LSD And The Great Indian Middle Class In The Films Of Dibakar Banerjee
One of the most noticeable and publicized things about the movie was of course that it had been shot in a digital, hand held camera format. This visual style undoubtedly made the movie very real and immediate. In fact the reason why some people were appalled by the explicitness of violence and sex was because there was no background music or soothing wide angled shots to cushion the impact of the difficult scenes.
Before making Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (LSD or Love, Sex and Betrayal), Dibakar Banerjee had made two of the most original and authentic movies of the so called new generation of Bollywood since the turn of the millennium. His first movie Khosla ka Ghosla (KKG) was and continues to be arguably the best comedy about a post liberalization middle class family. The closest resemblance that it had was to the movies of Hrishikesh Mukherjee about simple and gentle middle class families in the India of 1970s/80s, so comfortably insulated from the chaos of their political and social settings that they could indulge in their funny and often whimsical ‘problems’.
Khosla ka Ghosla however, went much further than being a funny comic tale of a middle class family. It dealt with the hilarious consequences when two seemingly disparate worlds interact with each other as they do quite invariably in our modern India. The sophisticated have to interact with the crude and the gentle law abiders have to deal with the gun totters. But the some of the best parts of the movie were the interactions between the pre and post liberalization generations represented by the father and son of the family.
The father played brilliantly by Anupam Kher is driven by the middle class dream of his generation: a good, self-owned house. The son also seems to be driven by the middle class dream of his own generation that of getting a job in the US. Neither of them understands the value of what the other values. The new post liberalization generation is typified by a confidence of economic self-sufficiency which the prior generation did not have till very late in their lives. The older generation tries to adapt by trying to appease and cajole the younger generation which results in some really funny and yet somewhere heart-warming scenes in Khosla ka Ghosla.
If Khosla Ka Ghosla established his credentials as a sensible and crafted filmmaker, Banerjee’s second movie, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (OL, LO) convinced everyone how good his understanding of the urban middle class sensibilities is. The protagonist (Lucky) in OL,LO is seen in his earlier years as a very normal teenager who lusts after the same attractive things and has the same insecurities that other young people of his age and background have. Of course, he grows up to be a master thief which admittedly is not something that regular middle class boys do for a living. However, unlike the movies of 70s and 80s the explanation behind him becoming a thief is not rooted in some great personal tragedy or the prospect of starvation in the face of a cruel, classist world but rather in his middle class desire to be upwardly mobile.
He steals because he wants the good things in life and after a point perhaps because he just loves his work and loves the fact that he is so good at it. There is a very interesting montage in the movie, when Lucky being frustrated and disturbed by the fraud pulled on him by Paresh Rawal goes on a spree stealing everything and anything that comes across his way, all through the night What’s retail therapy for some is perhaps steal therapy for Lucky!
One of the biggest reasons for the success of Lucky (and the real life character on whom he is supposedly based) seems to be that he did not appear to be the stereotypical criminal, the uneducated, filthy and crass thug. He would dress well, drive a flashy car (a stolen one but still) and appear to be suave and cultured. In short, to the upper middle class of south Delhi, he would appear to be ‘one of them’.
Having made these two light-hearted and yet realistic and sensible movies, everyone was looking forward to his new project and almost everyone expected that it would have the same nice, quiet and peaceful general overtone. When the movie came out a sizable number of people who went expecting a light hearted or a titillating film were disappointed to put it mildly. The ‘critics’ and a hundred other serious film-goers were impressed to a great extent but shocked to a greater extent.
One of the most noticeable and publicized things about the movie was of course that it had been shot in a digital, hand held camera format. This visual style undoubtedly made the movie very real and immediate. In fact the reason why some people were appalled by the explicitness of violence and sex was because there was no background music or soothing wide angled shots to cushion the impact of the difficult scenes. They appeared too immediate and real to be just seen and forgotten like any other movie shot.
The film is neatly divided in three successive stories smartly interconnected to each other and dealing with L, S and D respectively. The first part is in equal parts a tribute/spoof of Bollywood potboilers (there obviously isn’t much of a difference between a tribute and a spoof of Bollywood movies) and a heart wrenching realistic story. Even after the first fifteen minutes or the so, this first story remains pretty uncertain in its tones. It seems like a naive and fun film while following the falling in love of the lead couple and the silly student film which serves as the backdrop to their affair. But there are some ominous and grave shadows in between when the girl’s family comes into picture. Eventually, however, it is the ending which redeems and gives a purpose to the story.
The ending is susceptible to the attacks of being contrived and that it’s a deliberate set up by luring the audience into a funny, sweet and innocent love story and then banging them in the face with a brutal ending. It cannot be denied that this is at least partially true but the ending has a greater impact not only because it is quiet gruesomely explicit but also because it is so ironically sad which is also true for life. Some of the gruesome tales of ‘honor killings’ that come out suggest that in most cases the victims are blissfully ignorant or deeply underestimate the violent reactions of their family to their amorous activities.
This first story on the face of it does not have any direct correlation with the invasion of media into our lives apart from the fact that it is shot like a home video with digital handy cams but even if it was shot on a normal movie camera, that would not have made too much of a difference to the story per se. Of course, reflecting a bit, it is apparent that the love story of the lead couple is not only inspired but is a reflection of the films of their generation. The candy floss romances of the 80s and 90s have been deeply embedded in the minds of the generation which grew up in during that period. So it’s not really a surprise that young couples in Kanpur or Ranchi have no hesitation in ‘falling in love’ without any regard to the sensibilities of their families. The problem of course is that their make believe worlds modeled closely on their favorite movies are completely out of sync with the realities of the world around them. Most of these films have happy endings with the disapproving elders being won over by the pure and sincere love of the young ones. Even the ones with sad endings make the sacrifice a glorious spectacle.
In real life, a high number of these love stories are crushed brutally by their families and the ‘society’ (the ‘khap panchayats’ being one of the ugliest manifestations of the same) and there is hardly any glory in being killed brutally and being forgotten forever. LSD of course offers no solace or solution to this. It just presents the problem is all it’s glory or rather with all its gory details. It does not attempt to be indirect or circumspect or provide a gentle suggestion to the audience about the fate of the love birds. It shows them being slaughtered and butchered as merciless(ly) as the perpetrators who commit them are.
The second story is probably the heart of the movie. It’s about what has possibly emerged as the most destructive side effect of the digital age. With the all-pervasive cameras from phones to security monitors and the ease and anonymity of user uploaded content on the internet has made paparazzi from a profession of a few to the hobby of an entire generation. Although, there are probably only one or two documented instances of the effect of an (in)famous MMS/ video on the unfortunate woman but it would be quite reasonable to expect that a number of lives must have already been destroyed if the number of ‘scandals’ that are uploaded on the relevant websites everyday are anything to go by. This is of course something which is indefensible and even the strongest proponents of free speech and self-regulation cannot defend such reprehensible actions. The only reason why it continues is because of the ease of carrying out such filming and the availability of the cloak of anonymity in uploading the content.
In the movie, the guy is an out an out a**ho** who starts off flirting with the girl with the sole intention of selling a video with her in the act. The girl on the other hand is a shy and homely girl, too conscious of her dusky, simple looks and has a heart of gold. As it happens quite often in the movies and not so often in the real life, the guy actually develops sincere emotions for the girl and resists from capturing her on the camera the first time he gets the opportunity. But soon after his sinister side is reawakened and the next time when the girl is inconsolable and really vulnerable for having lost her best friend, he films her and sells the video. Like the first part which has a really violent scene towards the end, this story has a rather explicit sex scene which is pretty uncomfortable to watch.
One reason why the damage caused by such a scandal in the age of Internet is catastrophic is because it is irreversible and proliferated. Once something has been uploaded on the Internet in public domain, it pretty much goes out of control from the hands of the person putting it up and keeps getting reproduced and reaches across the world in a matter of minutes. Unlike the earlier times when newspapers (and to a lesser extent the news channels) were the repository of public memory which could only keep track of a scandal for some time, now the 24/7 news channels do not have any qualms in running something over and over and over again. Even after the news channels tire of the story, it is impossible to erase the traces from the Internet and hence the scars would last through the victim’s life time and even beyond.
It is also interesting to see that while so many people would enjoy watching the video again and again and fantasize about it among other things, they consider themselves to be morally much superior to the poor girl who has been secretly filmed by someone she trusted in an intimate moment in what she thought to be a completely private moment and place. Another example of the dubious moral standards of the middle class. This question is also posed by the much harassed Chanda in the recent Anurag Kashyap movie, Dev D.
The third story deals with the highly controversial aspect of media encroaching upon the privacy of individuals under the garb of newsworthiness. It follows an exploitative and vulgar music video director/ singer who goes by the name of Loki Local. Loki is habitual of taking the aspiring starlets to his bed by promising to make them starts in his next ‘super hit’ music video. There is a girl who has been duped by Loki. She tries killing herself but is saved by a journalist who due to narrative coincidence is a veteran of ‘sting operations’. The girl wants revenge and the reporter is desperate for a story. She approaches Loki and soon they have him on the tape ‘taking advantage’ of her in lieu of a promised music video. The reporter has however developed romantic feelings for the girl by that time and is reluctant to put the graphic video up for the news channel wolves and an interesting conclusion is reached.
The rise of ‘invasive journalism’ is intricately linked to the rise of reality television all over the world and India has not been an exception. We were probably a bit slow to take off but in the last decade with the explosion of satellite television and the resulting competition for TRPs assisted by the advances in the surveillance technology have made ‘sting operations’ and ‘spy cams’ familiar words not only for the journalist community but also for the common man. Both these trends of reality television and the so called investigative journalistic endeavors are fuelled by the hunger for voyeurism in the modern society. A lot has been written about this and essentially as all things modern we just seem to be following the trend in the western societies but in view of the traditionally conservative nature of the Indian people, this trend is particularly perverted. It seems that while we are still not willing to see a couple kissing on streets, we apparently have no qualms about watching (in the privacy of our own homes) a couple indulging in far more intimate acts behind the closed doors through the aid of the technological marvels called hidden cameras.
While in countries like the United States there have been various instances where the victim of such sting operations have gone ahead and sued the news channels/ reporters for damages and have also succeeded a number of times, the idea is almost unheard in India. While someone like Tehelka which carried out the high profile arms corruption expose came under legal scrutiny (and even that was not so much from an angle of invasion of privacy as dealing with the security of the country), the smaller and saucier sting operations that have become the daily soaps for the news channels hardly ever result in a ‘invasion of privacy’ suit. It is usually the other way round and the person featured in such an expose irrespective of whether it concerns his public or private life is deemed to be guilty by the camera trial and is forced to defend himself.
The sense of self righteousness is so firmly entrenched in the Indian media that the questions about the ethical nature of such endeavors are contemptuously dismissed with a wave of the magical hand of ‘public interest’. LSD does not take a clear side, while it portrays Loki as a sleazy and exploitative scum-bag, it shows the news channel honchos as ruthless mercenaries whose sole concern is getting a juicy scandal for their TRPs. It’s not just a question of ends justifying the means but the ultimate objective is questionable. Like many other good movies, LSD offers no answers but it makes you aware of the questions. That in itself is something.
More to read
Sex And The Second Sex In Anurag Kashyap’s World Of Films
Critiquing Sexuality: Tracing the Changing Sensuality of the Popular Hindi Film Heroine (1950s-2000s)
Visible Voice And Imaginary Appearance: Let Her Absence Speak For Herself
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