Thursday, May 21, 2020

Lens [dir. Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan]

It's late at night. Our protagonist Aravind (director Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan himself) is sitting alone at his computer, Salman Khan mask covering his face and boxers at his ankles, indulging in a risque webcam chat with a masked woman. The woman insists on them both unmasking, and he obliges. Then Aravind's wife furiously bangs on the door, and he yells back about being busy servicing "US clients".

On the next occasion, he gets a chat invite from another female ID. When he signs in he finds himself face-to-face (so to speak) with a bald-headed man who for a long time only identifies himself as Yohan (Anand Sami, malevolently effective). Aravind tries to back off, but the bald stranger insists on speaking. What he wants is for Aravind to watch as he kills himself.

This basic premise of this English-Malayalam-Tamil film, promising a trip into the dark side of human nature was what prompted me to watch, raising in turn memories of Michael Haneke's Caché/Hidden and Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy. Who is the mysterious Yohan? Why does he choose Aravind to be the witness of his suicide? How does he have such omniscient knowledge of our protagonist's personality? What hold does he have over Aravind that he can force him to his will?

These are details best not gleaned from any article you read before watching the film, because the strength is in their unfolding before you. Suffice to say, our stranger nurses a deep festering grudge against Aravind and his like, the voyeuristic purveyors of online prurience.

Lens is a curious journey. On the one hand, Aravind is a not very sympathetic protagonist, at least virtually cheating on his wife and scared of facing the consequences. On the other, the manner in which Yohan psychologically ball-squeezes him  can induce squirms in many of us, depending on the extent of our specific online vices - whether we consume/share pornography, indulge in cybersex, or behave like those Bois Locker Room groups. The film in most part avoids being a generalist rant against online porn, choosing to address the question of which of these are in themselves crimes, who the victims are, and who the perpetrators are (and to what degree).

The way Lens is executed is not an unqualified success. The screenplay could have certainly been tighter. The scenes outside of the interaction between the two antagonists in their individual surroundings could have been done without. The expository backstory is conventional to the point of banality. Performances are adequate, rather than exceptional (Sami's Yohan is the best of the lot). But even with these mis-steps, it is an interesting experiment, which may be inspired by but does not ape previous films. It is also a warning that we have to constantly take stock of our weaknesses, and consider the cost, inadvertent or otherwise, that we and others have to pay to indulge them.

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