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Dovetailing with the current debate on women’s mistreatment and abuse by men, Buddha.mov tells it like it is from the other side of the fence. Seen through the eyes of Buddhadev Mangaldas, a 27-year-old Indian playboy and cricketer from the swinging coastal town of Goa, life is a party and women are exercise machines you use in rotation. In the Indian context of the Mumbai Film Festival, this small film’s bold use of full frontal male nudity and uncensored locker-room talk seems radical enough, but its outspoken cleverness is also a breath of fresh air amid many social-themed films.
Obviously, this first feature by Kabir Mehta, who is a distant cousin of his protagonist, has a point to make about certain male attitudes and the film’s overall impact is highly critical of the macho posturing it depicts. Shot like a tongue-in-cheek documentary, it’s hard to guess where reality ends and fiction begins. Much of the film is built around social media chatter, which should click with younger audiences. Though unlikely to ever obtain the Indian censors’ approval for domestic release, it is worth a look for adventurous international distribs.
We meet the well-built cricket player Buddhadev in a series of long shots as he performs his daily exercise routine. Balancing on a ball. Running through waist-deep surf. Having sex with a long-haired girl in his tasteful bedroom. Lest one get the impression he’s a crass serial lover, he informs the camera that he’s been to bed with 90 girls and keeps in touch with all of them. How? He’s set his phone to pop up five names a day and he sends each one a short message letting her know that he hasn’t forgotten her.
In some ways, Mangaldas is an appealing character, full of fun and brimming with self-confidence. His towering narcissism is so outrageous it’s funny, and he has a pleasing naturalness on camera, particularly in the buff, and he’s frequently in the buff. He has been persuaded to make this frank documentary because it celebrates his ego, and you can feel him challenging himself to go further, for instance, in a scene on a balcony in which he has sex with a girl in full sight. (Mehta discreetly shoots them in long shot.) He’s a wee bit concerned what his parents will think, but not much.
He meditates on an early retirement from cricket while his fans still love him, and starting a career in luxury real estate like his mother. Cricket isn’t all that lucrative and he runs through his annual salary of a million rupees in three months. Cut to him racing a sports car and dangerously passing cars on the road. Money, sports, clothes, cars and women are his life, and he shares it generously with the filmmaker, giving Mehta seemingly unrestricted access to his private life.
One of Buddhadev’s raunchier anecdotes, told in his own four-letter words, involves him trying to make amends with a girlfriend after she discovers he’s been cheating on her. Though at first she’s furious, she later dons a belly dancing costume and gets him to have oral sex with her. The next day ,he comes down with a serious throat inflammation and loses his voice – “an assassination attempt!” he laughs.
Another time he describes how he views his future: two or three kids from different women around the world, whom he would visit in turn, when he has the time. While you wait for his sexism to blow up in his face in a #MeToo-type scandal, Mehta chooses a different, more subtle mortification to end his story.
The film looks shot with more imagination than cash, but the stolen-video style is perfect for its subject, and the frequent addition of computer and telephone screens enlivens the already lively editing, all handled by the filmmaker.
Production companies: Rescuers Film, Meta Motion Pictures
Cast: Buddhadev Mangaldas
Director, screenwriter: Kabir Mehta
Producers: Aakash Bhatia, Kabir Mehta
Associate producer: Massimiliano Nardulli
Director of photography, editor: Kabir Mehta
Venue: MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (Spotlight)