Review by Sourendra Kumar Das
Film: Amen (Indian English Short Feature Film)
Directors: Judhajit Bagchi and Ranadeep Bhattacharya
Cast: Jitin Gulati and Karan Mehra
Amen is an Indian English Short Feature Film written and directed by young duo Bengali directors Judhajit Bhagchi & Ranadeep Bhattacharya and presented by Valentina Erath and Harish Iyer. The cast sees Jitin Gulati and Karan Mehra while the music is composed by Jonathan Fessenden. The movie was recently screened at New York Film Festival last month.
The poster depicts a part of the renowned Michelangelo fresco portraying the Genesis with the tagline, “Life does not let you choose your parents or your sexuality.”
AMEN’s title is bold as the film is about the sexuality of two bold Gay Men. God created Man and said Amen that reflects his own divine form. That divinity is within a man and that reflects in his innermost quality to Love another man. However, one drawback of the film is that the title is not explained well throughout the storyline of the film.
The short film is a complete male film, as it is enacted by two male actors and directed by two male Bengali directors. The film touches my heart as the directors have got the actors to bring about an appreciable performance. They equally complement each others’ body language and indeed looks like men made for each other in heaven. Karan was definitely on the softer side; it is Jitin’s performance that registers. The love story has a Karan Johar type happy ending, that can be decided by the audience whether they find it realistic or not.
I found the cinematography to be excellent with a good background score and definitely a fantastic location of a furnished artistic house that’s adds to the bold love-making scene too.
The movie excellently portrayed internet hook-ups (that’s most prevalent in the gay world), rape, incest, child abuse, trust issues, love and of course homo-sexuality. The film accomplishes all of that without sounding like a documentary!
The filmmakers have managed to make a powerful commentary about a gay man’s life, fraught as it is with uncertainty. It also depicts loneliness, fear, mistrust and anger through very intimate portrayal of the characters of Andy and Harry.
Jitin and Karan essayed their roles without any of the self-consciousness that one might associate with such a bold endeavour by two directors at the start of their career. Amen carries a number of powerful messages and is bound to be of interest of the large gay and bisexual community that exists in India. This movie might help many gay guys in India to come out and accept their alternate sexuality. A must watch for all audiences.
The story behind Amen
When Judhajit and Ranadeep were in search of a story, they chanced upon the true story of Harish and decided to make their debut with a short film on the same. They, along with Harish, went on a hunt for actors to play the parts of Andy and Harry, which in itself is a whole story for another film, and after much anguish managed to find actors Jitin Gulati and Karan Mehra, who had the courage to say yes to their bold gay roles with a bold love-making scene. Hats off to the actors like Sanjay Suri in My Brother Nikhil and Jitin Gulati in Amen or John who showed his butt in Dostana (supposedly a movie that brought awareness of the gay community into drawing rooms).
The production began and stalled as soon as they had started making the film because they had run out of the funds which they had raised. They were lost and did not know what to do next. Harish, in his usual style of declaring his anguish on Twitter and Facebook, screamed aloud and wished there was someone out there who could help them out.
Valentina Erath, a young Austrian, who was randomly following Harish and did not know him from Adam’s called him up and asked him what his film was about. When Harish told her what it was about, Valentina took his bank account number and sent him another Rs 30,000 that vanished in no time while the unit was not even half way through production.
But Valentina, who was a single working girl in Austria believed in Harish and by now Ranadeep and Judhajit as well, continued to cut costs at her end by avoiding to buy say an extra outfit she needed, or a pair of shoes she fell in love with while window shopping, but did not give up on sending them funds piecemeal, for them to complete the film which eventually cost them Rs 3,00,000.
How the sets were put up with two walls and props were got borrowed from friends is another tale and the list of interesting trivia goes on and on which the director, actors, presenters and the rest of the team tell you at the end of the screening while you sit glued to your seat because you are unable to rise from it after the 23 minutes 45 seconds short film ends.
As a matter of fact, it would not be fair to compare Ranadeep and Judhajit with anybody other than their own peers, because there is nobody on the scene who had the guts and the courage to tear forward with a narrative as they have done with Amen.
Both Jitin and Karan have portrayed their parts with conviction and understanding. As actors, they have set themselves free with confidence and faith in the script. Both actors in their performances as lusting gay partners at first and happy lovers at the end, cut past the gender divide and make you feel the power of love above everything else through their chemistry.
With Amen you can see the emergence of an Indian cinema to which the scale of the making is irrelevant while exploring depths and that cannot be stopped because it is impressionistic and does not require a whole industry to hold it up as technology had provided it with a freedom to explore itself without dependence on anybody else but a bunch of guys on the same page.
With the stories behind the scenes of Amen, you know that there are people in this world who will back art for its own sake because they believe in the intention and realize its potential to change this world which is so lacking in sensitive content because it is so hugely trapped in a business run by those who only seek returns.
Tête-à-tête with young director Judhajit Bhagchi and Ranadeep Bhattacharyya
What’s the storyline like for Amen?
The World Wide Web brings the two protagonists, Andy and Harry, together on a nonchalant afternoon. Andy, the suave and rich urban banker stands in a place where he should not ideally be while his counterpart, the soft-spoken, overtly humble Harry, stands tall and firm and is completely rooted where he is today. Both have different hopes from the destined meeting. Their interaction brings out questions that need to be answered, truths that need to be accepted and a life that stands to be reckoned.
AMEN makes two characters meet, experience hope amidst confusion, explore truths about their sexuality, their self and delves into the profound meaning of life in the continuum of its trifles.
What’s in Amen, that’s not in other queer films?
In India, though gay as a theme is now a hot and sensational topic, but mostly in media, gays are stereotyped and superficially explored where they end up being misrepresented as being pansy, effeminate and frivolous. Amen on the other hand tries to explore the humane side of the issue by focusing on the greater truth that: “Life does not let you chose your parents or your sexuality”. The film connotes a greater message in terms of boiling it down to basic choices that people should have in terms of leading the life in their own way.
What’s the cinematography like?
The cinematography is done by our friend and DOP Varun Sud. We had kept a mood light for the whole film where in lieu with the story, the lighting also becomes brighter as the film progresses as the characters unfold and the complexities of their lives start untying.
As a director what were the fun moments that you had while shooting for the film?
Being an independent short film, we had the pressure of shooting the film in the span of two days and hence it was really stressful. The fun moments would really be the moments after each take as it was a task in itself to see two straight guys play intense gay characters on screen.
Do you think Amen being a short film it has more to give to the audience?
Thanks to thousands of complements from our audiences. We feel this answer we would like to know from the audience rather than we answering it as it is the audience who can say if Amen has given more to them.
What do you feel is the gay scene in small towns and villages in India? Are the audiences as liberal as metros like Mumbai and Kolkata?
Off course the gay scene is much better in the urban context mainly after the High Court verdict but irrespective of this, it is still very difficult for a person to come to terms with his sexuality in India because of the Indian societal baggage and family expectations of a straight life. So irrespective of the urban and rural divide, what matters most is the individual’s coming out to himself rather than to the society. And this is exactly what Amen is about.
How easy or difficult was it to select the cast for Amen? How important is the looks of an actor for a film to attract audience?
Casting was difficult since we were not getting good actors to play the bold character of a gay guy in the film. The problem was that in Amen the characters are not pansy or over the top. Harry and Andy are normal people whose sexual orientation is not straight. Hence it became more difficult to find actors who would want to play a straight looking gay guy because they immediately equated it as a taboo to their career. Initially Harish Iyer was supposed to play Harry but during the rehearsals, he completely broke down as all that had happened to him in his real life as a child came back to him on the reel life. He could not handle it and hence we had to cast someone else. We are ever grateful to Jitin and Karan to having agreed t play this part.
Message to young filmmakers like you.
Believe in your dreams and work hard towards fulfilling them
What you should expect from Amen?
A humane story about two gay men and the choices they make.