An uncut version of the Indian experimental drama, LSD:  Love, Sex and Dhokha recently screened in Melbourne as part of the MIFF 2010 strand 'Not Quite Bollywood’. Kylie Boltin caught up with director Dibakar Banerjee about his film and combating Bollywood controversy.
4 Aug 2010 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:08 PM

LSD: Love, Sex and Dhokha (betrayal) is the third feature for Dibakar Banerjee. Hailed as India's first all-digital production, the low budget, highly structured story of voyeurism and privacy confronts many of the nation's ongoing taboos about sex, caste and youth. Inspiration for the film first arose from an MMS scandal in Delhi when a schoolgirl was exposed in a sex act. Following the scandal, the director says, “Indians were totally shocked that Indian young people did this, even though everyone in the whole world does the same thing! The fact that an Indian could shoot this on a mobile phone and spread it was another shock. The fact that hoards of Indians went on to amateur porn sites to see it, was yet another reverberation of the event.” The director freely admits that he was among those intrigued by the occurrence and the proliferation of intimacy exposed for all to see. Says Banerjee, “That got me thinking about privacy, and out of that came a story where a boy and girl meet in a supermarket, all seen through the security camera”.

This first idea for what would eventually become Love, Sex and Dhokha stayed in the director's mind throughout the production of his first two feature films, Khosla Ka Ghosla! (2006) and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008). In that time, ideas for two other stories emerged. In its final incarnation, LSD takes the form of three short, linked narratives which involve vastly different shooting styles. The first of the tryptic, Love revolves around a film student, Rahul (played by Anushuman Jha), who casts a young, first time actress (Shruti) as the heroine of his graduation film. The segment is filmed in multiple styles. First, from the point of view of an omniscient camera that captures the haphazard 'Bollywood extravaganza' Rahul is filming. As Banerjee says, “With its limited resources, it looks tacky. We had to make the frame look like that and yet emulate Bollywood.” The segment also incorporates a handheld component as the cast and crew film a behind-the-scenes documentary. The second story, Sex is set in a supermarket, and takes place entirely in front of a fixed wide-angle, security camera. The third involves a hidden camera and explores revenge and Dhokha.

In Love, Rahul and his heroine, Shruti are faced with entrenched familial opposition that is impenetrable and indeed, this was the most controversial aspect of the film for India's censorship board. Of their story, set amidst the frenetic student production, Banerjee says, “I was trying to talk about the contrast of what Bollywood cherishes and enshrines as the principles of love: Where love conquers all differences—money, caste, race and religion. I realised in India we are emulating how the hero and heroine will dress and walk but are we emulating what s/he actually says in the film? That love conquers all? It doesn't!”

While the narrative itself remained intact from pre-production through to the final cut, changes were made to the film for its local Indian release, which is seven minutes longer in duration. Banerjee explains, “There's reservation in India about a film being too short. You don't feel as if you are getting your money's worth.” India's censor also made “minimal cuts to the sex scene and blurred some of the nude body parts”. For the director, “the most important change” was that the censors insisted dialogue between Rahul and Shruti was too explicit. They demanded that lines spoken between the characters that identified their difference in caste be over-dubbed in post-production. “They said that we couldn't present it because it would lead to social unrest; that any public interest group could take umbrage,” Banerjee says now. “That was the point! I'm trying to say that there is still a bias between upper and lower caste. Even in our urban societies the layers are there, but they said we couldn't mention it. That there will be problems; that somebody will take offence and there might be rioting and damage to some properties.” Banerjee acquiesced. “In India, I re-recorded Rahul saying, 'I got a scholarship because I'm a special case'. Many people in India understood what that meant,” he says. Of the film's reception in India, Banerjee says that nobody had anything explicit to say about the film's anger and violence, although he does concede that the film made “a huge part of the audience uncomfortable.”

The multi-protagonist cast of LSD are all making their feature film debuts, and were secured from across TV and theatre. LSD also introduces a number of non-actors. For example, Banerjee had seen Neha Chauhan, who plays the central female role Rashmi in Sex, in a marriage video. Chauhan had no intention of acting. Rather, as a film student at the institute, she wanted a job on the production. Banerjee says now, “We called her to our office and asked her to think about the role while she joined us as casting assistant and cast for the whole film.” Chauhan workshopped with the actors for three months and was then offered the part of Rashmi. She agreed after consulting with her family, who were made aware of the inherent sexuality of the role.

While LSD is notably different in style, budget and star-power to the mainstream Bollywood blockbusters that most often gain distribution overseas, Banerjee still considers the film to fall within Bollywood's parameters. “I think Bollywood is big enough to embrace all kinds of films,” says the director. “My films play at the same theatres where the biggest Bollywood star vehicle plays. Of course, my film commands a fraction of that bigger audience but the same people come and pay the same ticket price. My films are promoted on the same channels, in the same newspapers, in the same magazines and in the same advertising space as the big Bollywood films. My films have to vie for the same radio channels to play the songs and have to employ the same marketing techniques. The only difference is the budget. A few directors like me have created a nascent fuzzy audience niche that doesn't mind seeing our films. That's what we've done so far. I would say it's just the beginning—let's see where it goes.”