LSD: Lazy, Sloppy, Disappointing
In 2008, when I reviewed Oye Lucky Lucky Oye I referred to the director Dibakar Banerjee as a new dawn in Indian cinema. It was well-deserved then, but not so much any more. Certainly not with his latest venture Love, Sex aur Dhokha.
Love, Sex aur Dhokha or LSD as it is quirkily called, is a bunch of three stories that are not shot but rather captured – one on a digi-cam, one on CCTV and one with spy cameras. The first story is of a young man in film school who falls in love with his leading lady. Since her conservative father (who also features in the film) wants to marry her off to an NRI, the two decide to run away and get married secretly. All this and their tragic end is captured on his digi-cam. The second, and the longest story is of a store manager who needs to pay off his debt to some suspect, obviously dangerous characters. He seduces a store girl and captures their lovemaking on one of the store cameras and then sells it off. The final story is of a sting operation where a small town girl tries to avenge herself and expose a pop star with the help of the media.
All the appreciation that poured in for the film was because of this supposedly revolutionary and revolutionizing technique of using alternative shooting techniques. I realize that for Indian cinema it is a first, but I am curious about the critical response this technique has got. While acknowledging that numerous films from Hollywood (most recently Paranormal Activity) and across the world have used these filming techniques, most critics still express a sense of wonderment over it in this film.
I argue further that even if it is an inspired idea, the director is by no means aware of the potential it has. Using a CCTV or even a digi-cam to shoot a film can and should drastically alter movement and more importantly the scope and physical reach of the audience’s vision. This crucial aspect of alternative cameras is sadly missing in LSD. And quite naturally so, if you place four store cameras and make sure all the action, quite contritely happens in front of one of them (story 2), the key feature of a static camera is not being used. This change of apparatus should reshape the relationship between visual and the narrative, and that doesn’t happen here at all.
A great casualty of this film, especially when you compare it to Banerjee’s own excellent two previous ventures, is characterisiation. In both Khosla ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, the view of the Indian middle class was from the inside. They were being painted with great love and an amazing attention to detail. Each character was more memorable than the other. And despite being class-specific, there was an anchor to each character that it crossed boundaries for the audiences as well. This is the fatal flaw of LSD. Just because the ‘grammar’ and the apparatus has changed, doesn’t change the fact that there are still stories being told, and in fact the characters here have to be more ‘real’ than in admittedly fictionalized stories. There is a sad lack of layering and complete absence of shades to the characters we see in this film. They are surface oriented, and very badly etched, with stereotypes serving as raw material. The class consciousness has got the better of the director this time. There are strong hints of judgment – be it aesthetic or moral in the way these characters are defined.
And finally, the biggest question: what is this film trying to say. In a recent interview, Banerjee said, “It talks about the diminishing line between what is public and what is private,” (The Hindu, March 18, 2010). While that is not an issue that is obsolete, they way Banerjee decides to depict it certainly is. In 2010, to tackle this changing divide by going back to the MMS scandal is being grossly unimaginative. Worse still, what does that painfully long section say that hasn’t already been said? That the girl’s life was ruined as a result of the scandal while the boy could easily move on? Isn’t it a bit late and stale to say this? Similarly with the third story, explosive potential lies in the ethics of sting operations, the divide between truth and invasion of a person’s private space is something people are still talking about. The debate has gone far beyond a hopelessly black news editor whose position among the other irredeemable characters of the film is embedded in her persona – from her language to her diction to her priorities. Banerjee further said, “The film is about voyeurism but in itself is not voyeuristic,” (The Hindu, March 18, 2010). Sadly, it isn’t even that.
The highly self-conscious but ultimately flawed structure of the film, its desperate attempts to create links between its three fragments, the poorly written script, badly defined characters and a general lack of a soul and centre is what struck me when I saw this film, and I was deeply disappointed because its director had made a promise with his last two films and fails miserably to deliver in this one. This time he has taken an easy way out by using a provocative title, a sex scene and a lot of colourful language – in other words, a new formula.