OYE PLUCKY! PLUCKY OYE!
Dibakar Banerjee pulls off a courageous experiment, even if that’s not quite the same as a satisfying movie experience.
MAR 21, 2010 – SOME FILMS MAKE YOU GRASP FOR breathless clichés about thinking out of the box. With some others, you wonder if the director has boxed himself into a conceit and is honourably attempting to figure his way out. I was left with the latter suspicion as the terrific title song of Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha began to play before the closing credits. (What a marvellous sense of mood-music this filmmaker has!) The three components of the title – love, sex, betrayal – snake in and out of three different stories shot through three different types of cameras. The ultra-Bollywoody romance of Rahul (Anshuman Jha) and Shruti (Shruti) is rendered through a student filmmaker’s camera. The sordid department-store shenanigans between Adarsh (Raj Kumar Yadav) and Rashmi (Neha Chauhan) are spied upon by a CCTV camera. And the sting operation orchestrated by television journalist Prabhat (Amit Sial) and two-bit dancer Naina (Arya Devdatta) – in order to expose the preening pop-star known by the irresistible nick of Loki Local (Herry Tangri) – is captured on a spycam.
This germ of a conceit is a gem, allowing for a crosshatch of seemingly parallel plots linked loosely by the characters and the verité atmospherics. (The newcomers are mostly excellent.) Apart from looking great on paper, as a festival-submission synopsis, these wispy strands of story can be wrought into any number of hot-button theses topics – the voyeuristic society we live in, the voyeurs of cinema that we are, the changing definitions of what we’ve come to consume as entertainment, the unchanging ways in which women continue to be oppressed, the blurring lines between cinema and reality, and so on and so forth. Love Sex Aur Dhokha is nothing if not off-the-charts ambitious – and yet, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Banerjee has pulled off a successful experiment rather than a satisfying experience. After a point, I began to wonder if Banerjee hadn’t painted himself into a corner, with his desire for threesomes, and if he wouldn’t have been better off expressing fidelity to a single narrative (with the same style and the same themes; I’d vote for an expansion of the second segment).
But there’s no doubt that this director is the real article. I wasn’t overly enamoured by Khosla Ka Ghosla – the first hour or so was a brilliant character study masquerading as a common-man saga, but the amateur-hour theatrics in the subsequent plans to outwit the villain left me cold. I felt trapped in a sketch better left to Priyadarshan and his band of blowhards – this superbly muted ensemble cast deserved better. But Banerjee’s second feature, the magnificent picaresque Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, blew my mind. Liberated from the burden of having to narrate a “story,” the director was finally able to impress us with his true calling – the fetishistically detailed limning of lovable eccentrics. (If that makes him the Wes Anderson of West Delhi, the comparison does not come about idly; there’s another director who’s never happier than when allowed to prowl about plotless territory, with character quirks and wallpaper design in lieu of beginning, middle and end.)
And with just these two films, we were able to see the recurrent signs and signatures of an auteur – the mild contempt for the nouveau riche and the simultaneous sympathy for the upwardly mobile, the underdogs who are denied things by their higher-ups in an unjust social order and who find ways (often involving playacting) to seize those very things, and, of course, the micro-calibrated detailing (in terms of production design, music, and finely tuned casting). Even the themes were similar. These were movies about want, and this need was expressed unequivocally by the Kishore Kumar chartbuster from Lahu Ke Do Rang that blared over the opening credits of Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!: Chahiye thoda pyaar, thoda pyaar chahiye. Loosely translated, the lines declare, All you need is love, and it’s (coincidentally) another Beatles number that the title of Banerjee’s third film acronyms to – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
But the me-too motifs are entirely uncoincidental. Here too, we have a wealthy upstart boasting about the chandeliers in his bungalow, styled after the ones in Mughal-e-Azam (and here too, he’s conned a bit too easily into a scheme he’s initially leery of). Here too, there’s a welcome hint of the ordinary when it comes to heroines. (Has Neetu Chandra ever been as appealing as she was in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, scrubbed free of greasepaint and representative of the way back home for the protagonist?) Here too, there are delicious slivers of absurdity in the humour, like the instance of a character slipping on sauce. Here too, we have the jaw-dropping attention to detail (say, the legends “Dee Bee Cinemas Presentetion” or “The Superstar is Arrived” or the glittery beret on a pop-star’s head that almost outshines the satiny cushions on his bed). But otherwise – thematically – there’s little to label LSD a companion piece to (or part of a continuum with) Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, and that’s a good thing (even if we’re going to have to reformulate the criteria that make Banerjee an auteur).
What’s not so good is that, once you get past the deliberately scrappy stylistics, there’s not much in LSD to keep you invested. The first segment of the triptych is the weakest. Poor-boy Rahul and rich-girl Shruti fall in love on the sets of the student diploma film that he’s directing (and she’s acting in). It’s a send-up of (yawn!) Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, and we’re supposed to make something of the mirroring events on either side of the camera (with characters glimpsed in reflecting surfaces) – the initials of Rahul and Shruti match those of Raj and Simran (from DDLJ), the father is in opposition to the match, and so on. There’s one truly demented joke, where the harried hero protests to the heroine’s father that they don’t really come in contact during the love scenes (“Gap lekar lipatte hain… Touch nahin karte!”) – but this stretch, otherwise, is tiresome and overfamiliar, and it comes with the limp coda that all-out love may triumph in reel life, but real life usually has nasty tricks up its seductively embroidered sleeve. Who knew?
The third story is slightly more tolerable – at least, we’re not subjected to screechy archetypes. But even this business of sting operations and soul-searching comes off like a moralistic minefield better left to grunts like Madhur Bhandarkar. It’s the navel-gazing midsection, really, that makes the movie. (It also links the three narratives.) Like the rest of the film, the relationship between the rakish Adarsh and Rashmi is leached of drama and laced with beguilingly casual conversations, and the gradual thawing in Adarsh’s appraisal of Rashmi – from contemptuous object to companionable human being – carries a devastating charge. A character, at one point, exclaims, “Director kabhi dikhna nahin chahiye… Uska kaam dikhna chahiye,” that you should never see the director in a film but only his work – and this is where Banerjee lets his work speak for itself, letting go the forced humour of the first chapter and the camera-laced-with-flecks-of-blood hysterics of the final installment. For all the edgy attempts at envelope-pushing, it’s the intrusion of old-fashioned morality that gives LSD its soul.
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