film very raw. The performances by Kamalika and Joyraj are excellent.


  • K Moti Gokulsing, W Dissanayake, Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change (Staffordshire: Trentham, 2004)
  • S Gooptu, ‘Bengali Cinema: Its Making and Unmaking’ in K Moti Gokulsing, W Dissanayake (ed) Handbook of Indian Cinema (New York: Routledge, forthcoming)

The film indicates the distance Indian Cinema and more importantly Bengali Cinema has travelled since the ‘idealism of [Satyajit Ray’s] Apu’ (Gooptu, Ibid). The film has tried to fill the gap between the formulaic popular cinema and the high brow art cinema. However its real worth cannot be measured by its international applauds but rather through the people it claims to represent who probably still haven’t heard of it.

About Rohit K Dasgupta

Rohit K Dasgupta

Rohit K Dasgupta is a PhD Student at University of the Arts London where his current research focuses on Digital Culture and Queer Men in India. He has published articles on Queer Cultures, South Asia, Nationalism and Indian Cinema in various journals and edited anthologies.

He is currently working as an Editorial and Research Assistant with Moti K Gokulsing, Retired Reader and Senior Visiting Research Fellow, University of East London on two publications- A Handbook of Indian Cinema (Contracted by Routledge, Forthcoming 2013) and From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond: A Guide to the Study of Indian Cinema (Trentham, 2012). He has also made two short films on queer, youth and identitarian issues in India- Crimson (2009) and Azure (2010).

You can follow Rohit on Twitter @rhitsvu.