Sex, Likes, and Stories: The Flipside of online validation
Noted Indian film critic, and an alumnus of FTII,Pune, Dipankar Sarkar reviews the short film, Sex, Likes, and Stories by Keith Gomes. ‘The film has a very stylistic approach to the subject, at the cost of creating complex characters’, writes Dipankar Sarkar.
Keith Gomes’s short film Sex, Likes, and Stories, released on YouTube, critically examines the dangers of social media notoriety. It intrepidly explores the fact that social media influencers put a lot of effort into building an online persona that seems completely disconnected from their real lives. They work nonstop to maintain a perfect image of themselves because they know that even one unlikeable video upload could cost them a sizable portion of their fan base. It also aims to shed light on social media's sinister effects on users and presents a precise and scary depiction of a life that is totally restricted by being online.
The short film narrates how the fates of three individuals, Bitchy Bitch (Mokshda Jailkhani), Chokra Boy (Abhishek Banerjee), and Brown Goddess (Shruthy Menon), get entwined due to a gruesome act of crime. By referring to three individuals with their online identity rather than their original name, the filmmaker brings to our attention how the online persona weighs heavily on their psyche and determines their individuality in society. Bitchy Bitch uploads a titillating and pranky video in which she commits suicide. The video sets fire to the lustful imaginations of a stalker named Chokry Boy, and he messages her for a date. At the same time, another social media influencer, Brown Goddess, gets insecure with the number of likes that the video has garnered. She, too, wants to meet her. Bitchy Bitch responds affirmatively to both of them. What happens next is a brief account of how the severe thirst for self-adulation in the virtual world can bring us misery.
Gomes has attempted to deliver a pertinent and thought-provoking story. He has touched upon the issues of social media addiction, body shaming, racism, and toxic masculinity with panache. Shooting the entire film on an iPhone helps infuse a kind of verisimilitude into the online world that the characters of the film enjoy living within. The camera stays close to the characters, seemingly ready to capture every flinch and pang, and the editing is sharp and coherent. The director has a sympathetic understanding of how social media in the present era both helps and hurts those who are looking for love. It is conveyed without being preachy how online media creates an alternative reality, muffling out worse truths and torturing lives.
But despite having such creative and honest intentions, the film makes much more promises than it actually delivers. The short duration of twelve minutes hampers the characterization of the individual characters, and after the end credits, we do not seem to remember their pains and struggles. As a result, we also could not fully appreciate the performances of the three actors. The film also has a very stylistic approach to the subject, at the cost of creating complex characters. As the film ends, we are not certain if it wants to surprise us or convey a social message. If Gomes has made Sex, Likes, and Stories as a short pitch video for a feature-length film, then this was a worthy investment. Or else, it’s a good one-time watch.