When I moved to Boston for college I remember hearing about a weird law that precluded more than four women from sharing the same residence. The story went that as soon as a house hit that magic female number it was deemed a brothel. It was something that people laughed about. What an absurd and antiquated law. But this kind of weird little law isn’t that surprising, there are entire websites devoted to uncovering all the strange governances that someone thought made sense at one time and then never bothered to change. We can laugh when these laws set rules about goats or when a you can take a bath, but the problem is that sometimes these outdated legal bits go after something all too real. Since 1860, India’s Penal Code has criminalized same sex acts with punishments of life imprisonment. Yeah…not so funny.
Building the film on the backs of these two is one of the strongest choice that Saria makes as a director. They are written honestly and performed fantastically.
The law has had its share of opposition, in 2009 it was even found unconstitutional. Unfortunately, less than five years later, that decision was overturned. So in India, to be gay and to act on those feelings is to be a criminal. That makes the mere existence of Sudhanshu Saria’s LOEV a thing that deserves praise. Saria was courageous to film this love story in his own country. To lend a voice to those that are silenced and not to shy away from the place that he calls home. But for all of the courage it took to get made, LOEV is unfortunately cinematically underwhelming.
The film throws you in media res. There is little table setting and things just start happening. Don’t get me wrong that is certainly not a bad thing. A filmmaker having some faith in his audience’s intelligence is a welcomed trade for weighty exposition. But in this case it’s difficult to figure out exactly what is even going on. Sahil (Dhruv Ganesh) and Alex (Siddharth Menon) are clearly in a relationship, but as Sahil meets Jai (Shiv Pandit) it rapidly becomes clear that the two have chemistry beyond friendship. Yet this isn’t something that upsets Alex, in fact, he seems to be completely on board. The definitions remain unfulfilled, perhaps by design, however it leaves the audience in the role of having to play catch-up and results in missing some of the film’s key elements.
We spend almost the entirety of the film with only Sahil and Jai. While we are told that the two are only friends, the romance is apparent from the beginning. This speaks to the strength of both Ganesh and Pandit in their respective roles. Both actors imbue their characters with a lived in authenticity. We come to know Jai and Sahil, or at least as well as the two men will allow us. The two grow and live together and we ride along as voyeurs to their experience. Building the film on the backs of these two is one of the strongest choice that Saria makes as a director. They are written honestly and performed fantastically. While this middle section often meanders and seems to manufacture tension in an attempt to keep things moving, it is the film’s best example of grappling with the theme of discovery. It is about finding yourself and where you may fit in the world.
Nevertheless, Saria’s penchant for generating his own faux conflict that arises out of service to the story rather than the characters is his ultimate downfall. Most of the moments of tension are forced and inauthentic. In a film with lesser characters it wouldn’t be so glaring. But he has done so well to create genuine characters that feel like real people that these moments read as outright fakery. Additionally, some choices are made later in the film between Sahil and Jai that are frankly in poor taste and at the very least needlessly cavalier with the notion of consent. Perhaps most upsetting is that this element of the film runs so counter to what the audience has experienced up to this point that it seems to demolish its own thesis. In the quest for a big moment, Saria unfortunately neuters his own tale and robs it of many of the successes it has already built.
In an effort to give the film some grit, Saria needlessly cripples himself. He sacrifices these genuine and engaging characters for a plot development that is inauthentic at best and upsettingly obtuse at worst.
In its best moments, LOEV invokes comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Before series (Before Sunset especially). The long probing conversations and the literal and figurative discoveries that the characters experience is well done if not entirely successful. Unfortunately, writer-director Sudhanshu Saria is unsure of his own strengths. In an effort to give the film some grit, Saria needlessly cripples himself. He sacrifices these genuine and engaging characters for a plot development that is inauthentic at best and upsettingly obtuse at worst. The transition is nearly non-existent, the build lean, and the development unearned. It is a disappointment for a film that seemed to have prized its characters so highly and for so long. There is a good short film buried within LOEV, a tale of the search for self and the fears that accompany that, both internal and external. However, by the time everything shakes out the film’s greatest strengths, its characters and its honesty, are left mangled on the side of the street. There is something good here, it’s just mired in something terribly unexceptional.
There is a good short film buried within LOEV, a tale of the search for self and the fears that accompany that, both internal and external. However, by the time everything shakes out the film’s greatest strengths, its characters and its honesty, are left mangled on the side of the street. There is something good here, it’s just mired in something terribly unexceptional.