If religion is what you do with your solitude, morality is what you do on the Internet. Going by that yardstick, you'd find very few saints on the planet.
Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan's Lens is a brave film that delves into the Circe-like world of pornography - the drug is within you and before you realise it, you're hooked. Jayaprakash plays the lead himself. Minutes into the film, you see him pants down, a Salman Khan mask on his face, engaging in cyber-sex with a woman named Julie. His wife, Swathi (Misha Goshal), stands outside his locked door, impatient and frustrated by her husband's lack of interest in her.
The biggest strength of Lens is how ordinary a character Arvind is. He is not a wife-beater or a bad father. He has a job, drinks green tea, watches his neighbours' kids playing cricket, yells at annoying pigeons. Damn, he even knows the difference between watching a woman strip out of choice and watching someone else strip her when she's unconscious!
He's a nice guy. He could be any of us.
But then, Lens also takes you into a world that many Arvinds (and their female counterparts) inhabit, but never talk about. As Arvindâ€™s fantasies suddenly spin out of control, you become riveted in your position as a voyeur, yet uncomfortable because Arvind's ordinariness makes him much more familiar than you'd like.
Only a few months ago, the Internet was abuzz with the 'Suchi Leaks' scandal. Lens, made a long time before the incident, urges you to think about the victims of such cyber crimes for a change. There's a sequence where the saddening Amanda Todd video is near replicated - a female victim holds up flashcards about her violation, how she felt when she went viral and finally, what she's going to do next - reminding you that the virtual world can sometimes ruthlessly submerge real life.
Anand Sami as Yohan is the "moral" psycho we've seen in films like Saw. While he's creepy and funny in his avenging avatar, he's not as convincing in the flashback romance sequences with his wife, Angel (Ashwathy Lal). The actors seem uncomfortable in the sex scenes that look too staged. One also wonders why the camera focuses so much on Angel (as it would in any mainstream film) when there are two people in the room - for a film that takes on the subject of privacy and voyeurism, the male gaze is rather obvious here.
Jayaprakash perhaps cannot be blamed for making the victims in his plot as vanilla as possible (Angel, in addition to being angelic, is also mute) - this is already a radically different film for the audience to take and maybe less victim-y victims would have made the audience dismiss them as having got their just desserts.
There's also a sex worker character in the film - a woman whose face we never see. While the director might have felt this was a sensitive choice to make, reducing her character to a mere body with no voice and no agency of her own makes her exploitation worse. All we know is that she seems to have signed up for a surprisingly wide range of criminal activities for the sole motive of money, but we don't hear from her at all.
Lens has a dialogue-heavy script. Much of the story is propelled by conversation - in Tamil, Malayalam, and English - but the lines sound natural and flow easy. This is not simple to pull off, considering how new this territory is to Indian cinema. The film adopts a preachy tone towards the end, but remains an engaging watch nevertheless. The background score complements the taut screenplay, allowing the actors to do their jobs without overpowering the emotions of the scene.
Lens is clearly not for a family audience. But it is a film that families should talk about - the bogeyman these days doesn't hide under the bed and he prefers it when the lights are left on.
*The film is expected to release on May 12