Not that it makes any difference to Aatish Taseer, but I’m feeling quite bad for him. I just started reading his first novel, “The Temple-Goers” and yesterday, when I was exactly 91 pages into it, I watched “Love Sex Aur Dhokha” or LSD as it’s known. “The Temple Goers” is full of characters you can recognise from real life even though they’ve been renamed, poetic odes to laburnum trees, and coyly-rechristened neighbourhoods like Sectorpur and Phasenagar. For the first, pre-“LSD”, 91 pages, this seemed fair enough. After having watched “LSD”, the novel feels almost adolescent in its efforts to capture the complexity of Delhi’s not-quite-middle class. In comparison to how the dividing line between fact and fiction is blurred in the film and how it plunges you into Delhi with its dim lighting and florid speech, Taseer’s book seems effete and affected. To think the posh, half-Pakistani hottie could be slam dunked by a bespectacled Bengali from New Rohtak Road… there’s hope yet for my people.
“LSD” is without any doubt one of the finest Indian films I’ve seen in years, maybe decades. Director Dibakar Banerjee has an uncanny, beautiful and disturbing grasp of Delhi. It has nothing to do with him being born and brought up in that city. He just has an incredible ability to tune into its moods and gently prise out the bricks of the “India Shining” wall to reveal its grotty, mottled realities. His last film was the superb “Oye Lucky Lucky Oye”, which was one of the sweetest and yet most heartbreaking love songs to the Capital. This time, it’s not a love song. I don’t know what “LSD” is but it’s brilliant and it’s one of those rare examples of a film that is a one-man movie. Not because Banerjee has pulled a Satyajit Ray and done everything for the movie from set design to music to costumes to poster design along with direction (he hasn’t), but because everything in “LSD” rests upon and arises out of Banerjee’s storytelling.
Which brings me to the impossible task of outlining the story without giving anything away. Whoever cut the trailer to this film, I bow to you. Because how the hell do you sum up three short films that end up depicting six lives and an India that is being churned into shape right now? This is the story of the girl who is allowed to wear skinny jeans because her jogging-suit-wearing father thinks that’s modern, just like the mansion he has built with a Mughal-e-Azam chandelier and marble slabs that are the same as the ones he supplied to the contractor who was building Shah Rukh Khan’s house. He’s also traditional, which is why he has the orangey-red mehendi in his hair, gold chains around his neck and will arrange his daughter’s marriage while she’s heart-lurchingly young and virginal. It’s also the story of a stupid boy who falls in love, a brave girl who despite being smart is also a fool. It’s about the big business of petty scandals that destroy lives and are forgotten the moment there’s a new one.
The stories are not disconnected. They’re all in Delhi. They are all about people who belong to a similar socio-economic slab. And none of them would have been told if there hadn’t been a camera, whether it’s the video camera or the security camera. The camera is not just a device in “LSD”. It is a shape-shifting character that becomes its handler. It is the narrator with an unblinking, unwavering gaze and without it, there are no stories. No spiffy movie cameras were used to shoot this film. No dolled-up actors were included in the cast. The people in the film belong to the world being shown on screen. All this makes “LSD” feel almost like a tightly-edited documentary and in some sense, it is. These are the lives and crimes that make up the tabloid headlines in the City section. To say any more about how well told the stories are or how accurately observed the characters are would give away the plots. I’m not going to do that with the hope that anyone who does chance upon this post will go out and see it (see it in theatres or buy the DVD if it’s not playing near you; because really, the producer Ekta Kapoor deserves a huge round of applause for having produced this film). From the way he twins real life with reel life in the film that a young film graduate is making to the moment when a guy takes the decision to not turn the CCTV off, Banerjee sculpts his film with oodles of sophistication. I’ll just say this: the second was my favourite, the first was heartbreaking and the third felt weakest in comparison by the end. “LSD” isn’t flawless but if you walk out of the film thinking of the flaws and not seeing the boy in the ticket counter or the girl in the security guard’s outfit with curious fascination, you’re a bonehead.
With “LSD”, Banerjee has established himself as perhaps India’s finest filmmaker and the only one of the current tribe who creates a cinema showing contemporary India. Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar, Raju Hirani and Anurag Kashyap, eat your heart out. Banerjee’s grasp of storytelling and technique is masterly. His understanding of his characters is superb. And he does it all without a hint of condescension or melodrama. Clichés become real. Life, for all its cruelty, trauma and ragged endings, is full of humour in “LSD”. Like the scene in which a man and a woman sit in the back office of a store and make small talk. He’s got the room ready hoping to film the two of them having sex. Except now, they’re having a mindless argument and on the mattress behind them sits an enormous can of vegetable oil, implacable and luridly green.
“LSD” is about the all-seeing eye of the camera, whether it’s shooting a movie or recording the comings and goings in a grocery or trying to uncover secrets in a sting operation. What it tells us though is that Dibakar Banerjee is watching and thank god for that.