Editor's Note: LOEV is now available to view worldwide, exclusively on Netflix.
Just two years after a decision to criminalize same-sex relationships was legally upheld in his native India, Sudhanshu “Suds” Saria ’06 told the love story of two men traveling the landscapes of Mumbai in his film, LOEV.
Set in the hills and canyons of Maharashtra, in the western region of India, LOEV is about a weekend trip for two friends where, as described on the film’s website, “chances are missed, truths evaded and, among all the stumbles, the love that unexpectedly prevails.”
Saria, who was a cinema and photography major at Ithaca College, discussed some of the difficulties that came with producing a film on the subject of same-sex relationships when the country had recently enforced stricter rules against them and threatened censorship of any media about the subject. In December 2013, India’s Supreme Court upheld a law that criminalizes same-sex sexual relations. Saria explained that financiers and actors weren’t too excited to be involved in a movie addressing this topic.
“I wrote this first film of mine [with] no money, no budget, shot in India of all places, in secret, and on the subject of homosexuality,” he explained.
Given that secrecy was key, Saria said his team avoided using the word gay. Secrecy was maintained through omission, but he explained that there was no agenda per se. For Saria, it was important to have the story looked at as a tale of two hearts falling in love.
“For most of the crew, it wasn’t until they were on set and participating in this scene we were shooting where these two guys kiss each other when they realized where this was headed,” he noted.
LOEV has been screened at many festivals, including South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas, and Saria has been celebrated for the courageous act of writing this story in this context. For Saria, the personal and emotional emancipation of the endeavor reigned supreme over the popularity that ensued.
“Obviously it’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘What festival is it premiering at?’ and ‘How much money is it selling for?' But those all come after the fact,” he explained. “You’re the first person who sees the movie, and you have to ask yourself, 'Is this what I wanted to make?'”
Saria, who doesn’t necessarily identify as being Indian or gay but rather a citizen of the world, says he feels no responsibility toward gay, Indian, or independent cinema.
“I am not an ambassador for anyone except myself,” he said. “Forget Indian gay cinema. I am trying to break out of that,” he said, as he vocalized that he was trying to “do gay 2.0 cinema,” that allows his characters to be human and not have their sexual orientation be the most significant thing about them. Gay men in Indian cinema are often portrayed as comic sideshows.
“It looks different, but it’s just love. People look at the title and try to pronounce it in 100 different ways — low-ev and looove — and I love waiting for them to finish to say, ‘It’s just love,’” Saria said, chuckling at the wordplay.
Saria explains that he never thought of himself as an Indian man who could only make Indian films, and that he is very particular about what he wants to make. He said he religiously attempts to give depth and authenticity to his characters, as that is what truly matters. He first learned this approach to filmmaking during his time as an IC student, and it evolved over time. Describing himself as curious, ambitious, hardworking and excited when he was a student at Ithaca, he feels that he still possess these qualities. He credits this to the college, explaining that the successes he had at IC, such as working for various publications and on multiple senior thesis films, gave him a taste of what he was striving toward.
More importantly, Saria credits the college for giving him the gift of collaborators. On LOEV he collaborated with Sherri Kauk ’05 who was the film’s cinematographer. The two remained in contact while in Los Angeles after graduating from IC and had made a pact to work together at some point in their careers. However, Saria was still surprised at Kauk’s spontaneous sense of adventure that encouraged her to fly to Mumbai to make this film with him. On a different occasion, Saria ran into Joe Nicolosi ’06 who was also a cinema and photography major at IC, standing in line to see LOEV at South by Southwest.
“Right before I made LOEV, I had just collaborated with Joe on a short film where he helped me out by doing a bit of VFX for me. So it was amazing to then bump into him in line for LOEV at SXSW,” Saria said. “At the most unexpected time, something from IC pops up and gives you a little nudge, and it’s always nice to have that. It really puts a smile on your face.”
Professor Gina Marchetti, who taught Saria in his first film studies classes at IC, also went to see the film in September when it played at the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. She sent a photo of her ticket stubs to Saria. Saria spoke fondly of the faculty and staff members who contributed positively to his journey.
“Stephen Tropiano was so amazing to me when I was in L.A., and life came full circle when he was able to go watch this movie at the L.A. Asian-Pacific film festival at its L.A. premiere, and he wrote me a really nice note afterwards,” he reminisced.
Saria acted proactively to utilize the many opportunities Ithaca College provided. His ongoing journey started when he saw students putting film into Bolex cameras on the quad in front of the Roy H. Park School of Communications, and now Saria finds himself traveling the world to screen his own.