In “Bombay Talkies” (2013), helmed by the same four directors, Dibakar (Star) and Anurag’s (Murabba) stories were standout. Zoya’s was mighty fine and Karan’s was okay.
This time around with “Lust Stories”, things have changed quite a bit. Zoya and Dibakar have delivered breathtakingly great stories and Karan’s and Anurag’s are astonishingly bad, irredeemable cringe-fests. I’m gonna talk about them in the order they are being streamed.
Anurag’s film starts off with the best opening shot of all four and Radhika Apte is subliminal in it but it goes downhill pretty quick and Apte is majorly let down by an ambitious but confused script and a weak plot (she co-wrote the film, by the way). Unbelievably immature character behaviour and too indulgent execution, even for AK’s standards.
The most nuanced, the shortest and a near perfect segment. My only grouse is that the last couple of minutes could have been trimmed and the fact that Zoya could have had Bhumi not speak a single word in the entire film. That would have been something, no? It is also visually the most accomplished one. It’s hard to believe that a Spanish cinematographer has been so bang-on in capturing the typical Mumbai 1 BHK, the boring Indian uncle-talk, and the daily toil of a housemaid. It is also the only film where the sex was real; dirty and rough as it usually is.
Dibakar’s story, which I loved the most, takes the idea of lust and use it to explore much deeper, darker aspects of a dysfunctional marriage and adultery. It also stands out because he picked up such a familiar tale, almost a cliche and still delivered such an intensely entertaining and empowering story.
“What if every relationship you have ever been in is somebody slowly figuring out they didn’t like you as much as they hoped they would?” — James Acaster
“How can you expect everything from only one person?” as Radhika Apte rightfully wonders during the confused muddled up mess that was Kashyap’s segment, there comes a tipping point in almost every relationship when one of the two people realize that the other one is not enough.
“Goa wala ghar, baccho ki education, papa ka loan, girvi gehne,” is what takes precedence over emotional and mental fulfillment in most of the relationships by the time it has evolved enough for the participants to realize that they don’t want to be together anymore. I am gonna talk about this segment from Reena’s (Manisha Koirala) POV who is in one such relationship. She is a trophy. Stuck between two men, both of whom are gas-lighting her into thinking that she is a bitch.
One is a narcissistic, business-minded, patriotic films loving MCP (aptly named Salman) who can’t see her as an equal – “Kya hai tumhari life? Brand Manager, MG Road? Tumhari life wo hai Reena, jo main tumhe permit kar raha hu (What is your life? Brand Manager, MG Road? Your life is only what I have permitted).” He is more concerned about his image in front of a potential investor than her tears.
The other, Sudhir (a terrific Jaideep Ahlawat), is a gentle, more caring man, who simply wants to keep sleeping with her but doesn’t want to do anything beyond that because who the fuck wants to marry a 40+ year-old divorcee and screw-up years of a solid friendship with one’s best friend? The only difference is that he is polite when he is condescending – “Reena tum na phir se apna kaam shuru karo, tumhari 50% problems khatam ho jayengi (Reena, you should start working again. 50% of your problems will get solved).”
Relationships crumble because of lack of respect, not love. One partner gives way too much and the other half doesn’t even acknowledge it, let alone appreciate it. Salman mocks her sacrifices for the family (“She is the queen of ‘Ban sakti thi’ ”) and Sudhir advising him to patch things up with her because she is a ‘great package’ reflects how these two actually see Reena — a means to satisfy their egos. For Salman, she is a trophy he can parade around in parties. For Sudhir, she is a trophy he couldn’t own during college but is now sleeping with and that’s his kick.
Salman incredulously (and hilariously) blurts out “Sudhir Batra? India Bulls?” when Reena tells him about their affair. This is the moment we cut to Sudhir watching an old YT clip which reveals that he is a big-shot heart surgeon and the only Indian cardiologist to… and cut!) The editing is top notch here. The way this film slowly unfolds the character details is just fantastic.
“13 saal ki married life me maine use sirf 11 mahine bore nahi kiya (In 13 years of being married, I didn’t bore her for only 11 months).”
You think you are an alpha stuck in a spark-less marriage. You’re sick of your biwi’s rona-dhona. You want her to just shut the fuck up, be a good mother, and just exist under your patronage and live the life you’re ‘allowing’ her to live.
But, the moment you find out that she’s actually having an affair and fucking someone else, you can feel your manhood getting retracted between your legs. It’s an epiphany. A revelation that she has agency, over her body, over her desires, over her lust and she can satisfy that outside of the marriage, if/whenever she wants. That threatens your already fragile masculinity. The thought of losing her, your kids, your family, your reputation in society leaves you so terrified that you aren’t even ashamed of ugly-crying in the bosom of a woman who, five minutes ago, admitted to having an affair with your best friend for the past three years.
This scene between Sanjay Kapoor and Manisha Koirala, which is a masterclass in understanding male-insecurity/manbaby syndrome, unfolds ever so slowly, showing you the fragility of the male ego and its primitive need to physically claim a woman, consent notwithstanding. It takes you through so many emotions — beginning with pity and ending with disgust — all in the course of barely a minute and half. Dibakar cuts it at the right moment, keeping you wondering if she allowed him to get away with it.
“Thak gayi hoon yaar. Phone me location service off karte-karte thak gayi hoon (I’m tired of turning my phone’s location service off).”
The morning after pill is hard to swallow for both the men. The patriarchal control-freak has to live with the knowledge that she decided to cheat on him with his best friend on a very peaceful day and the opportunist fuckboi has to live with a secret he could have easily avoided if she was in the mood for mercy. But she wasn’t. She was in the mood to reclaim her identity, her individuality and she does that without a care in the world.
She wins, unlike the women of the other three segments, which is why I think this one is the best of the lot.
Karan’s film is set in a small town and the characters talk and behave exactly the way they do in a Mastram book. A woman pleasures herself in the library with transparent windows because it is one of her bucket list fantasy (airplane bathroom is another). The principal leers at an overexposed cleavage like a teenage boy. The husband is a dummy who has no concept of female pleasure and the wife, a school teacher, doesn’t know that one should at least wash someone else’s vibrator before using it.
Karan took the word ‘lust’ quite literally and a bit too seriously. The on-the-nose symbolism and ‘I will teach middle-class India that sex isn’t a four letter word’ attitude wasn’t really needed. A simple google search for ‘Indian porn’, or the opening scene of Masaan, would have given him a good idea of how middle-class tier II town folks fuck, or talk. The only silver lining of this charade was Kiara Advani who is now the light of my life and the fire of my loins.