Directors: Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar
Cast: Radhika Apte, Bhumi Pednekar, Manisha Koirala, Kiara Advani
Lust is more layered than love – at least in the Indian context. Lust is primal and more problematic because it is colored by guilt, shame, awkwardness and anxiety. In Lust Stories, directors Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar deconstruct the splendor, complexity and chaos of lust.
The title is clickbait because this four–film anthology is about so much more. Yes, sex features in all the stories but don't come here looking for hot scenes. Because sex is merely the trigger – these films examine the messiness of human relationships, our deeply entrenched class system, the difficulty women have in seeking and getting pleasure. There's also a cheeky and superbly comic sequence that will change forever the way you listen to that family values anthem – Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Applause to Karan for subverting – with such panache – his own brand of cinema.
My favorites were the films by Zoya and Dibakar. Hers is a minimalist, quietly poignant coming-of-age story. His is a delicate look at a tumultuous night in the lives of three people who walk away a little wiser. These stories are narrated with tenderness and an understanding of how deeply flawed human beings are. They capture the fragility of our relationships. We see deceit, betrayal, ignorance and disregard. But there is no judgment or resolution. Life goes on, in all its untidy glory.
The women in the anthology are especially glorious. Radhika Apte, Bhumi Pednekar, Manisha Koirala and Kiara Advani play nuanced characters who refuse to follow the rules. Radhika, as the neurotic college professor Kalindi, is the least sympathetic. In Anurag's film, Kalindi is a fascinating, erratic nightmare of a woman. Like her student lover, we are also dumbfounded by her reactions. Ultimately though, Kalindi overstays – at over thirty minutes, this film is too long. Radhika's performance and character becomes repetitive and one-note.
Dibakar's film is also long but here the performances and situation sustain the length. Manisha is lovely as a woman whose beauty and life have frayed. Bhumi is also very good as the maid who comes to understand her place in the world. But the surprise is Kiara as the young bride seeking pleasure in Karan's film. She deftly combines innocence and defiance.
The men have got the short end of the stick – the male characters seem paralyzed by the complexity of their partners. Akash Thosar from Sairat is pitch perfect as Kalindi's bewildered lover. As is Vicky Kaushal in Karan's film – he plays the ignorant husband who doesn't get that sex needs to be as pleasurable for his wife as it is for him. If the men aren't dumb, they are flat-out selfish – like the character Neil Bhoopalam plays in Zoya's film or the one Sanjay Kapoor plays in Dibakar's. There's also the consistently solid Jaideep Ahlawat who is having a moment post Raazi.
I love anthologies because they allow for different perspectives and experiences within the same film. I'm not sure that the format works on a platform like Netflix because here you have the freedom to watch the films separately and in any order you like. When you can pause and restart where you want, the unified experience disappears. Which I think takes away the pleasure of having one director's gaze play off the other's.
My advice would be to watch all four films as a whole and in the order the filmmakers intended. It's more enriching.