L.S.D. and the Age of the Camera*

Written by  //  August 27, 2010  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  7 Comments

Is the camera on?

One of the most noticeable and publicized things about the movie, Love Sex aur Dhoka was that it had been shot in a digital, hand held camera/ hidden camera format. This visual style made the movie very real and immediate. In fact the reason why some people were appalled by the explicitness of violence and sex in the film was because there was no background music or soothing wide angled shots to cushion the impact of the difficult scenes. They were too brutally real to be just seen and forgotten like a normal movie scene.

The film is neatly divided in three stories smartly interconnected to each other and dealing with the L, S and D respectively. The story 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 tone. 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. Its been said that its 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. 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 families to their amorous adventures.

The 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 its 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 infamous orders of various ‘khap panchayats’ being  the ugliest reflections of the same) and there is hardly any glory in being killed brutally and being forgotten forever. LSD presents the problem is all it 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. Its about what has possibly emerged as the most destructive side effect of the camera age. With the all pervasive cameras of 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. 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.  In the movie, the guy is an out an out bastard 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 vulnerable for having lost her best friend, he films her in the act 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 quite 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. 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 and fantasize about it, 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. This question is also posed by the much harassed Chanda in the 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 cast them 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 happens to be 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 half a 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. High TRPs of shows like Emotional Atyachar, Sach ka Samna and Big Boss is clearly an indication that while we may not yet be the voyeur nation like the US but we are surely getting there. 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 victims 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. 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 bosses as ruthless mercenaries whose sole concern is getting a juicy scandal for their channel. Its not just a question of ends justifying the means but the ultimate objective itself is questionable.

Anurag Kashyap often narrates the anecdote about his first movie, Paanch. Apparently, it was rejected the Censor Board certificate (and still remains unreleased) because the Board felt that there was no moral lesson in the story of the movie. Thankfully, now things have changed and LSD did release even though it is difficult to say whether the movie takes a moral stand. Does that mean that LSD is an ‘exploitation film’ which sells by showing uncomfortable ‘youtube’ like footage? I would say no. It makes you uncomfortable but because it intends to do so; because the reality it tries to depict is really quite disturbing. The couples who run away from don’t get a quiet, dignified, ‘slow music’ death, they get a brutal, unexpected, painful one; the girl in the ‘scandal in store’ video probably did not do anything even remotely ‘wrong’ or ‘stupid’ to deserve it and will probably never recover from it.

The film’s use of the digital video footage is not a gimmick but, in fact, its subject matter. By showing the reality in a much too immediate and recognizable form, it seeks to make you a part of the ‘filth’ that it ‘criticizes’ so that every time you watch a scandal  MMS/ Emotional Atyachar/ India TV/, you realize that you are creating a demand for the supply, that you become a part of the cycle of (irresponsible) media affecting people affecting media. Like many other good movies, LSD offers no answers but it makes you aware of the questions. That in itself is something.

* The author would like to acknowledge the discussions on this film with Abhishek Saluja, Harsh Parashar and Prateek Mishra which may form part of this post.

(THIS IS THE FINAL PART OF A TWO PART SERIES ON THE FILMS OF DIBAKAR BANERJEE)

(image from here)

7 Comments on "L.S.D. and the Age of the Camera*"

  1. vivekananda August 30, 2010 at 6:30 am · Reply

    Yawn. Nothing new here. Just repeating stuff that was covered to death in magazines and newspapers when the movie came out.

  2. Apurva Rai September 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm · Reply

    Good one Sharma. Hear Dibakar Banerjee is working on some kind of a political thriller (based on a european novel) as his new project. Lets see how that one turns out.

  3. Harsh September 14, 2010 at 7:20 pm · Reply

    well written, i reacted strongly to the film. (and thank you for the acknowledgment!)

    i have seen it again actually, it is a bold and gutsy film and i glad you wrote about it. i admire the film but i do think its written in a bit of haste and a film that is content with being just clever when it could have been “more”, driving in points rather than actually “living” with those characters before disposing em off, i am aware that its a ‘style’ chosen and i admire it for that, it is still a very moving film but DB’s earlier films were better because they observed those characters longer, scenes in khosla of the conman boman irani bullying kher, the step mother in oye lucky hitting/leching/ on the teenage lucky are equally violent and give a taste of real life violence which is always more beneath the surface and such experiences can scar you for life, LSD is still great cinema and more ambitious in its reach than others, thats an achivement)

    i reacted strongly seeing the film the first time, although it may be one of the more important films made in recent times.
    however, i would like to say on the pretext of sounding too “critical”, i had a terrible time the first time i saw it (and i still maintain the following reasons) because of:
    (1) the most catchy soundtrack in recent times just did not fit with the very grave theme of the film; (although it was brilliant on its own) i mean imagine “irreversible” “dog day afternoon” and “jaane bhi do yaaron” ending with loud music, that loud soundtrack maybe its most painful message that despite all the story, the loud noise of its ugly players will play on but i found that still unconvincing.
    (2) why was it was packaged like a ‘light sex spoof’ while it clearly was a hard hitting film; (i am okay with both sorts, but i always like to know what i am getting into on a saturday evening, dont show me black friday when i go for dabang, while both maybe good films);
    (3)why was it using “emotional atyachar” the television show for its own publicity during its realease, i find it hard to understand that you use the very show that you might have wished to attack to promote your film; and
    (4) the static fixed camera style maybe an effective technique to show an event just the way it is, but the film uses that for 3 ‘interconnecting’ stories implying something like all this is so “all around us” , that was really streching its logic a bit too much, too much amoores perros types.

    over time, some thinking, a second viewing and your article now puts other objections to rest!
    love your last para, that is the film and that is all it need be. that will do. maybe there is nothing more it could have done.
    btw its much better to watch it on laptop because it looks more immdediate just like paranormal activity, the shooting style makes it well….er “better” experience.

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