In 2010, filmmaker Qaushik Mukherjee – more popularly known as Q – shot into the limelight with his Bengali movie Gandu. The film – about an aspiring rapper and his Bruce Lee-obsessed rickshawallah friend navigating through their stifling circumstances, dreams, ambitions and sexuality with a gamut of drugs – was well received in international festivals, but was predictably not allowed a screening in India in 2011 for its graphic sex scenes and profanity.
Nine years later, Gandu is making a reappearance in India, but this time as a graphic novel. Gandurmundu – a result of a collaboration between Q, scriptwriter Surojit Sen and artist-illustrator Sambaran Das – was launched by the filmmaker at the Kolkata Book Fair in January. The Bengali graphic novel, which is based on the film, attempts to explore the original characters further, and took several years to produce.
“While Gandu was popular around the world and on the internet, we knew there was no way we could come out with the film in India,” said Q. “Hence, back then, we conceived this idea to make a graphic novel. The three of us worked painstakingly on the general idea and the details in every page. Surjit and Sambaran were really the ones who were crafting the book. My contribution was towards the end of the process in designing the book, creating the typography and in writing the dialogues.”
Graphic novels are not very common in India, and transgressive ones such as Gandurmundu are rarer. The trio was particular about the book being independent, so as to circumvent the reservations of publishers.
“India is a country of myths and epics, there is immense potential and plenty of material for killer graphic novels,” said Sen. “But [most of] the Indian graphic novels I read are banal. Graphic novel does not mean Amar Chitra Katha. The Savita Bhabhi series was a brilliant take on the form of Amar Chitra Katha.” According to him, Indian graphic novelists “often can’t see beyond the boundary and censor themselves. In this country, where we illustrated Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana, why should we subscribe to ridiculous Victorian morality?”
Q, Sen and Das enjoy a shared interest in manga and graphic novels. “Film directors,” said Q, “are naturally drawn to graphic novels due to the flexibility in aspect ratio this format provides.” The manga influence in Gandu was evident in use of split screens and typography.
Q first gave Sen some manga comics, and Sen in turn introduced Das to the works of Shintaro Kago and other graphic novelists. Das was immediately riveted by Kago’s short bizarre narratives. “Suehiro Maruo’s Ultra Gash Inferno absolutely blew my mind,” Das said. “Stories from Heavy Metal by Moebius are another unforgettable collection, and Milos Manara’s African Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman and An Author in Search of Six Characters are my favourites till date. All these works are experimental both in terms of form and content.”
The English edition of Gandurmundu is in the works and will be released shortly. Whether it captures the colourful language of the Bengali original remains to be seen. The Bengali dialogues often sway between the personal and the political, and have the sing-song of street slang. Even though the book is set in the dark underbelly of Kolkata, its focus on an individual finding and revolting against his place in a nonsensical society will find universal resonance.
“Gandurmundu is a delirious trip of a loser…an outsider,” said Das. “It is an incoherent manifestation of his revenge, his fears, his friendships, his nightmares, his existential confusion, his carnal cravings and an assertion to hold on to his ground, in a world that ostracises him. A gandu is a shard of a broken mirror. These characters traverse beyond the boundaries of normative society, but are free even in their existential misery”. Perhaps it is for this reason that the book’s endearing title, which literally translates to “head to a gandu”, seems to empathise with the characters.
When asked if the graphic novel was autobiographical in any way, Q’s answer was rather matter-of-fact. “I’m not an objective artist,” he said. “I do think that all my work is subjective and coming out of experiences that I have had physically and viscerally. Gandu is not just a character in the film. I am Gandu, and Rickshaw was based on my best friend. The idea of Gandu has stayed with me and will probably never leave. I would agree with the fact that this is autobiographical. But it’s not only mine. We dug into the dark spots of our individual stories and the people that we had met”.
Since the entire process from development and printing to distribution and marketing was handled in-house, the project took longer to execute. A disclaimer on the book warns that it is strictly for adults – the woodcut-like illustrations depicting the protagonist’s darkest entreaties are not for the easily offended. While some visitors to the Kolkata Book Fair were suspicious of the book’s contents at the launch, the trio has already sold out the first print run, which has motivated them to experiment more with the medium. The graphic novel will soon be available in bookshops and with online retailers but till then a copy can be procured by reaching the team.
As a tribute to his film and its protagonist, Q even started a musical collective named Gandu Circus several years ago with musician Neel Adhikari, and toured both Indian and abroad to promote Bangla rap. They recently released the album, Republic of Gandu, to coincide with the launch of Gandurmundu. “Hip-hop allows you to tell your story about your place in a system,” said Q. “I rap about being a gandu, a black man in New York is rapping about police brutality, a Dalit in Delhi raps under the moniker Da Lit and talks about untouchability, Nalasopara kids are rapping about their abysmal living conditions. I guess what troubles you about your street is what you should rap about…because, at the end of the day, we all come from some gully or another.”