"I find it strange that the encouragement of all kinds of abnormal behaviour on TV, and in the public eye, has become an endorsement of reality," reflects Dibakar Banerjee, in the middle of an editing session of his third film, Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) that deals with voyeurism in contemporary society.
“I was searching for an answer,” he continues. “What exactly happened to us that we find it entertaining when people are obnoxious to each other, when they swear, scheme, argue, and act vulgar and stupid? Why in the world is this being called reality?”
Banerjee, director of the National Award winning film, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! and Khosla Ka Ghosla, admits, “I had the usual pangs of being a teenager… I was interested in pornography and girls. But things weren’t voyeuristic to the level they are now,” he says.
During the course of making LSD, the director had to go through footage of porn clips, amateur home videos and clips from close-circuit cameras, to understand the process of shooting such clips. “In quite a few cases, the people being shot weren’t aware of the camera — it was obvious that the cameras were being misused,” he reveals. “I’m all for cameras in shops and malls for security reasons. I think that the intention of the people handling the cameras has a lot to do with what happens to the footage.”
Banerjee feels the invasion of privacy started in the early ’90s with the advent of cable television. “I remember it was around the Gulf war and everyone had got cable just because they were curious to see the images of missiles dropping into Baghdad,” he recollects.
Going too far
“I honestly think this tendency of people being curious about misfortune, disaster, controversy and scandal happening in other people’s lives has been stoked by consumerism and media,” he says. “When you have hundreds of channels vying for your attention, they will obviously resort to s**t like reality shows to grab eyeballs. The line between private and public is a blur.”
As LSD tries to put the actions of contemporary society under a scanner, Banerjee points out that reality shows are going too far in trying to depict what happens within the bounds of a home. “It’s obviously not reality because people are conscious of the camera and behave accordingly,” he says, “But I’d draw the line at having cameras at the entrance of my home. I wouldn’t have cameras inside the rooms of my house.”
Does it worry you that people might come to see LSD for the wrong reasons, thinking it’s a movie with generous sex in it?
Yes, I am worried but I’m using interviews to repeatedly say that if they come to see a sleazefest, they will be disappointed. The expectations with which the audience walks into this film will make or break it. But luckily, through my earlier movies, my reputation isn’t of someone who’d resort to such gimmicks to bring in my audience.
What expectations do you want people to come in with?
Life is all about contrast, it’s about mixing the terribly dark with the terribly funny. If people enjoy that contrast and want to see something taboo and avoidable that reflects our contemporary lives in a very direct way, then they should come in to watch the movie.
You’ve said in interviews that the film is “not directed” by Dibakar Banerjee. How did you go about unlearning direction?
The movie had to lose the stamp of ‘cinematography’ in its camera handling, shot composition and framing. To unlearn direction, I had to watch a lot of porn films, YouTube downloads, home movies, shaadi videos and other amateur stuff to see how to light the frame badly.
The essence of the movie is in the way the three stories have been shot — one from a student camera, one from a security camera and one from a journalist’s sting camera.
“The censors have given us an ‘Adult’ certificate, and that’s what we wanted. But there were some expected and some unexpected cuts. We were pleasantly surprised that they wanted to only reduce the sex scene, and not do away with it. But the surprising cut is that they wanted to remove some dialogues, which were a reference to inter-caste love and marriage and the traditional sentiments against it.
Our film talks about how caste is a regressive phenomenon and how it is poisoning our society, like Mahatma Gandhi said. But the Censor Board felt that the issue might lead to a disruption of peace. We fought for it, but finally complied with the cut.
Your first film, Khosla Ka Ghosla, was inspired by an episode in Jaideep Sahni’s life. Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye was based on the thief, Bunty Singh. What is LSD is based on?
The idea started with the Delhi MMS scandal. I was writing Khosla Ka Ghosla at that time. I remember going to a shop, where the owner was putting up a security camera. The moment it came on, he started speaking to everyone in English! Also, I had written a two-page Hindi story about honour killings. It was a letter from a boy from beyond the grave, to Manmohan Desai, about the meaning of love through his life.
So, the stories have been with me for quite some time. A couple of years ago, I was lecturing students on the use of digital cameras. And that inspired me to use it too! I’m glad all of it is finally out of my system through LSD.
What is your idea of sex and how has it changed from the time you first learnt about it to the making of LSD?
Like any normal Indian male, as a frustrated young boy, you fantasise about it through pornography, since you are not sexually active. Pornography fills you with the wrong ideas about sex — it doesn’t give you any holistic idea about how love can be a big turn on. And also, a needless ‘macho-ness’ is prescribed with males in a boy’s club environment, which you later realise means nothing. It’s a cycle; when you are young, sex is mixed with the idea of romance. As a young adult, the interest of the forbidden takes over. Finally, it returns with the idea of companionship.
How has your idea of love changed?
I’ve resolutely been in love with the same person for 15 years now. So, for me, it has evolved from one stage to another. It was intense and jealous, then became friendly, and today, when we are about to become parents, it’s an expression of creating something together.
How different is the portrayal of love and sex in LSD, from your own ideas?
There are three different love stories in LSD, which explain my idea of love and sex. The first is about a teenager’s idea of candyfloss, everlasting love, which is extremely influenced by the Bollywood idea of romance.
The other story is more complex. It is about a man’s typical confusion between love and the contrary emotion of being a male chauvinist. It’s about how he feels one way, but peer pressure asks him to behave in another. The third one is even more complex, where the person doesn’t even know he’s falling in love, and the other person is manipulating that love.
What do you want the audience to go back home with after they see LSD?
My films are just concentrated doses of what we see in our society. I just want audiences to engage with that and think whatever they’d like. What do you do by giving messages in films? Films don’t change society. But films like Lage Raho Munnabhai and Rang De Basanti did have an impact on the audience.
Films only come on Fridays, make some money and get good or bad reviews. Nothing happens beyond that. They just reflect reality around them and maybe, keep a thought alive. Lage Raho Munnabhai kept the thought of Gandhi alive. And then, the audience thought for itself. If my film works, it will leave the idea that there is no distinction between public and private, and even news has become entertainment. It won’t do anything else.
Growing up, did you enjoy alternate cinema more or were you a Bollywood buff?
I wanted to make films; I wasn’t aware of what parallel cinema was. You don’t classify what you do consciously. I never made a conscious effort to make this genre of films, they just turned out this way.
But yes, though I wasn’t a film enthusiast as a kid, I remember going into Chanakya cinema to watch a James Bond flick with my father at the age of 10, and seeing the trailer of Akrosh. Om Puri’s scream stayed with me. Similarly, I remember watching Ardh Satya and being blown away by it, or discussing Holi with my friends in school, or watching Taxi Driver. These movies stayed with me.
What did you think of Bollywood?
I do remember seeing Deewar, Zanjeer and Sholay much later as cult films. But I didn’t watch commercial films in cinemas. I would watch anything that would come on TV, and in that sense, I think Doordarshan has had the biggest impact on me.
As for Bollywood, it wasn’t even a concept at that time. It’s only now that the stars, their cars and their clothes have become an item of consumption for us, because of the lack of imagination in newspapers. But growing up, Bollywood was just the movies, and nothing else.
Your two films have been very different from each other, but they have created a sustained audience for such cinema. At the same time, with a change in genre, another audience you created gets alienated.
(Laughs) I believe there is a sustained audience, but yes, I get bored, impatient and restless with my own work and find new ways to express myself. So people who came into Oye Lucky, expecting a Khosla, were shocked to see that although I had championed the cause of the middle class in my first film, I was actually criticizing it in my second.
But if my work doesn’t evolve with me, my movies will become fake. I have a sustained audience because my audience has changed with me, and they have faith in me. My whole approach to the film industry has been from a small apartment and a smaller car. If I’m not making money, I’d rather reflect myself than the audience’s taste. (Smiles) The money comes from my ad films.