Film Review: Lust Stories

Five years after Bombay Talkies, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar came together for another anthology; this time to explore stories of lust and desire, more particularly from the viewpoint of the Indian woman. Netflix’s Lust Stories is a compilation of four short films, each of which dive into different kinds of modern relationships that make you think.

The first story is directed by Anurag Kashyap, starring Radhika Apte and Akash Thosar. Radhika plays Kalindi, a college professor who is in a long-distance open marriage. The story surrounds her exploration of sexual relationships with other men, including Tejas (played by Akash), her student whom she de-virginises. Anurag Kashyap taps into a mockumentary style of storytelling, where we see Radhika’s character, explaining herself and also questioning herself in her process of experimentation. We experience the confusing emotions that Kalindi goes through, spiralling into confusion, not able to quite grasp the boundary between possessiveness and staying ‘detached’. The story is beautifully and comically executed by the expertise of Radhika’s acting. Trust her to take you through every paradoxical emotion and make you question what you were conditioned to believe in. Although not said out loud, the film touches the topic of open relationships and brings about an introduction into polyamory. This anxious yet humorous story makes you feel uneasy and queasy with the lack of a sense of closure, yet Kashyap brings you yet another film that you thoroughly enjoy.

The second story is directed by Zoya Akhtar, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Neil Bhupalam. It is a beautiful, yet subtle take on sexual desire between two people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Bhumi plays Sudha, a house help, whose class differences are blurred when she gets into bed with her boss, Ajit (played by Neil), an upper middle class bachelor. When Ajit’s parents visit, these differences are highlighted. It is indeed a reflection of how the society functions when it comes to treating people who may be from a lower socioeconomic background. The beauty of this story lies in its stillness and the expressions portrayed by Bhumi’s character. Zoya’s film leaves you with a poignant realisation of how people are often hypocritical and underlyingly discriminatory.

The third story is directed by Dibakar Banerjee, starring Manisha Koirala, Jaideep Ahlawat, and Sanjay Kapoor. Manisha plays Reena, a middle-aged woman who is having an affair with her husband’s best friend, Sudhir (played by Ahlawat). Salman (played by Sanjay Kapoor) plays the suspicious husband who is trying to catch up to a marriage that is falling apart. What initially seems to be a regular sexual affair, reveals itself to be something more than that. It is companionship, betrayal, and really questions a woman’s independence and her choices. Reena is stuck between her husband, who doesn’t quite respect her, and her lover who is finally realises that the guilt of betraying his best friend is too much to handle. The story explores the labels and roles that are projected onto a woman by society without her consent, and how she tackles them in order to put herself and her desires first.

The fourth story is directed by Karan Johar, starring Kiara Advani, Neha Dhupia, and Vicky Kaushal, and is also perhaps the most entertaining film of the anthology. Kiara Advani plays Megha, a young school teacher on the threshold of an arranged marriage to Paras (played by Vicky Kaushal). Rekha, played by Neha Dhupia, is portrayed as Megha’s promiscuous colleague, although objectively speaking, she’s a woman who isn’t ashamed of her sexuality or sexual desires. Megha and Paras are a naive, newlywed couple excited to explore sex for what appears to be for the first time. Vicky Kaushal plays a goofy, highly excitable husband who is extremely clueless about the female orgasm or the art of having sex with another person. Megha, although curious, is unable to articulate her desires to her husband. It is (indirectly) through Rekha that Megha explores and realises her sexuality by herself. This story is all about unapologetically embracing one’s sexual desires. Karan Johar builds it up to the climax only to give the viewers a huge comical release.

Overall, Lust Stories is a raw and honest exploration of a woman’s sexual desire, and how it intertwines with the relationships she has with the people involved and the people around her. Although it is satisfying to watch and introspect, the film is lacking in a few areas of execution. The highlights in this story were Radhika’s acting, Bhumi’s silent portrayal of class differences, and Karan Johar’s knack for mixing drama, comedy, confusion, and a certain commercial flavour to the topic a woman’s lust. It is definitely worth a watch, but brace yourselves for a some introspection as it can be relatable in a few ways.

You can stream Lust Stories on Netflix now.

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Teenasai Balamu is a full-time musician (GrapeGuitarBox) based in Bangalore. When she's not playing music, you can find her in her natural habitat drinking tea and laughing at memes on the internet. She's passionate about tea, pizza, sports, doggos, comedy shows, music, and putting an end to patriarchy. Motto: F*** Heteronormativity.

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