The format of Netflix's Lust Stories is quite straightforward. Four filmmakers turn their lens towards sex, desire and love. The first edition premiered five years ago, in 2018, and had auteurs like Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar exploring and dissecting the taboo around the carnal. With Lust Stories 2, the torch has been passed on to directors R Balki, Konkona Sen Sharma, Sujoy Ghosh and Amit Ravindernath Sharma. The result is…somewhat scattered. While some stayed on track and originated their story from the sexual, others, it felt like, were busy telling genre tales they are comfortable in and spiced them up with intimate scenes solely to titillate.
Directors: R Balki, Konkana Sen Sharma, Sujoy Ghosh and Amit Ravindernath Sharma
Starring: Neena Gupta, Mrunal Thakur, Arjun Bedi, Tillotama Shome, Amruta Subhash, Vijay Varma, Tamannaah Bhatia, Kajol and Kumud Mishra
Streaming on: Netflix
Watching Lust Stories 2 will pull you into a whirlpool of thoughts leading to emotions which can be amusing, voyeuristic and baffling. You might come out a bit confused, muddled. To avoid overlapping one tale onto the other (I already have the wrong image of Tamannaah Bhatia’s character being lusted over by Kumud Mishra), we will take this one at a time. *Takes a deep breath*
Made for each other- R Balki
The former ad-man’s short feels somewhere between a PSA and a sex-ed book for kids, probably titled: ‘Dadi Maa’s tales: Of Birds and Bees’. The grandmother in question is played by Neena Gupta. Her granddaughter Veda (Mrunal Thakur) is set to marry the corporate hunk Arjun (Arjun Bedi). They have shared interests (Sufi songs, Chinese food and dreams of becoming CEO of their companies) but haven’t shared a bed yet. Dadi utters the S word and the going-to-be samdhis (in-laws) choke on their samosas. She won’t bless the nuptials till the kids get on it and take a test drive with each other’s bodies. Dramatically, the film doesn’t have much to offer. Veda’s first time with Arjun is a bit disappointing but after repetitive montage shots of them checking into different hotels, they finally erupt each other’s Mount Fujis (Not my metaphor). The discussions between Dadi and Veda might encourage the audiences to openly talk about sex in their families but they become unnecessarily detailed. Dadi tells Veda where all she boinked before marriage, even shows her a condom packet she always kept by her bedside when her husband was alive. TMI grandma, TMI. Oh, and the condom’s brand is named Made for Each Other.
The Mirror- Konkona Sen Sharma
Fittingly, the second film in the anthology opens with Tillotama Shome’s Isheeta staring blankly at the camera, her forehead muscles twitching. She is in a car, returning early from work owing to a migraine. She unlocks the door to her flat only to find her maid Seema (Amruta Subhash) fornicating on her bed along with her husband. Naturally, Isheeta runs out and catches a breath against a wall. But then, she doesn’t fire Seema, let alone confront her. She just starts leaving work sharp at 3pm.
Tillotama portrays Isheeta with a balance of comicality and melancholy. She mouses into her own flat every afternoon and voyeurs over her maid going at it. Later, she pleasures herself on the bed but cries before she comes. It’s not just a story of kink but of loneliness. Seema finds out about Isheeta’s sneaking but remains mum. It becomes their little secret till the curtain is pulled.
In the hands of a less abled director The Mirror would have become a Parasite porno but Konkona handles it deftly. She looks into class divide with the prism of lust and keeps the narrative engaging except towards the end where it becomes too long drawn. Still, the short manages to extract enough drama out of conflicting emotions. It surely is a class act by Konkona, Tillotama and Amruta.
Sex with Ex- Sujoy Ghosh
Finally, the one you have been waiting for. But, as the title conveys, the Vijay Varma and Tamannaah Bhatia starrer is sans any creativity. The Sujoy Ghosh short plays like a fever dream. Varma is called Vijay Chauhan, a screen name frequently used by Amitabh Bachchan. He sports a thin moustache of a seventies villain and has the libido of an Emraan Hashmi character along with the dressing sense of Dharmendra’s Veeru (denims over denim) from Sholay (1975). Vijay is a CEO and gets a call for a meeting while he is on the way to attend a booty call. His wife and kid call too. Naturally, his car hits a tree.
Vijay finds himself in the town of Paraisol which seems like it has entirely been concocted on a green screen. There, orchestrating an A cappella group inside a community center is Shanti (Tamannaah), his ex-wife who went missing ten years ago. He follows her to her house and the two catch up. She tells him she was kidnapped by a man and a pregnant woman (Sujoy Ghosh also helmed Kahaani) and then she found herself in this town. Vijay joins two and two together and comes to the conclusion that his current wife planned Shanti’s abduction.
But let’s not get entangled in the story. Vijay and Tamannaah have sex on a table and well… let’s just say their biological act lacks a lot of chemistry. The camera moves lustily over Tamannaah’s body at times and she is only seen in rain-dance sarees. If there is a plot it has been weaved only to serve the intimate scenes between Vijay and Tamannaah. It isn’t worth it.
Tilchatta- Amit Ravindernath Sharma
The title means cockroach in Hindi. One of the opening images of the film is the insect scurrying over a jewellery box. The setting is a dilapidated haveli in central India dominated by the philandering, forgotten Rajaji Suraj Singh (Kumud Mishra). The ‘queen’ is Devyani Singh (Kajol), a former prostitute, who dabs her bruises in makeup after every night with Suraj. She has a son who she wishes goes to England, out of this muck. The lust in this film is mere creepiness. Kumud is convincing as the lecherous patriarch who feeds on one housemaid after the next. Kajol is merely being the version she has formulated for OTT, walking chin up, determined, breaking out of the shackles of male dominance. However, her plans to bring the Rajaji down backfire and the story leaves you perplexed. It would fit better in another Netflix anthology, Ajeeb Daastaans.