Dibakar Banerjee: I feel if I say certain things, I will be shot

The Shanghai director speaks about LSD 2, self-censorship, the state of political cinema in the country, and why men are ‘afraid’
Director Dibakar Banerjee; still from LSD 2
Director Dibakar Banerjee; still from LSD 2

The clock hand inches towards 10.30 pm when I get on a call with Dibakar Banerjee. It’s an unusual hour for film interviews to happen (it’s also a Friday night). The director is armed with a rehearsed retort. “I have been working on the film from 9 am to 10 pm." He is busy, giving final touches to Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) 2, the digital-age upgrade to his 2010 found-footage dark satire LSD. The film, just like its predecessor, will have three segments, voyeuristically capturing the absurdity of reality shows, social media and content creation.

In addition to the upcoming release, the Shanghai (2012) director discusses the banes of self-censorship, gives insights on content being created to cater towards the ‘threatened’ male, the state of political cinema in the country and of course, Tees.


What made you go for a sequel to LSD?

Actually, it was Ektaa’s (the film’s producer Ektaa Kapoor) idea. Whenever she and I met, it was always about ‘what should we do next?’ She would suggest LSD 2 and I would say ‘It’s not the time. Thodi aur zindagi jeete hain (Let life happen to us a little more). Around 2020-21, during COVID-19, when the structure for Tees was ready, I realized it was time. I called up Ektaa and said, ‘I guess we have lived enough to make a sequel.’

It was earlier reported that the release of your film Tees, whose story revolves around a middle-class Muslim family across three generations, has been shelved. What is happening with it now?

I would say it is at a stage of soft burial at Netflix. The OTT platform doesn’t want to release it still and I am running around, searching for buyers that can procure the film from the streamer.

The stalling of a film, how did it affect you?

It’s like, imagine somebody gags you and says from now onwards you are not allowed to speak. Since 2014, I have been warning everybody, asking them to raise a voice against whatever is happening. It is a tragedy and I am being proven right.

I remember the first film in LSD and how scathing it was in its comment on honour killing. In the current environment, do you think LSD 2 can be that political?

I have no idea what it can be. I have actually forgotten LSD and made the sequel as a fresh film. I can say that this film is kind of its own beast, maybe a little more dangerous than its predecessor.

From the trailer of LSD 2, it seems like you are going to address the politics of gender, sexuality, and patriarchy. What made you go for these themes?

I think the biggest political force on the planet today is 'threatened patriarchy'. This has intrigued me for a long time. In cinema, we are seeing the rise of some tropes: the worship of the dictatorial father figure, the omnipotent superhero or the extremely rich and violent man who will save society and the common man. All of these things are happening because men are vulnerable and threatened and are using the levers of power to push back. We are living amidst the last scream of the scared male.

And why do you think men are threatened?

Because they have been enjoying unquestioned privileges for the last 6000 to 7000 years. All the organized religions in the world have catered to them. Now, after the labour movement and the feminist movement, it’s time for the feudal male to feel afraid. Their thousand-year-old habits are being questioned by centuries-old movements. It’s new for them.

What is your take on social media?

I think it has created pressure to always live a narrative. Having a tool like social media does two things. Firstly, it makes you perform all the time. You become an actor in your own life. The second thing is, you start escaping your real life and keep running towards your virtual life because that gives instant gratification. I have seen videos of influencers waking up in the morning, brushing their teeth and getting ready. Their lives are just narratives, being dished out for their audiences to consume.

Is there a specific reason you are not on social media?

(Laughs) I don’t know. I guess maybe because I have all my friends and family in the real world and I don’t find the need for it. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t anonymously go on social media. You do everything for research, like using fake IDs and VPNs. For LSD 2, I got into online gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality. This alternative form of being, that takes you out of your physical life and into a virtual world, gives you quite a headrush.

Do you ever feel the need for self-censorship?

Yes. But I think it’s happening to all of us. Each period has its own censorship code. I think this time is a product of our fetishization of anger. It pays to stoke the loneliness, the rage. That’s the reality of 2024. Hate, anger and discontent have become the namak, mirch and dhaniya (salt and spices). Nothing can be made without them.

Do you think the political film, which is critical of the establishment, is dead?

I won’t say it is dead. I would say it is being suffocated and gagged. The content we watch today is curated by the state and the corporate oligarchy that is supporting the state and is being supported by it. So, before you get into watching anything, it is heavily mediated. Somebody had asked me, ‘What kind of films can an Indian filmmaker show?’ To that I would say ‘The kind of films Indians deserve to watch.’ Now, if you give up your rights in order to worship an idol, an ideal, a fantasy or a star, then this is what you deserve.

Are you saying people don’t actually want to see the truth on screen?

See, I think people are smart. I think they have now figured out that they have made some terribly wrong choices. But still, there is a large portion that doesn’t want to admit they are being fooled. So, they go into denial for some time, to save face. We are going through a denial phase. It will change.

Can you explain what you mean by ‘denial phase’?

It basically means you only see what you want to see and you ignore what is right in front of you.

Do you fear the consequences of the things you say?

Oh, absolutely. I always feel that if I say certain things, I might go to jail, or I will be fined, or my film will get stuck at the censors, or somebody will set fire to my house, or will shoot me, or will file a case against me.

Then where does that leave us? What is the way forward for artists?

Way forward? I don’t know. You just crawl into bed every night and you wake up the next morning, brush your teeth and start fighting.

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