Starring Radhika Apte, Akash Thosar, Bhumi Pednekar, Neil Bhoopalam, Manisha Koirala, Jaideep Ahlawat, Sanjay Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Vicky Kaushal Neha Dhupia
Directed by Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Bannerjee, Karan Johar
Rating: ****(4 stars)
Vibrators and self-pleasuring seem to have seeped into the cinematic consciousness of India. Barely had Swara Bhaskar finished her business in Veere Di Wedding than the very pretty Kiara Advani playing a sexually repressed wife shocks her in-laws by getting her own pleasure without the help of a man.
The man of the house be damned.
But oops, I am jumping the loaded gun. This orgasmic omnibus opens with the weakest story story of the lot. Anurag Kashyap’s ploughs through the sexual escapades of one of the most unlikable female heroines I’ve seen in recent times. Radhika Apte plays the sexually active Kalindi, a college lecturer with the hots for her virgin student Akash Thosar who remains virgin no more after she finishes with him.
Frankly Kalinda leaves us the audience feeling soiled and used too. She’s brash brassy over-sexed and filled with intellectual pretensions that border on delusional megalomania.The part is perfect for Apte who now owns the space allotted to sexually savvy libidinous and empowered women in our films.
Kashyap gives Apte a free rein. She bullies her lovers(there are three of them, one of whom is invisible and another who much to the script’s amusement, asks Apte if she would like to “fornicate”) has her way with everyone and thinks she is so cool engaging in Brechtian dialogues with the camera.
Kashyap probably wanted us to hate Kalinda. He succeeds. Lamentably the storytelling also appears unhinged and selfindulgent.
After hearing Apte’s yak-yak on cerebral fornicating it is s blessed relief to come to Zoya Akhtar’s story where Bhumi Pedneker blossoms into an actress of substance . Playing a house-help who is helping her unmarried single employer(Neil Bhoopalan) with his bucket-‘lust’ Bhumi hardly speaks. Zoya tracks her unspoken movement through the apartment which she knows intimately but can never own, as her employer-lover’s prospective bride descends on the ‘1 BKH’ apartment with her folks, reminding her of her place in the domestic hierarchy.
There is a kind of unvarnished elegance in Zoya’s delineation of domesticity .And in the way she makes the tea and serves her master Pedneker shows us the complex dynamics of the household .If God lies in the details this segment is a temple of titillation.It is a heartbreaking piece and probably Zoya’s gentlest work to date.
Dibakar Bannerjee does an Ingmar Bergman-Basu Bhattacharya portrait-from-a-fractured-marriage in the third story where lust is not a predominant impulse. Desolation is. And who better equipped than Manisha Koirala to project the hurt and wounded pride of a wife who has found comfort in her husband’s best friend’s arms? Bannerjee uses a lot of words to heal wounds in the fractured relationship.No, make that two fractured relationships where somehow the hurt never comes across strongly.
Dibakar builds a bewildering wall around the triangular relationship.The three-way conversation is fraught with unspoken accusations and unexplored hurt. It all boils up to a simmer of discontent that just stops short of brimming over. Doing scenes from a crumbling marriage is a new domain for Dibakar Bannerjee. He does it with much empathy and some amount of selfconsciousness.
I found the fourth story in this Lust-omnibus to be the hardest to define. Clearly Karan Johar enjoys the orgasmic beat much more than the other three directors. His story is an unabashed ode to the Big O, though a little broad and tactless in the way it makes the self-pleasuring vibrator seem like a tool of sexual liberation.Sending the warrior queen to the battle field with a sword….It is really not that simple.
Kiara Advani is strikingly beautiful and wholly likable as the repressed wife while Vicky Kaushal as her nerdy self-righteous sanskari husband who gives the ‘quickie’ a bad name, is outstanding in making his annoying character endearing. But much of Karan’s pontification on ‘aurat ki khwashein’and ‘mardon ke chal-chalan’ is labored in their bumper-sticker wisdom.
And the sequence where Kiara lets it all hang out in front of her in-laws is just a lot of sexed-up hamming pretending to shock.
Still, full credit to Karan Johar and all the other three directors of Lust Stories for opening that door into the Indian middleclass’ sexual consciousness where there lurks a lust for self-fulfilment , seldom explored, scarcely realized. For exploring what goes on behind those doors of middleclass bedrooms this omnibus deserves an ovation.
Standing, of course.