What strikes the camera's lens is truth. That is the convention in the movies; what you see on the screen is presumed to be what really happens within the narrative. There are movies that play with this convention, calling into question the reality of the narrative or the reliability of the narrator. Dibakar Banerjee's Love, Sex aur Dhokha ("love, sex, and deceit") bends the convention in the other direction, telling three intertwined fictional stories in a cinéma vérité style, with mostly unfamiliar actors. Here, the imprimatur of realism mingles with an uneasy sense of voyeurism to yield a thought-provoking and excellent movie.
Contrary to some interpretations, the three vignettes of Love, Sex aur Dhokha do not correspond, each in turn, to the concepts enumerated in the film's title. Rather, the three stories together explore the spaces where love, sex, and dhokha meet, intersect, and blur. Each is shot in found-footage style - through an amateur filmmaker's handheld lens, through supermarket security monitors, through a sting reporter's hidden camera. Markings on the periphery of the screen, like time-stamps or battery indicators, provide a constant reminder of the nature of the footage - and the nature of the viewer. We are voyeurs, make no mistake, and Love, Sex aur Dhokha does not let us forget it.
The first story lulls the viewer into a complacent sense of light, sweet, entertainment. It is a romantic tale, and a filmi one - a boy Rahul (Anshuman Jha) making a student film (a tribute, or knockoff, that is more or less what would have resulted had the filmmaker of Malegaon ka Superman taken on Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge) falls in love with his heroine Shruti (Nushrat Bharucha), and the two elope. The sweet simplicity of the story is no preparation for the gut punch of tragedy that arrives with its violent conclusion. When you are watching a slick Bollywood romance, this segment seems to say, it's all too easy to neglect the fact that such tales don't always end so happily in real life. As a voyeur in Rahul and Shruti's life - not just a popcorn-munching cinema watcher - the viewer must confront the sickening reality of their story's culmination.
In the second segment, the most effective and taut of the three, Love, Sex aur Dhokha examines the microcosmic consequences of the public's insatiable appetite for voyeurism and scandal. Voyeurism is not a victimless crime, when the demand for voyeuristic footage, and the promise of money for delivering the same, drives good people to do terrible, life-altering wrongs to even better people. Adarsh (Raj Kumar Yadav) is an immature gadabout who lets a friend talk him into seducing Rashmi (Neha Chauhan), to capture the deed on the closed-circuit security system of the store where they both work, and sell the tape for hard cash. As he gets to know Rashmi in the course of working this angle, he actually comes to care for her. The mad, biting frustration of this story is that Adarsh comes within a hair's breadth of redemption. His face turns hard in that moment of decision between turning the camera off and leaving it on, and his choice once again socks the viewer: If it weren't for you, you audience, you society at large and your unending thirst for cheap voyeuristic thrills, there would be no payoff, no financial drive for Adarsh to go through with this despicable act. The coda to this segment adds a reminder of further damage wrought by society at large - after the tape goes viral, Adarsh gets on with his life, but Rashmi's life is destroyed. Boys will be boys; girls get no such leeway.
The third segment adds some much-needed dark humor into the mix; without it, Love, Sex aur Dhokha would spiral into an unendurable tailspin of despair. Here a beleagured sting reporter (Amit Sial) teams up with a despairing wannabe item girl, Naina (Arya Banerjee), to entrap a sleazy pop star, Loki Local (Henry Tangdi) in a casting-couch scandal. Loki is hilarious, as is Naina's increasingly disgusted weariness with the whole enterprise. As in the second segment, some events in this segment tie it to the other two; Love, Sex aur Dhokha does not allow wry black comedy without reminding you of the viciousness it reprieves. But the film ends on an arch and arguably hopeful note; its closing-credits song is a jaunty, angular number that suggests that Naina gets both the dance-video she wants, and the last laugh. The song is satisfyingly entertaining; more than that, it is a fittingly sarcastic ending to a bitter, challenging, unsettling movie.