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‘Love Sex Aur Dhokha 2’ review: Cinema of disgust

Dibakar Banerjee casts a jaundiced eye on the nation, its shallowness and its fickle voting public

A still from ‘Love Sex Aur Dhokha 2’

By Uday Bhatia

LAST PUBLISHED 19.04.2024  |  04:17 PM IST

In the dystopian future of Tees, Dibakar Banerjee’s unreleased film from a few years ago, citizens are allotted and deducted points like they’re on a game show, except it’s by the state and has very real consequences for how they can live. Love Sex Aur Dhokha 2, Banerjee’s new film in theatres, shows the dystopian present that’s made this future possible. The reality show contestants, streamers and vloggers of the film live and die by ratings tossed out by a simultaneously besotted and sadistic public. “Use reality," a character is advised—and yet reality is repeatedly shown to be uncooperative, untamable. 

In 2010, Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha offered three stories about a newly digitizing India. It was a shock to the system—unadorned digital photography, no stars, no happy endings. LSD2 follows the same rules: three stories about sexuality and celebrity, purposely ugly, all the action mediated through screens of various kinds, from surveillance footage or gamer cams. The two films aren’t much different, but the country has changed. In 2010, it was possible to attribute some of the danger to the newness of the technology. Today, Banerjee is clear in showing the danger radiating from its shallow, selfish users.  

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Take, for instance, Noor’s progress on ‘Truth Ya Naach’, a reality show in which contestants are asked to reveal hard truths about themselves, and also dance. Noor is a trans woman, still transitioning, confident and ambitious. She’s willing to suffer to go far on the show, allowing the producers to fly down her estranged mother so she can fight with her on camera. With every scandal—a challenge to her male partner on the show to kiss her, a sexual harassment allegation—her ratings go higher. Yet, nearly all the videos from viewers about her are dismissive or homophobic. In a week where India goes to polls, Banerjee shows the fickleness of a voting public. 

The second segment too has a trans woman at its centre, Bonita Rajpurohit playing Kullu, an employee with the metro rail. Rajpurohit is trans herself; Paritosh Tiwari, who plays Noor, is a cis gender man. It’s certainly significant to get a Hindi film built around two trans characters, and to have a transgender actor in the lead. At the same time, Banerjee isn’t after scoring representation points (unlike some recent streaming shows). The messiness that accompanied his cis characters in the 2010 film is there in Noor and Kullu too. The second segment starts with Kullu’s body being discovered after she is raped. Lovina (Swatika Mukherjee), her employer, takes her side until it emerges that Kullu has lied—or at least left out something—in her testimony. The film allows Kullu her mistakes, just as it gives her the chance to emphatically speak for her choices.  

Shubham and Prateek Vats are Banerjee’s co-writers, and you can feel the absurdist anarchy of their 2019 film Eeb Allay Ooo in the final segment of LSD2. Gamer Shubham (Abhinav Singh) is still in school but is already internet famous as a foul-mouthed streamer and influencer. A mysterious fan arrests his rise, sharing a video of Shubham apparently have sex with another man, which causes him to unravel. I found this attack on deepfakes and toxic gamer culture the weakest of the three stories. The satirizing of reality TV and corporate tokenism in the first two segments is spot-on, but the last one falls into a common trap—trying to lampoon Indian TV news, which is already beyond parody. 

The muting of cusses through the film is a reminder of the censors LSD2 had to negotiate to reach theatres. That the film is no more provocative than the 2010 one (some might argue it’s less so) is an indication of how difficult it is to make Hindi films that agitate today. There are details—like the only Muslim character almost getting lynched—that would likely be addressed more boldly in a freer artistic climate. It's no coincidence how, like much of Bollywood, the characters in LSD2 are forced to tamp down on their rebellion and beg for re-assimilation into the mainstream. 

Banerjee’s last film was the choppy, agitated Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (2021). Tees, a triptych of stories that examines Muslim Indian identity over half a century, should have followed, but remains unreleased—perhaps unreleasable, given the extent of censorship, both imposed and offered, today. LSD2 slots nicely into a mini-genre we might call ‘cinema of disgust’, alongside Nadav Lapid’s Ahed’s Knee (2021) and the provocations of Radu Jude. These are ugly, funny films that regard their homelands with an anthropologist’s eye. Banerjee’s film doesn’t have the savagery of Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (2023)—the freedom to attack that broadly doesn’t exist here. But there’s no mistaking his disdain for the state of the nation.