Bedecked in the skeletal ensemble of a ripped tunic and cut-off jean shorts, the olive skinned Luna stands like a sleepwalker with a thousand-yard stare, framed from below through a diamond shaped column block. This intentionality in composing their shots is a meticulous pattern that the director Ronjoy Chatterjee and DOP Kevin James Crasta have upon throughout the dream grunge landscape of Toke Chhara (translated as 'Without You'). Produced under the creative label Moonstone Multimedia by the artist duo , the lyrics and visuals are designed to puncture the tameness of idealised love; soaring like a vulture above the scathing wastelands of a dysfunctional relationship.
Featuring the singer — now beginning to be recognised by their artist name Bidishah — and the drag artist Glorious Luna in a smouldering palette of bleached bypass blues, lustrous blacks with intermittent pops of fire engine red, the music video is an enigmatic exploration of human attraction aboard the rudderless boat of codependency.
Silhouetted against the burning embers of this desaturated colour wheel, Luna’s ethereal presence wafts through a bleak under-construction skyscraper like a Lana Del Rey-esque phantom, flitting in and out of Bidishah's peripheral vision. If Bidishah is the yin of a coercive fight response, then Luna is the frozen cry of desperation, the yang of longing suppressed into inactivity.
The ready-to-make-it-work and wanting-to-let-go impulses grappling within a person under the influence of a volatile infatuation are deftly mirrored by the costumes. Rahul Jamble, a 23-year-old stylist, put together Bidishah’s sheer-black outfit with white shoes whilst keeping the yin-yang in mind as a consistent symbol. The long knitwear was Luna's own creation and they systematically built their whole look from scratch, including their own hair and makeup. Shot in the span of an eight-hour business day, the tightly wound crew pulled it off owing to their highly collaborative derring-do, with some like the associate producer Ank filling in multiple roles.
Ronjoy laments on how most film sets in India are very hetero-male dominated — “...from the light men to the spot dada” — and he noticed that, as a result, women and queer filmmakers feel the need to overcompensate. He relates how a female cinematographer can often be at the receiving end of casual sexism from the camera team who may remark, for example, on how she is too frail to hold a camera properly.
In a by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) examining some of the biggest Hindi blockbusters since 2019, close to 72% of the 2,000 characters analysed were played by men, 26% by women and 2% by trans and non-binary actors. Not only does the onscreen representation of marginalised genders leave much to be desired, but the films TISS studied had employed more than 26,300 men and only 4,100 women in the crew, serving as a harsh indictment on gender disparity behind-the-scenes in the mainstream cinema. “I used to hide my queerness in this industry," says Ronjoy, the effervescent young director with long hair down to his shoulders, who cracks an impish smile when he confesses that his mother cannot relate to the gender fluidity in his films.
“There’s so much stigma attached to it,” he remarks while dissecting the problem of filming queer stories in our country. “Even actors who are gay won’t come out publicly so how do we cast for gay characters?”
While the casting, location and treatment of the music video were heavily influenced by Bidishah’s own creative voice, Ronjoy infused the narrative with a profusion of graphic analogies. “If you see there is this recurring frame,” the director pipes up about the opening shot of hands interlocked in sweet unrest. “I have always been fascinated with the idea of webs, like this game called Cat’s Cradle, where there are strings around your hands that you’re trying to disentangle.” Relationships are like that, Ronjoy insists, you get so tied down that it’s difficult to live with someone and equally impossible to go on without them.
This is not solely emblematic of queer love because this Catch-22 melodrama of being in an addictive relationship is a universal malady, affecting everyone regardless of orientation or cultural background.
Circling back to the low angle shot of Luna framed through the concrete block, Ronjoy mentions that though he had a storyboard planned out, many such images occurred to him impromptu while scouting the location near Juhu circle in Mumbai. “All the shots were carefully thought out to convey claustrophobia, a sense of suffocation,” says Ronjoy as he breaks down the subtext of the film. “Like that shot where they are trying to touch each other but there is this plastic sheet in between.” In the physical reality we live in, sometimes passionate affairs do not last because life gets in the way, keeping even the most well-suited lovers apart.
While the pre-production and principal photography were time-efficient, the post-production took close to three months because the editor and colorist was working remotely from Kolkata, logging in for a quick session every time they got a break from their day job. Initially, there were also some disagreements about the aspect ratio at the editing table. While it made sense to choose 4:3 to communicate the feeling of being trapped, because the film was shot in Cinemascope, 16:9 was finally settled upon.
Ronjoy loves that the spaces in the film can breathe and betray the naked expansiveness of longing, another important theme of the story, and the aspect ratio very much works for YouTube’s platform as well.
With musicians Cissy and Joe brought on board almost a year ago in Kolkata, Bidishah's angst ridden track dwells on the confluence of Bangla classical and hip-hop, and is elegiac in its plaintive lyrical value. The video dropped on July 21, 2023 and has gathered some buzz for its subtle nod to a non-binary interpretation of conventional romance.