There's always something beyond lust... Image: Netflix
Film: Lust Stories
Cast: Radhika Apte, Bhumi Pednekar, Manisha Koirala, Neha Dhupia, Kiara Advani, Vicky Kaushal
Directed by: Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar
You will like it if you liked: Bombay Talkies
What is lust? Of course, a strong sexual desire felt for another person, preferably minus the emotional baggage. It's raw, carnal, almost primitive and more addictive than cocaine. Except, it never is so simple. For it's ironic that to be able to master such a primitive human trait, one has to be ultra evolved, 'forward' as the society loosely terms it.
Ronnie Screwvala produced, Netflix presentation, Lust Stories, helmed by the Bombay Talkies foursome, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar (in order of their shorts), is strung together with that irony running through the pearls.
By the time the end credits roll, you're asking yourself exactly how much have we evolved to not be able to feel lust, or worst still, be ashamed of it?
Radhika Apte aka Kalindi is a young college teacher in an open, long-distance marriage. Her husband and she are a decade apart, but he's a man with all these stories — of hook-ups and one night stands — experiences Kalindi hasn't had yet. So, with his blessings, she goes exploring and finds herself with Akash Thosar (of Sairat fame), her student, and a virgin.
A guilty Radhika first wants to ensure she wouldn't be charged with paedophilia and then devotes her time into convincing Akash that it didn't mean anything, until she has pushed him away, just enough to get close to his classmate. It is at that moment you realise that our desire to be wanted trumps lust.
Radhika is jealous, but she's not in love. She is just jealous, just like she must have been on hearing about her husband's escapades. The more Radhika tries to explain her reasons and her psyche — in an imaginary interview to an imaginary audience — the more she bares herself, stripped of pretence, infested with a million insecurities, the more endearing she gets.
Prepare to not be able to recognise Bhumi Pednekar as the demure but extremely hard-working maid Sudha, working for Neil Bhoopalam at his bachelor pad. She is, in every sense, his wife — she cooks, cleans, and gives him sex whenever he desires.
Except, she can never be one. She is practical and does not harbour any delusions. So, when Neil's parents arrange a meeting with the ladkiwaale, she makes tea for them, arranges for a tray full of delicacies, and coyly waits for further orders. But she cannot help but peep through the door ajar, hoping to not find him in another woman's embrace. It is at that moment that you realise heartbreak, especially the silent ones, trumps lust. You fall in love with Sudha and Bhumi, wondering why no other director has ever tapped her talent this way.
Manisha Koirala is back and emerging from the sea like a slightly older vixen, still making men's hearts pound and pine for her. She's married to her college sweetheart, businessman Sanjay Kapoor. But she's sleeping with his best friend, Jaideep Ahlawat (Raazi, remember?). Why? Well, that's what the two men in her life want to figure out.
A lovelorn Sanjay wants her to pay attention to him and their children, and the more he tells her to do something the further she fleets. Jaideep, who's clearly been in love with her since college, is simply fulfilling her wishes, like a voiceless sex slave (no, don't expect BDSM). In an act of revolt, she reveals her affair to her husband, perhaps hoping for some things to fly across the room, if not sparks, to bring a dead marriage alive, but all he manages to do is give her more instructions — this affair must end. And she moves further away from him. And it is at this moment you realise the feeling of being unloved trumps lust.
Karan's story follows the life of a newly-wed couple, Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal, and his problem with premature ejaculation. Kiara is left dissatisfied, lying on her back and counting to five for Vicky to be done. Neha Dhupia's role in this short is as ambiguous as her role in the film industry itself. You see her at parties, events, and as a lusty divorcee librarian whose idea of 'Netflix and chill' is watching Dirrty Picture on a loop.
One fine day she (happens to carry a battery operated dildo in her bag to work) decides to pleasure herself in an obscure uninhabited corner of the library, before getting caught and being terminated. Kiara, an orgasm-deprived woman, lays her hands on the magical device and decides to use it at home. What follows is what we've seen Katherine Heigl do in The Ugly Truth close to a decade ago, when someone kept pressing all the wrong (read right) buttons on the remote.
The quintessential Indian saas doesn't want this fallen woman as her bahu, the tongue-less beta cannot stop his mother, but a month later wants his biwi (and perhaps her dildo, too) back into his life. It is at this moment you realise that love trumps lust. And that KJo's understanding of the world is very childish.
The film is a great watch, for the Bombay Talkies nostalgia it evokes, if for nothing else. But it fails to push the envelop far enough. Lust is always a byproduct of either jealousy or heartbreak or a rebel brewing inside. And if anything, it only delivers the message that women are, in fact, as incomprehensible as men as depicted through centuries. What's new?