LSD 2: Looking sin in the eye

Dibakar Banerjee’s film Love, Sex aur Dhokha2 invokes the horror of being online, and being present in the crosscurrents of our attention economy.

Published : Jul 09, 2024 19:15 IST - 5 MINS READ

A still from Love, Sex Aur Dhokha 2.

A still from Love, Sex Aur Dhokha 2. | Photo Credit: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

What does it mean, as an artist, to understand, truly understand, being online? I ask this question because over the past few years we have had a few novels trying to replicate the fractured thought, armoured irony, and bleary eyes of being online as a storytelling device—think Patricia Lockwood, Lauren Oyler. At the heart of these endeavours is the troubling question of how to mimic the Internet, to replicate its affect, and to compete, in the same vein, for our attention. There was something experimental and searching, because the posture of being online, the way we let our bodies decay willingly even as we crave eternal progress, requires rethinking the very form of art. 

Director Dibakar Banerjee seems to be buzzing asymptotically in this direction in his triptych film Love, Sex aur Dhokha 2, streaming on Netflix. Three stories—a trans reality show contestant who invites her mother on the game show; a trans metro employee who registers a complaint of rape under the patronising kindness of her employer; and a young teenage game-fluencer boy who loses sight of what is real—each invokes the horror of being online, what it means to “ha[ve] to register yourself digitally to exist” as Jia Tolentino writes in her essay “The I In The Internet”. Not just being online, but being present in the crosscurrents of our attention economy. Characters are framed in unflattering video calls, their pores glaring under the harsh light of reality television, their faces lit by the stale breath of light emanating from a computer screen. 

Also Read | Respectability and irreverence: the two sides of attention

Banerjee, however, warps and wefts his threesome without a hint of judgment, or incitement, or even sympathy. The film never settles for any reaction to clot in your mind. It flits restlessly. It is a cold, airless storytelling, with no respite except its ceasing—it has a relentless rhythm, adopting the shooting style of reality television, the post-ironic chaos of news television, and the dystopian chase of being a content creator. A friend walked out of the theatre during the interval. Another wondered if, by watching, they were participating in a social experiment. I experienced a suffocation unlike anything I have felt, as though my whole body were tongue-tied. 

Banerjee understands that we have gone beyond the early years where the Internet was a place that reflected our world. Today, it also helps create our world, determine its barbed blunders, and in the case of one of his characters—who disappears into the metaverse—even replace it. Banerjee spent a year cheating his YouTube algorithm to know what it is that the right-wing consumes. He knows that if you search for “soft porn” on YouTube, nothing shows up. You need to search “Getting Ready Videos” or “Makeup Videos” or “Sari Videos”. It is the kind of observation of the Internet he offers without provocation or disgust. “Paap ko glorify nahin, apnaate hain [I do not glorify sin but embrace it],” he notes in an interview with journalist and critic Sucharita Tyagi. 

This might sound lofty. What does it mean to embrace sin, without glorifying it? It means to, perhaps, first suspend judgment, because judgment cannot coexist with discernment. As Shubham, a co-writer of the film, notes in an interview, “The nature of social media is such that even while being critical of it, you’re still scrolling.” Judgment in this context can easily feel like hypocrisy. This lets the film float without congealing on a conclusion, on a hope, or even a hazy rendering of one. 

But it also means to look sin in the eye, and this means to dispense with irony because irony requires you to look down. The context and situations may be ironic, but the tone with which the context is expressed never is. Banerjee disagrees with me, but I felt that if there was irony it was difficult to hold on to because the characters are so slippery, their identity constantly getting constructed and reconstructed, that nothing sticks to them, neither irony, nor sympathy, nor disgust. The distinction between irony and sincerity, cynicism and thoughtfulness completely disappears. They are all true creatures of the Internet, amputated viscera.  

Also Read | Voice-over onslaught in Baby Reindeer

This is what gave the film its suffocating appeal, its breathless rush, as though you were inside, truly inside the film, grotesque realism. The camera suddenly turning into a first-person viewpoint when the reality show contestant is “off-stage” suddenly makes the very concept of “stage” redundant. The “I” does not recede. Neither does it express itself singularly. It is simply, plainly, everywhere. When a mother rushes to her son’s school for an emergency, the camera trails her the way it would a soldier in a game—at any moment now, the penny will drop. 

When I ask Banerjee about release or narrative catharsis, if it interests him as a storyteller at all—the way it does most commercial film directors—he cleanly tells me he cares little for “false catharsis”. Is not all narrative catharsis false, since it is, after all, a forceful, conscious construction? Banerjee responds with a stylised example: “Suppose you have abused somebody, and having put them captive in a room, you go to see a Bollywood film about the victory of a poor beggar who tops IIT. You see that film, and you heave with emotion, you go through your catharsis, and you come back to the person you were abusing... I do not stand for this catharsis.”

Instead, what Banerjee is after, what he wants us as spectators to confront, and what he meticulously constructs his worlds in service of, is “cruel confusion”—to not know, and to perhaps never know, to only live, and that too, barely.

Prathyush Parasuraman is a writer and critic who writes across publications, both print and online.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment