Wednesday, March 24, 2010

LSD: Dev D on Drugs

“Dev D” was the movie event of last year. Edgy and racy without compromising on the aesthetics, it was testimony to the fact that Indian cinema was finally growing up about issues like sex and sexism. It featured some of the most shocking moments in Hindi cinema since perhaps the rape scenes of “Bandit Queen”. Taking on the story of Devdas and turning it on its head, it, I think, finally exorcised the film industry of its fetish for the tale of the lover who takes to alcohol as self-flagellation for his doomed love for Paro. It revealed the inherent sexism of the story by choosing to show the “hero” as an insecure, chauvinist loser and gave us two of the most powerful female characters ever to grace the Hindi movie screen. For once, a film chose to depict sexual desire as an integral part of the female. It was a shocking film. But it was also high art.

Dibakar Banerjee is one of a few new age directors (which include Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj, Onir and Nagesh Kukunoor) who choose interesting and different subject matters for their films. With a repertoire which includes the old school comedy “Khosla ka Ghosla” and black crime caper “Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye”, it is easy to expect something different from him every time. However, despite such expectations, the promos of “Love, Sex aur Dhokha” did manage to surprise me. Shot in a Blair Witch Project style, the movie featured a cast of all new actors and seemed to be all about love, sex and dhokha (i.e. deception). The only thing that provided any credibility to the movie was Banerjee being credited as the director. Going into the theatre, I, like all others, expected something truly hatke like "Dev D".

As far as shock value is concerned, LSD is basically like “Dev D” on cocaine. It is an absolute shocker of a film that grabs you from the first frame and holds on to you till the last. In fact, I think, in “Love, Sex aur Dhokha”, India has finally found a good exploitation film. Sensationalist and disturbing to its core, “Love, Sex aur Dhokha” stays with you for a long time after it’s over as you go over the several memorable moments of the film in your mind. It explores the theme of voyeurism in a way no Indian movie ever has. In fact, LSD might just have set a new benchmark for using the adjectives “bold” and “daring” for films in Hindi cinema.

The story is actually 3 stories. First is about a seemingly typical rich girl-poor boy love story set in the backdrop of a film that the boy is making as a part of his film school project. The second is about a down on his luck man who decides to make a quick buck by making a pornographic clip of himself with a store employee through the store’s CCTV camera. The third is about sting operations and the extent to which people are willing to go for their few minutes of fame. All the stories are inter-connected in often unexpected ways.

Kudos to Dibakar Banerjee for giving the film that distinctive feel by shooting it in the style of CCTV and hand held cameras. In so doing, he almost makes the audience a spectator to the tales. Also, he achieves this without making the audience annoyed/nauseous through shaky camera movements etc. The editing and cinematography is crisp and helps weaving the movie into a seamless whole. The unknown cast of actors gives the film a very realistic feel that made me squirm several times. The realistic, faux-documentary style is well used here.

That being said, I do think that the film is a highly imperfect one. There is nothing aesthetic about the movie as such. The individual stories are, by and large, predictable. The filming technique is well used in places. However, there are moments where the camera adjustments look obviously deliberate and considerably dilute the impact of the film at those points. It is essential to a film like this that the camera usage be completely independent of the actors. The exploitative nature of the film is both, its biggest strength and weakness. While it helps shock you and give you a very different movie-going experience, it can hardly be regarded as a classic or high art. I can imagine 5 years later people looking at the movie and saying, “So what?” If one goes beyond the story telling technique, there is little which is really great about the film. While Banerjee will always be credited for introducing the technique successfully in the mainstream, there will be better movies made using this technique. His movie is to the technique what (in an exaggerated sense of course) “Fantasmagorie” was to animation. While it will always be seen as the first of its kind, it will be surpassed by several other better films in the future.

Having said that, LSD still is the most shocking mainstream movie Hindi cinema has seen in the recent times. It has a unique story telling technique and the execution is remarkable though not perfect. It is an exploitation film, but is a good one at that. The movie will shock you and make you think about the times we live in. It shows the ugly side of reality entertainment and may just make you squirm every time you look at a CCTV camera or MMS clip again.

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