Lust Stories
(Netflix)
Cast: Radhika Apte, Akash Thosar, Ridhi Khakhar, Randeep Jha, Bhumi Pednekar, Neil Bhoopalam, Manisha Koirala, Jaideep Ahlawat, Sanjay Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Vicky Kaushal, Neha Dhupia
Direction: Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar
Rating: ***1/2

Suparna Sharma

Kalindi (Radhika Apte) is hanging out of the window of a moving taxi and feeling the breeze fondle her as Lata and Mukesh’s Dum bhar jo udhar munh phere plays inside where Tejas (Akash Thosar) sits both excited and amused.
In his room, a little later, she mocks his reading habits and then says, “Pehle kiya hai na tumne? Nahin kiya? Main sikhati hoon.”
Lust Stories, on Netflix, which brings together once again the four directors who created the 2013 Bollywood anthology, Bombay Talkies, opens with Anurag Kashyap’s film about a college professor who is seemingly liberated — sexually and emotionally — and is having an affair with a student who is clearly smitten.
The narrative is split between Kalindi talking loftily about love, sex, relationships, self-expression, and exploring what her husband Mihir, older and living away from her, expects of her and their relationship.
She’s talking of trying to be what Mihir has told her is the cool way to be, but is she that person?
We don’t know who Kalindi is talking to, or why. But hear her holding forth on love and possession with the usual arguments against monogamy — love is greater than physical fidelity, look at Amrita Pritam and Imroz, Draupadi and her five husbands, how can we expect one human being to be everything?
She has other affairs, flings, including with Neeraj sir who speaks of monogamous penguins and fornication. We also see her stalking Tejas and his girlfriend.
Through two narratives, Kashyap explores the pretentious, hypocritical, two-faced liberals who speak of free-spirited love, smugly worry if the other will fall in love with them, but are emotionally too barren and twisted to let go themselves.
We don’t meet Mihir, but we watch Kalindi wilt under his rules of love and life.
Radhika Apte is gorgeous and very, very good.
Her erotic-neurotic act about wanting to belong, her uncontainable insecurity even as she intellectualises emotions, creates tense, uncomfortable moments that make  Kashyap’s otherwise middling film interesting.
As I sat there thinking that Kashyap’s film, which shows us many things — the obsessive woman, but also the disconnect between who we think we can be, the bullshit we mouth, and who we really are, the lusty sound of making out came on with two intertwined bodies. White letters at the bottom of the screen announced, Zoya Akhtar.
Instantly I burst into a loud, involuntary cackle that became a full-throated laugh which was sounding a little mad even to me.
I could not get over the middle finger Bollywood’s brat pack was suddenly showing. Imagine what our directors are capable of and can get up to if you set them free of sanskari diktats, heavy moral breathing, the uncles and aunties at the censor board and the pressures of commerce.
In Zoya’s lust story, thrust comes first, and then the pull.
The man is on top and then the woman. It’s physical, sweaty, brief, casual.
Soon after, we watch Sudha (Bhumi Pednekar) and Ajit (Neil Bhoopalam) get dressed in sparse, partial shots that land gently, like pieces of them.
Very little is spoken, but the sequence of snapshots tells us who they are, and their story. It creates the characters with each shot, like a brush stroke joining with the next and the next to form a living, breathing human with its inner cosmos which begins talking to us through the nape of the neck, from where Sudha’s slippers are kept, how her dupatta is tied around the waist.
Soon Ajit’s parents arrive and a family with their marriageable daughter lands up with mithai.
Again, through banal vignettes of domesticity that Sudha creates and nurtures, but doesn’t belong to, we begin to see her place, her desires.
Unlike Zoya Akhtar’s rather loopy segment in Bombay Talkies, this one, shot and edited so beautifully is, perhaps, the best one of the lot.
Bhumi Pednekar is a powerhouse of talent. If anyone’s looking to cast the lead in a silent movie, she’s the ideal candidate.
Her body and eyes express a complexity of emotions rarely seen on the Indian screen.
Dibakar Banerjee’s film is next.
He first creates the idyll of comfortable, intimate coupledom around Sudhir (Jaideep Ahlawat) and Reena (Manisha Koirala) on a holiday, bonding, making out, chatting, relaxing, and then shatters it with a phone call from Salman (Sanjay Kapoor).
Drunk, Salman is calling to gripe about his wife. He’s frustrated that she switches off the location service on her phone, wonders if she’s having an affair.
He tells his best friend, Sudhir, that he has emailed details of all his properties, investments and bank accounts.
Thirteen years of married life, and she says she was happy for only 11 months, Salman says.
Salman, the most eagerly awaited character, takes his time to arrive. And Dibakar plots his entry to tell us several things about him.
Salman arrives exactly how men low on self-esteem but high on ego would enter.
And soon, the bored wife and the husband who loves her and is invested in his family, start arguing.
Their exchange is stunning and sharp and conveys how deep the rot is.
They don’t listen to each other, preferring to latch on to just one word and continue fighting.
“I permit you”
“Permit?”
“Don’t do drama.”
“Drama?!”
“You are collecting trophies”
Salman’s tangential talk in the middle of their bickering, about business and worldly affairs, reveal him to be a selfish man invested more in the tangibles of life.
Meanwhile, Sudhir the heart surgeon, who himself needs validation for being worthy, isn’t just carrying on with a college attraction, but likes to watch his own interviews on YouTube.
From amongst the people locked in this three-way relationship, it seems that the one who has been wronged may lose both, his wife and best friend.
But, as hypocrisy and dishonesty gets revealed, the one who has been wronged refuses to be lost to them.
In ways that really matter, in moments that separate the weak and insecure from the simple but stable, the one who seemed lost, pathetic, shows character in a way that is truly devastating.
The casting in Dibakar’s film is delightful, and all are excellent. But it’s Sanjay Kapoor who brings this gloomy marital mess alive with his obnoxious-yet-steady guy routine.
If the tone of Lust Stories till now was “real”, with real people in real situations grappling with real life, it suddenly lifts off the ground, grows shiny wings and flies into the soft, white Bollywood cloud.
It’s KJo time.
Now characters are stock, drawn wholly and solely from films and bad romance novels.
Rekhaji (Neha Dhupia) is the hot divorced librarian, and there’s a horny principal in the corridors.
There’s also an angry sanskari mummyji, and a young teacher, Megha (Kiara Advani), of marriageable age.
In a tone and dialogue that’s so fake and fabulously filmy, Rekhaji says, “Top se barood nikalna har sipahi ke bas ki baat nahin hai” as she send off Megha to the principal.
Double entendres galore, and extend to even silly, childish ones about ice cream when Paras (Vicky Kaushal) comes to meet Meghaji.
To make him uncool, the bad English assigned to Paras is the sort babalog often giggle about.
“Hows you?” Paras asks Megha.
While other directors draw inspiration for stories and characters from the lives they have lived or observed, KJo prefers la la land.
It’s as if he grew up not in the real world but lived wide-eyed and mouth-stuffed-with-popcorn in a plush theatre where Bollywood movies played non-stop.
The world he creates, the scenes he constructs, his characters and the lines they speak are all drawn from other films.
It’s with pieces from other films that he creates his own filmy world to tell us a fairy tale. And his characters speak the language of dreams, of heroes and heroines, of divas and dudes — not common people.
And sometimes, like here, he pulls it off so well.
In his film here, where the girl craves orgasms but the man is always, well, premature, we get great music, a shaadi, an entertaining family dinner, and “saas ki chain-chain, palang ki choon-choon”.
It’s an short film that shifts something while being childishly naughty, entertaining and fun.
The year 2018 will go down in Bollywood history as the year when Bharatiya naaris wielded the dildo on the screen three times more than they did in the past 100 years.
The dildo makes a second, very significant appearance in Karan Johar’s film after Swara Bhaskar jerked happily to it in Veere Di Wedding.
And here, having serviced one woman, it comes in handy for another in a way that’s silly, faltu but will stay with you forever. It’s a life-affirming embrace of women’s desires, about which I can only say, aah, ooh, wah.

 

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