‘Love, Sex Aur Dhokha 2’ movie review: Dibakar Banerjee sends a hate mail to the Internet

The filmmaker jettisons craft and cohesion in favour of a bald-faced lament against the Internet

April 19, 2024 06:09 pm | Updated April 20, 2024 09:01 am IST

A still from ‘LSD 2: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha 2’

A still from ‘LSD 2: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha 2’

Dibakar Banerjee trawls the seamy, cynical underbelly of cyberspace and finds more seaminess and cynicism. LSD 2 — a conceptual sequel to his 2010 found-footage thriller Love Sex Aur Dhokha — is a puzzling, grotesque, desperately bitter take on technology and cringe culture, aesthetically scornful and thematically overwrought. Banerjee has, for years, been one of our keenest satirists, his darkly contoured films verging on observational comedy, sending up the excesses and manias of contemporary India. But LSD 2 finds him at the end of his patience, like someone sending angry and undigested hate mail, caring not a jot.

Like the first film, LSD 2 presents a triptych of stories, chaptered here as ‘Like’, ‘Share’ and ‘Download’. In the first segment, transwoman Noor (Paritosh Tiwari) is a contestant on a Bigg Boss-like reality show. When Noor’s estranged mother (Swaroopa Ghosh) enters the farce mid-season, the hunt for approval ratings gets hilariously bizarre. The second story follows Kullu (Bonita Rajpurohit), a transgender janitor at a Delhi metro station, in the aftermath of sexual assault. Finally, we wind up with Shubham (Abhinav Singh), an 18-year-old gamer on the brink of influencer superstardom.

It promptly becomes clear how Banerjee — co-writing with Eeb Allay Ooo! (2019)‘s Pratik Vats and Shubham — views the Internet subcultures of today: as a cesspit of pretence and instant gratification, people’s identities commodified, fetishized, worshipful masses beholden to digital puppeteers beyond their comprehension or control. The vitriol flows in every direction, from the performative social justice allyship of private firms to the flaky creator economy percolating through middle India, complicit in its own oppression.

Banerjee takes on a lot, from transphobia to cyberbullying to big tech mind control, and the muddle of ideas and avenues leaves the film an inchoate mess. Remember the precise whiplash of Rajkummar Rao’s betrayal of his department store colleague in LSD? The new film has a dozen potential pathways like that, but doesn’t pitch up.

Love, Sex Aur Dhokha 2 (Hindi)
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Cast: Paritosh Tiwari, Bonita Rajpurohit, Abhinav Singh, Swaroopa Ghosh, Swastika Mukherjee
Run-time: 116 minutes
Storyline: Three stories from Indian cyberspace, concerning betrayal, identity and fame

The 2010 original broke ground in digital cinematography in India, simulating the grainy ubiquity of hand-held camcorders, CCTV footage and spy cameras. The operative word in found footage cinema is ‘found’, a sense of surreptitious discovery missing in LSD 2. Banerjee presents the Internet as an open, ugly scrapbook for everyone to read, bounding indiscriminately across live streams, news shows and Virtual Reality, occasionally abandoning the conceit altogether for human point-of-view shots.

The film’s visual invention, instead, lies in Tiya Tejpal’s production design, which works in surreal details in the background. In a subplot inspired by a real Gurugram atrocity, we visit an elite private school, its corridors adorned with cartoons of Elon Musk, Milkha Singh and entrepreneur Anand Mahindra. There is a more explicitly dystopian vision later on, a dizzying montage inside the metaverse, the flat textures and mucky colors of generative AI art symbolizing a homogenized society. The young actors are all memorable, especially Abhinav Singh as the streamer Game Pappi, and Anmol Ahuja’s casting is openly sardonic: Anu Malik, Tusshar Kapoor and Sophie Choudry play the reality show judges.

In a recent podcast, Banerjee jokingly referred to himself as a “hectoring professor and biblical prophet rolled into one.” His alarmist doomsaying isn’t out of place, and feels personal. The director’s last film, Tees, about three generations of an Indian Muslim family, was shelved by Netflix (Banerjee said he is shopping it around for new buyers). Even his contemporaries —directors like Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bharadwaj — have had their projects cancelled or stalled, platforms chickening out of politically-engaged material fearing repercussions in an intolerant climate. You can sense Banerjee channelling all these disparate frustrations in LSD 2, which is disdainful of corporates and algorithms, the soothing call of Big Brother and the animated bleating of electric sheep.

Love, Sex Aur Dhokha 2 is currently running in theatres

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