Bollywood's had a sudden outburst of sexual awakening. So after what little 'Veere Di Wedding' achieved, social media trolls notwithstanding, four popular filmmakers reunite after 2013's 'Bombay Talkies' for another adventure laced with issues that centres around the body. It's not just lust, but what the complexities it evokes that remains the focus. Aptly titled 'Lust Stories', this new anthology for Netflix is headlined by four women, as their men are reduced to play second fiddle.
So, there’s Radhika Apte, Bhumi Padnekar, Manisha Koirala and Kiara Advani each exposing a side of theirs that could disrupt the image of a mainstream heroine. They aren't equals. From backgrounds to bank balances, they have little in common. Barring, of course, their desire to unabashedly play out their deepest desires and fantasies.
Unfortunately, their liberated bodies never climaxes into something substantial. At around 120 minutes, “Lust Stories” is a collection of hits and misses. Karan Johar's woman manages to take the lead with her sexual escapade. What 'Veere Di Wedding' lacked, Karan manages to set right. His woman, played impressively by Kiara Advani, decides her body deserves just as much loving as what she provides her man. The humour is clean, and never vulgar, even lending a wicked new meaning to his “Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham”. Vicky Kaushal is outstanding as the man who masters the art of performing to the count. And, it’s when he’s handed a bowl of ice-cream that you chuckle at his naughtiness. It’s the sultry librarian, played provocatively by Neha Dhupia, who sadly rattles the texture of the narrative. The first few scenes revolving around how to drape a saree appears forced and tacky. Even the school principal, who cuts out a word from a book suspecting a typo, isn't clever.
Zoya's maid in distress comes in second. While the class drifts aren't explored adequately, the last few minutes pitched outside an elevator as the woman's fantasy crumbles as reality strikes is outstanding. But, her love for her boss appears strangely equally contrived and meaningless. Zoya uses a mirror, much like in all her previous narratives, to effectively capture exploitation and dejection in this love story among unequals.
Anurag Kashyap’s Kalindi steps in third. She's confused and conflicted, but overstays her twisted existence. Radhika Apte’s uninhibited as the devious Kalindi who is unable to embrace the casualness that surrounds one-night stands. Her young lover/student is left exhausted by how she's unable to practice what she preaches.
But, the weakest of them all is Dibankar Baneerjee’s Reena. While she's aptly captured by Manisha Koirala, her one night with her two men appears underwritten. What the director lacks in insight, the actors make-up in performance. While the talented Jaideep Ahlawat anchors the story, it's Sanjay Kapoor who surprises us. But, even their collective efforts never elevates the story. Frame after frame, conflicts appear and disappear without consequence, leaving us genuinely uninterested.
This Bollywood effort appears a timid tease, one that never leaves us satisfied.