Bollywood’s usual attempts at handling stories related to sex are almost always limited to pretty degrading item songs and men ogling women in trashy films. Netflix‘s “Lust Stories” is aiming to change that. With four varied stories by four well-known directors - Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibaker Banarjee, Karan Johar - this anthology has taken upon itself to break the norm, focusing on women and their own sexual identities, desires, and relationships.
Capping at a total of two hours, this is the sequel to 2013 anthology “Bombay Talkies,” which was also by the same four directors. “Lust Stories” isn’t flashy, it’s surprisingly simple and grounded in reality. It tackles the central theme of sex, love, lust with maturity and pragmatism.
The stories aren’t wrapped up with a neat bow. The characters and their journeys are meant to be left incomplete, letting us linger in their world for longer, wondering where they will end up.
First up is Kashyap’s segment starring Radhika Apte and Akash Thosar. Apte plays Kalindi, a slightly unhinged and bold college professor who is sleeping with a naive college student, Tejas. In her monologue, she explains that her husband is much older than her and suggested that she live her life so that she doesn’t resent him. She doesn’t consider Tejas anything beyond a fling, even getting him to record that they slept together consensually. Her paranoia starts setting in when she realizes he is dating another student in her class.
Apte’s performance is stunning. She immediately engages you with her manic conversations and piercing eyes. Apte, much like her character, is unapologetic and confident, despite being confused about her own feelings. Kashyap’s work is great, he mixes serious dramatic elements with humorous moments.
His segment is followed by Akhtar’s, which opens with a shot of Sudha (Bhumi Pednekar) and Ajit (Neil Bhoopalam) having great sex and engaging in light banter. However, Sudha is a maid at Ajit’s bachelor pad in Bombay. When his parents drop in to visit, their conversation and even eye contact becomes minimal. Things get more intense when family friends visit to potentially fix a marriage between Ajit and their daughter. Sudha is stuck making tea and snacks for them while listening in on their conversation about how both families are relatively well-to-do and therefore, are a great match.
Pednekar rarely gets dialogues but it doesn’t matter, her expressions and body language emote much more, the hurt, the guilt, the regret, and ultimately, the acceptance that she’ll never be with Ajit. It’s a real testament to her acting abilities. Akhtar relies on a middle-class Bombay apartment and family setting to do much of the talking and it works like a charm.
The third segment is Banerjee. He puts the spotlight on an older married woman, Reena (Manisha Koirala). She is severely unhappy in her marriage to Salman (Sanjay Kapoor) and has been having an affair with his best friend Sudhir (Jaideep Ahlawat). Everything comes to a head between them one night as Salman and Reena attempt to figure out their issues. In this story, Reena stands out as the woman with the power to control her relationships and the two men in her life. Because of this, despite its weaker acting compared to the other three stories, Banerjee’s segment is an automatic standout.
Finally, Johar takes the mantle of giving us the lightest of the four, managing to combine fluff and romance with a woman’s sexual needs in a well-woven story. Kiara Advani plays Megha, a recently married school teacher who realizes her husband Paras finishes faster than she can count to five. Even her subtle hints to him about wanting more foreplay and satisfaction go unnoticed. Finally, she takes a vibrator from her colleague Rekha (Neha Dhupia) and is caught pleasuring herself at an unfortunate time.
Advani does a solid job in the segment, shifting from a clearly shy woman to knowing exactly what she wants. Vicky Kaushal, who plays Paras, perfectly essays his character. He’s clearly having a good year with the success of “Love Per Square Foot” and “Raazi.” With this film and “Veere Di Wedding” tackling a woman masturbating so head on, looks like we’re in for some on-screen revolution of sorts.
“Lust Stories” is a must-watch because of its commitment to gripping, realistic storylines that are relatable and poignant. Life doesn’t wrap up its stories in a span of 30 minutes, neither do these stories. The characters, especially those played by leading ladies Apte, Pednekar, Koirala, and Advani, are different yet they’re going through something similar. It’s an honest portrayal of relationships, sex, love, and lust.