‘Lust Stories’ review: Wearing it on its Sleeveless

Life is a Cinema Hall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)

Right off the bat, the title of this Netflix original is misleading. So while the four shorts are contiguous in that they contact four diverse points amongst a multitude of complex female sexuality points, they’re far from heaving lustily with desire or covered in a patina of post-release  scenes. In this ambitious and bold foray, you’re confronted with obsession, control, insensitivity, revenge, and self-obsession, all told through the lenses of four directors who’s only possible connection could be their divergent takes on relationships.

Director Anurag Kashyap directs the fabulous Radhika Apte in the first segment, opening with a Shankar-Jaikishan melody from the Raj Kapoor-Nargis starrer Awaara , that’s so liltingly misleading with the dreamy vocals of Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar in what’s to come ahead. Using the winsome and natural Akash Thosar as the emotional dartboard, Kashyap turns the concept of post-coitus obsession on its head. He uses Apte with live-wire effectiveness to connect the bizarrely entropic emotions that run through her mind, covering both sides of monogamy, the possibility of an illegal affair that still turns addictive, and then the triumph of having the last word in rejection. With effectively inserted real-estate technique you can only be mesmerized by this take on scooting down a relational rabbit hole, where the only carrot for hope and redemption is self-justification.

Akash Thosar and Radhika Apte entangle in a complex drama
Akash Thosar and Radhika Apte entangle in a complex drama.

In the second segment, which is also the starkest—and not just because there’s no background score at all—director Zoya Akhtar uses diced cuts of shots to convey the everyday drudgery of a maid in a typically compressed apartment. Where the maid, Sudha, played by Bhumi Pednekar—in act that’s as beautiful as it is hard to watch—has only one release. And that’s with the bachelor-in-the-house, Ajit (Neil Bhoopalam). When his parents arrive and the routine must continue minus the affair, the selfishness of the man and his ability to get away with everything is captured subtly under the watchful eyes of director Akhtar. The passing by each other in the narrow passage, the making way for Sudha to sweep the living room floor is all done beautifully. But what’s heartbreaking is the complete lack of choice Sudha has—be it when she first breaks off a small piece of a sweet, as if that’s all she was entitled to, or when she finally accepts the exploitation that was mutual and yet inevitable in its death.

Bhumi Pednekar speaks little but emotes volumes.
Bhumi Pednekar speaks little but emotes volumes.

Manisha Koirala plays Reena, a home maker, in director Dibakar Banerjee‘s segment. This is perhaps the most ambivalent of all the four stories, but also one where the onus of compromise keeps shifting throughout the narration, much like an unstable tectonic plate. See-sawing between  her husband Salman—Sanjay Kapoor shines, dark circles under his eyes, gruff, control freak, and yet a sniffling salt-and-pepper of blubber when his manhood is threatened—and his friend Sudhir (Jaideep Ahlawat, very poised, very good), with whom she’s having an affair. The emotional snakes-and-ladders ricochets off the three, and director Banerjee very cleverly separates the boys’ club from the lady using a French window. Which is also when he injects the serum of revenge and payback. Koirala is upper-class aloof and extra dry, a weapon of an act she uses to fantastic effect.

The relationship between the newly married couple (played by Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal—both superbly likable) is anything but dry in director Karan Johar‘s climactic segment—story-wise and because it’s the denouement piece of the movie. While this aims to address the all-very important issues of a woman’s orgasm (or the lack of it) and the male’s possibly uneducated but still selfish approach of “If I’ve come, she’s had a good time too” and the matriarch’s attitude of “Have kids, get pleasure out of the way”, director Johar chooses to use his usual masking technique (that he applies to his characters’ choices of sexuality in other movies)—a whispering nudge-nudge of tittering and wink-wink of a comic approach. It’s what dilutes his story, even if Neha Dhupia simmers and vibrates oomph and sauciness.

Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal discover that sex is no walk in the park.
Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal discover that sex is no walk in the park.

Lust Stories is a welcome addition to the opening up about women’s needs and desires and to female-protagonist driven enterprise, even if the latter’s not overtly—and thankfully— so. It doesn’t offer solutions and definitely isn’t a romp-com fest. What it is, is a slice of social and hypocritical challenges and exploitation that women continue to face and will do so, even if—and especially if—they wear their sexuality on their sleeveless dresses. If that isn’t a libido dampener, what is?

Life is a Cinema Hall ratings chart
1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5): Don’t bother
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5): Not too great
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5): Worth a watch
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5): Very good
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW

Lust Stories (2018) on IMDb

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Lust Stories is rated A (Restricted to adults). Mature theme, scenes, and dialogues.

Lust Stories
 Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar Running Time 2h
Stars Radhika Apte, Bhumi Pednekar, Manisha Koirala, Kiara Advani, Sanjay Kapoor, Jaideep Ahlawat, Neha Dhupia, Akash Thosar, Vicky Kaushal
Genres  Drama

Watch the trailer of Lust Stories  here: