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Tallinn: Sudhanshu Saria Finds ‘Loev’ Amid Homophobia in India

The tender gay love story marks the Darjeeling-born filmmaker's coming-out in more ways than one.

For most novice filmmakers, unveiling one’s first feature involves baring part of your soul to the world at large. For Indian writer-director Sudhanshu “Suds” Saria, the stakes are raised a little. His tender gay love story “Loev” marks his coming-out in more ways than one — the film emphatically marks his engagement with his own sexual identity, in a way his own family won’t have seen coming. “They’re all celebrating my sister’s engagement at the moment,” he says with a chuckle. “They don’t know what the film is about. If word gets through to them, I’ll be like, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s 2015.’”

Not that Saria approached the film — a tale of two longtime friends negotiating their mutual desire over the course of a weekend visit — quite so nonchalantly. “I wrote the script to deal with a hurt I didn’t know to process at the time,” he explains on the eve of “Loev’s” Tallinn world premiere. “Through it, I’ve learned how to talk about my sexuality. I’m dating now, which could never have happened without this film.”

As personal as the film is, it remains something of a defiant political act to make a gay-focused film in India, where homosexuality is still constitutionally decreed to be “against the order of nature.” Now based in Mumbai after years of studying and working in the U.S., Saria explains that he completed post-production of his 2013 short “His New Hands” — a magical-realist story of young African-Americans in the South — in India as a kind of litmus test for the local industry: “It was encouraging to hear Indian heads of department senior technicians get it right away, to bond with a story that was so alien to them. That gave me the confidence to make ‘Loev’ there.”

Furthermore, his concern that it would be difficult to find local actors willing to play gay roles proved unfounded. “I gave the script to a Mumbai casting director and asked if we’d be able to do this. And she said, ‘There are tons of actors in India who never get to really act, to do what they love to do — all they get to do is dance.’”

For outside auds, meanwhile, Saria hopes that “Loev” showcases a relatively under-exposed side of contemporary Indian life — away from what he describes as the “poverty porn” of Indian cinema on the festival circuit. He laughs. “Of course, at home, people think it’s not a real film at all. There are no songs in it.”

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