It’s quite an exciting time we’re witnessing in terms of Indian cinema. Not only are the films diversifying evermore across the board but there is also a genuine interest internationally in India’s cinematic culture. However, while ‘Bollywood’ is the buzzword, the smaller more independent films from India are also fighting to be in the spotlight, and deservedly so. On July 15, London’s Cineworld (Haymarket) was host to the opening night of the 1st Annual London Indian Film Festival (LIFF), which aims to exclusively showcase powerful independent Indian films to a global audience that goes beyond NRIs. The festival opened with a bang with the UK premiere of Dibakar Banerjee’s immensely innovative and enjoyable film Love Sex aur Dhokha (LSD). Here’s a summary of the opening night, including a review of LSD and interviews with Dibakar Banerjee and one of the film’s leads Anshuman Jha.
Speaking to The NRI before the opening, festival director Cary Rajinder Sawhney highlighted the main goal of the LIFF is to “punch up the profile for independent Indian films in a market that hasn’t yet been tapped.” Sawhney, who has in the past worked with the British Film Institute and led the ImaginAsia festival, said he hopes to “internationalize independent Indian cinema so there is widespread critical appreciation and mainstream distribution of these lesser known films that talk about the real India.” With an intriguing lineup of films, starting with the opening night film LSD, Sawhney and his LIFF team appears to be off to a good start.
Banerjee’s LSD begins with a super cheesy, gaudy, overdone-with-graphics, introductory tease promising reality cinema. It’s ridiculous and reminds you of the many films and TV shows that have begun this way, but that’s exactly the point. From the very first second, the film submerges you into a cinematic experience you haven’t seen; yet it is of a world that seems all too familiar. As Banerjee puts it, “The film pretends to be not a film.” LSD is divided into three intertwined episodes, each telling engaging stories about contemporary India using unique camera techniques.
The first story is about Rahul, a hardcore Aditya Chopra-fanatic who falls in love with the heroine of his college film, Shruti. They live a Bollywood romance, witnessed constantly through Rahul’s camcorder, until it all goes shockingly wrong. Actor Anshuman Jha, who plays the male lead here, says that his character is “the real Rahul, who wants to live out cinematic fantasies but eventually has to face the reality of what he wants.” This episode is treated both as a spoof and homage to Chopra romances aided by a hilarious father character to spur the story. Especially funny is the scene when the father leads Rahul and his cameraman around his mansion ordering them to shoot his prized material possessions. The camera becomes an active participant in this episode as the characters often talk directly to it or repeatedly glance at it. Only occasionally does it feel like a forced presence.
The second story is set in a supermarket seen entirely through CCTV cameras, establishing it as a theatrical stage where characters flit in and out. Adarsh is a smart MBA graduate who is in desperate need of some quick money. Influenced by his friend, he hatches a plot to seduce one of the supermarket employees, Rashmi, in front of the watchful cameras to sell it as a sex video on the internet. Cue emotional complications and meddling supporting characters, and this segment of the film is gripping for such convincing acting during several very long and difficult takes. Banerjee referred to this story as a “sort of play, the camera is static, there aren’t any close-ups, no cutting to focus on the action. Instead, the movement within the frame is meant to tell the entire story.” This segment does a great job of making the viewer feel voyeuristic; we’re not supposed to be secretly watching these interactions in the supermarket, yet we can’t look away.
The third chapter of the film shifts to a sting journalist Prabhat and the world of spy cameras. Under pressure from a sensation-hungry boss, he helps out an aspiring dancer Naina get revenge on “India’s biggest pop star” Loki Local by catching his demands for sexual favors on camera. It’s a very topical story, reminiscent of the boom in sting journalism that took place in India over the last decade. Loki’s character is incredibly fun to watch and helps lift what is probably the slowest story of the three. It does, however, continue with the film’s goal to push the boundaries of “what people don’t want to talk about, how we’re all being watched in some way, how our lives are increasingly public,” according to Jha.
The most fascinating aspect of LSD, besides a very taut script, is the use of the camera (in whichever shape or form) as the principal character. The human characters are constantly aware of its presence and use it in different ways to accomplish what they want. This technique makes it perhaps India’s most commercially successful experimental film. Banerjee, however, says he never intentionally sought to make an experimental film, stating, “had I known it was breaking this or that rule of filmmaking, I would have been too nervous. I just made the film I wanted to make.” LSD presents a new chapter in Indian filmmaking. It is unapologetic, unafraid, and completely and utterly honest about a segment of modern Indian society. When asked for his reason for making such a film, Banerjee concluded, “I was interested in reflecting a grammar that is all our own. We live in an India where digital video, CCTV, internet porn, MMS’s, and spy cameras are all around us. I wanted to make a film that used these tools.” The six principal leads, including Jha, are all new but exhibit very natural acting talent. Each one fits into his or her role effortlessly keeping you interested throughout.
Already a commercial success in India, the team of LSD and the organizers of LIFF hope to expose the film to a much more widespread international audience. It’s not just a major accomplishment in terms of innovative camera techniques but it is also thoroughly entertaining as a reflection of us. After all, who doesn’t like a good look at someone else’s dirty laundry? A must watch!
The LIFF will continue until July 20. Click here for the full schedule of the festival (will open a new page).