Dibakar Banerjee, the director of Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, sat stiff on a spongy black leather sofa facing his producer. They were on the fifth floor of the building in South Mumbai that houses Liberty Cinema. Above them, in a small screening room, their film was being watched by the moral guardians of society. In other words, the Censor Board was watching the film. Banerjee and his producer, Priya Sreedharan, were forbidden from going in. So here they were, in a humid room with two creaky fans, once again two derelict students biding their time outside the principal’s office. “It’s like an exam,” he muttered to himself. She had knocked on wood an hour ago, and now Banerjee scratched his fingers absent-mindedly. He looked sleepy in his black shirt and the crumpled, stained linen trousers he had been wearing for two days. He hadn’t shaved. His watch was still stuck at ten minutes to twelve, as it had been for two days. “How’s it going?” someone asked him by way of greeting. He took it literally. “I’ll let you know in an hour.”
“Has he brought his liberal panel?” he asked the producer.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“What does 4 out of 5 from Taran Adarsh mean?” he said and looked at her to help him weigh the trade analyst’s verdict.
“Good. He’s a commercial guy.”
Banerjee nodded. He sort of understood. As much as he could right now. He chewed on his gums, pursed his lips, and grit his teeth.
The producer walked out, and when she returned she gave him a look. It said nothing, but it probably meant everything. The phone rang. “It’s Vicky,” he said with a smile and answered it. “Yes Vicky. Yes. (Pause) Yes. (Pause) Of course. No, they’re watching it right now. I’ll let you know in an hour. (Pause) Yes.” He put the phone down, leaned back, and smiled. “That was Vicky Lalwani.” His voice changed. “Dibakar, give me a blasphemous story! Give me a blasphemous story! Mumbai Mirror has circulation of 750,000. Make it exclusive, okay?” His producer walked out again and returned shortly.
“What’s happening?” he asked her.
She opened and closed her fingers, and said they were talking.
“That means we’re fucked.”
The day before, Banerjee had sat in the middle of the first row of a screening room, then moved to the side, then to the last row, where he promised the sound mixers he would stay put, before he felt like a lie-down in the left aisle with his legs splayed, then returned to the back row, and finally sat off-centre in the front row. It was like watching a human pinball. All this, because of one phone call.
“What did Mayank say?” Banerjee asked someone over the phone. “Uh-uh.” He set it down, turned to his editor and casting director, both of who appear in the movie, and said, “Mayank hated it.” They stopped mid-stride in the sound mixing studio. They couldn’t comprehend it. “He hated it.” Banerjee would discuss Mayank Shekhar’s reviews no less than five times that day, calling them vague, that nobody could understand him, and that even with Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, his last movie which Mayank had given three stars to, he couldn’t understand what Mayank had written. “Each to his own, yaar.”
LSD isn’t a movie as much as a declaration of war. It contains three stories that are sweet, funny, sinister and brutal. The violence is psychological. Even the voyeuristic sex is uncomfortable. In short, it’s not the sort of movie you’d expect Ekta Kapoor to produce.
Now he couldn’t get Mayank out of his head. As a result of this, he asked me if the opening was fine. It would take a while before he settled down again. For a while he pulled out a book of stories by Jack London, reading The Sea Wolf.
Not for long, though. He looked up. He wasn’t happy. “Nahin dekh payenge. Who the fuck wants to watch this?” Banerjee’s head hurt. His gums were sore. The fever was back. To compound all this, he was mixing sound. In Dolby. Every reverb rattled his brain. A gunshot was made louder, and louder, and louder, and flatter, and flatter, and more warped, and they played it over and over and over and over until he nodded his head, said yes, and asked them to play it again. All this with a throbbing head. A shrill movie ring tone sang out, “Tu nangi achchi lagti hai, tu gandi achchi lagti hai…” He would have to change this to, “Tu gandi achchi lagti hai, tu bandi achchi lagti hai…” The censors. Their hand was everywhere in this film. He didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“Let’s watch it from the start,” the sound guy suggested. “I can’t,” Banerjee replied. “I’m too disjointed.” They had gone over every second of the movie dozens of times in the last two days, raising and dropping sounds, making every dialogue ‘safe’ or whispery or loud, making screams sound like wailing ambulances, and even now debating whether a three-second monologue was required. The editor thought the scene worked well without it. Banerjee took one look at it and said, “I’m going with my instinct. Let’s keep the line. I’m not making an art film. Who knows if our profits hinge on the line.”
A compromise was reached between the sound guy and Banerjee. “We’ll stop after every reel and discuss what needs to be done.”
That compromise was temporary. A few minutes into the screening, he had them stop it, make changes, and carry on. When a character shouted “Bhaiyaaa,” the sound didn’t come out right. They worked on it for 15 minutes before moving on. And so, like this, with starts and stops, stuttering along so that they could finally chug, the day continued.
At one point he said, “Raise the Mysore Mallige.” He turned and smiled. “We picked up this freaky sound from an MMS on the net (Mysore Mallige is an explicit sex clip that went cult online). We had never heard a sound like that. I don’t know what it was. But you should hear it. It’s in the background of this sex tape, and it’s the freakiest, most eerie sound you’ve ever heard.” The sound was an inconsistent whine that was, as he explained, quite freaky. The sound guy tinkered with something and raised its freakiness a bit.
Later that night, over pepperoni pizzas in a side room, Banerjee talked about porn videos with his crew. “I want the YouTube video with music like in those videos with fat uncles on fat aunties. Can you get Muzak?”
“Wait, wait. I’ve got something on my phone,” his casting guy said, and typed out something on his phone.
Banerjee read it. “Kerala…aunties…sex…vid… hahahahahaha!” They stayed till 2 am.
The regional chief of the Censor Board was ready to see the director and the producer. Banerjee walked up the building staircase to a charming screening room of horrors. The chief sat in the middle seat on the top row. His Censor Board colleagues included a lady in a burkha and a man in a grey-brown safari suit. Banerjee and his producer walked halfway down, between the seats, and turned to face him, like subjects would face a king. The region’s chief censor told Banerjee that he shouldn’t have a reference to Dalits in his movie. That he should remove a line called ‘Tu Nangi Achchi Lagti Hai’ from a song, and he should halve a sex scene from five minutes to roughly 2.5. He then threw in a few extra seconds, out of generosity, for the sex scene.
It was humiliation. Banerjee walked out after agreeing to everything, and looked out a window for a few minutes, saying nothing. Then he sat down on a sofa as if he were boneless. His face was blank and bloated and flush. He kept scraping his teeth with his lips shut tight, and he scratched his fingers incessantly, like an itch that wouldn’t go away. He stared at me. It was heartbreaking. He looked like a kid whose pet had died. Would he have cried? Maybe. But did he look like he was going to cry? Sadly, yes. All this, for an ‘A’ certificate, which was what he wanted anyway.
He got up. Could we have some dhansak (a dish of lentil and mutton) down the road? There was a very nice place there. He walked quietly, sat down, and ordered a plate of kababs as well. He wiped his eyes and looked at the mirrors. Could he have been angrier? “My blood’s boiling,” he snarled, and chomped down a spoonful of rice. Nothing more could be done. The restaurant cat jumped at him. He was delighted, and scratched the cat’s back. It dug its claws into his leg and he feigned being hurt. He looked at the cat, looked up, and said, “We’re having a baby girl soon. I just want this thing to be over.”