By Anahad Madhav Mohapatra
Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha, which turns eight today, warned us of the dangers of technology long before Black Mirror could. It might not have had the feeling of impending doom that pervades through Charlie Brooker’s show, but in impact, LSD was nothing short of a scary trip.
Back in 2010, when fast-paced internet was still a distant reality and everything from the dahi bhallas on our plate to the kidney stones in our tracts had not been linked to our Aadhaar, Dibakar Banerjee gave us a lesson on the dangers of pervasive technology. The lesson might not have had the sleekness or technical finesse of Charlie Brooker’s missives from Black Mirror, but it was equally scary.
Love Sex Aur Dhokha, which turns eight today, is an anthology comprising three shorts that are bound together by the “found footage” format (made popular by The Blair Witch Projectand Paranormal Activity). It brings together narrative devices like CCTV footage, camcorder tapes, and hidden cameras to tell us the story. For an industry still tripping on non sequitur dance sequences in the middle of stories, LSD marked a massive shift in storytelling, especially for our popcorn-throwing, hero-worshipping janta.
The first story, titled “Superhit Pyaar”, is a tale of star-crossed romance told through the device of film school video project that both the young lovers are undertaking for a competition. The second one, “Paap ki Dukaan” deals with the perversity of internet porn, where a man neck-deep in debt tricks a colleague into having sex with him, records it on the store’s CCTV camera unit, and sells it to a friend who puts it out on the internet.
The interesting thing about the third story, “Badnaam Shohrat”, is that even though the focus is primarily on the casting couch and the questionable conduct of a singer/composer modelled almost entirely on Mika Singh, Banerjee doesn’t stop there. The invasiveness of the camera is apparent when we see the other side of the sting: TRP-hungry bosses who’d manipulate the sting operation footage to maximise their gains leaving the victim of the act in the middle of a storm. But we all know how context can be moulded to suit those on the outside. Ask Kanhaiya Kumar, he’ll tell you.In Dibakar Banerjee’s hands, the CCTV camera, a well-intentioned “security device” in Love Sex Aur Dhokha, turns into a macabre display of deceit. | Image credit: Balaji Films
In all three stories, the male perpetrators of the crime use the woman in their respective story as inciters of sexual violence and blame them for calling it upon themselves. A refrain from the film’s eponymous title track – “Tasveer utarunga, mele mein dikhaunga, jo dekhega uski ankhiyan nuchwaunga” – pretty much summarises the characters’ attitude towards women and the invasiveness of the camera.
However, just like in Black Mirror, the irascible monster of technology does not walk away with the blame. That rests squarely on the frailty of human emotions and the rising stakes of a moral dilemma, while technology merely acts as a catalyst in the same. Remember this season’s craziest episode, Crocodile, where the central protagonist, Mia Nolan, will go to any lengths to retain her status quo as a wealthy, successful, happily married family woman? The devices that threaten to expose Mia’s terrible secrets are merely props – the paranoia, the greed, the entitlement, the ultimate unravelling of the mind, and the instinct to kill that Mia displays, is entirely her own. It is entirely human.
The same can be said about Love Sex Aur Dhokha, where the challenges are a bit different. In the universe of the three stories, a predisposed notion of safety is constantly at odds with the idea of privacy.
For an industry still tripping on non sequitur dance sequences in the middle of stories, LSD marked a massive shift in storytelling.
In Banerjee’s hands, the CCTV camera, a well-intentioned “security device”, turns into a macabre display of deceit. I remember the time these omnipresent cameras were installed everywhere in the country, on the back of the “Broken Windows” theory. Their ostensible purpose was to prevent terror attacks and alter public behaviour for the better, by putting the fear of punishment in people.
For LSD’s protagonists, however, CCTVs are nothing but a means of subversion and transgression. The device gives us an illusion of control, but leaves our lives open to scrutiny and manipulation, feeding off our incorrigible anxiety to monitor everything without being physically present. Just like this season’s Black Mirror episode of Arkangel, where a single mother’s constant, anxious monitoring of her young daughter – with the help of a chip in her brain that hooks to a live feed – leads to disastrous consequences for both of them.
Aside from being a stringent warning on the challenges to privacy, in some ways LSD also set the tone for the kind of films we’d make in the coming years. Strains of the film are echoed in the intense short film, Agli Baar (2016), by Devashish Makhija, where Skype calls are used as the primary narrative device to tell a spine-chilling tale of political murders. Banerjee’s film opened up a whole new spectrum of digital filmmaking in India and in terms of style, cinematography, and music outshone almost everything around it.
Now, when I revisit the film today and stare back into the CCTV camera in office, I’m constantly aware, borderline anxious about being watched all the time. Love Sex Aur Dhokha is a cautionary fable that should haunt us – because its relevance will only continue to grow in the years to come.