A still from the film Agra.

With less than a month to go for Cannes 2023, it has been revealed that Indian director Kanu Behl’s Hindi feature, Agra will be premiering at the event.

Indian director Kanu Behl’s Hindi feature, Agra, will premiere at the Directors’ Fortnight, which along with Critics’ Week are sidebars of the Cannes Film Festival. Agra is the only feature in this section this year. This is a non-competitive category open to all Festival goers.

Behl’s earlier work, Titli, also premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight in 2014. Agra stars Rahul Roy (who was in Aashiqui), who comes back with this movie. It also features Priyanka Bose (actor in the Oscar-nominated Lion) and debutant Mohit Agarwal, who essays the lead.

Guru (25), a sexually repressed young boy, lives in a small house in Agra. He sleeps in the same room as his mother, and on the upper floor, his father lives with his mistress. In an already tiny house, the only available space is the terrace on the upper floor. Guru insists that he loves Mala, an imaginary girl, and will marry her and live with her in a room on the terrace just like his father does with his mistress.

Agra then becomes the odyssey of a young Indian man’s sexual coming of age as he goes from courting an imaginary girl; to sex chatting with an unknown girl online; to finally bedding a 40-year-old cripple woman and ‘falling in love with her’, ending up having sex with for the first time. As everyone else in the house fights for the terrace to be used for their own material gains, Guru struggles with his sexuality.

Behl, who also wrote Agra, said in a statement: “This work has been a deeply personal and difficult exploration for me, a deep dive into the inner entrails of desire and male sexual repression, and an attempt to understand the hoodoo. I’m overjoyed that the film is beginning its journey at Director’s Fortnight and I hope it opens a conversation around sexuality and the ‘homes’ we choose to live in, as it reaches a wider audience.

“After Titli, I was asking myself what I want to talk about, and I felt like there was a caged impulse which was straining to get out and I wanted to understand it. More so because I felt it was a gaze I had seen in almost every other Indian boy/man around me.

“A strange familial hive bonding that is combined with a severe lack of space… Too many people packed together in too many corners like a pack of sardines. As I explored this central idea, the movie began to emerge. Guru’s fight for the empty space on the terrace became emblematic of his epic dual struggles: First for his own sanity, the concretisation of his understanding of relationships, the difference between sex and love, trust and faith. For his own understanding by the end that even though the sexual act might be the purest expression of love, within it lie the cracks of myriad human desire.

“Second, more importantly, I wanted to talk about the larger struggle for Guru. The one he fights against the people and the world at large. Slowly realising that the space problem in his house is real, and the best solution perhaps is the most brutal. It cannot be solved by a mistress or her money, but by a more basic amputation. To give the base of the house away and go more vertical… make a ‘deal’ with the devil and get everyone what they desire, making himself a part of the system”.

The 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival will be held from May 16 to May 27.

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