Lust Stories Movie Review: A poster of the film courtesy NetflixIN Cast: We have just witnessed a man and a woman having noisy, sweaty sex and, when he heads to the shower and she chooses not to, he calls her dirty.
His Hindi words - "Gandi, saali! This glorious woman isn't alone. There is a teacher coercing her student to confess his consent on tape, there is a cheating wife who liberates herself by spilling the secrets weighing her down, and there is a librarian who proudly owns her cleavage and the stares directed its way. Five years ago, these directors got together to make Bombay Talkies - four films with cinema as the theme - and the band seems better tuned to this format now, with each film better contained within itself as well as better suited to the others.
They may have been crafted independent of each other, but the films sit rather assuredly on the same shelf. The films belie the tawdriness of the title , and instead of lust itself, each director focusses on something that is born from it. Kashyap's film is about possessiveness. A woman stretches languorously in the backseat of a car, upholstered in a shiny dress as she listens to the songs of Mohammad Rafi.
She appears unbearably patronising to the young man she is accompanying - even though it is understandable to judge a man with the collected works of Chetan Bhagat on his bookshelf - till we see she is his teacher at college. It all adds up, slowly. She enters into this clandestine affair with her eyes open, speaking of Amrita Pritam and Draupadi, and soon finds herself consumed by it, stalking the young man and wanting more, more, more. We are indeed watching a woman unravel, but we are also watching a woman lose control to possessiveness, reduced to behaving the way a man would.
Kashyap is aware of his intent - the 'Me Too' movement is referenced, and there is a cameo from comedian Sumukhi Suresh who writes and stars in Pushpavalli, an Amazon show about a female stalker - but the film labours its point too hard.
Radhika Apte is convincingly unhinged, but Kashyap's uneven attempts at breaking the fourth-wall by letting her talk to the audience, or at caricature, via a professor who talks nerdily of monogamous penguins, come off too indulgent, as does the running time. A man sits on a beach in white shorts, with a white kerchief to protect those very shorts. A still-stunning woman walks out of the water cinematically and asks how she's looking. She asks why he never learnt to swim, and he says it's because his father wasn't a member of the Gymkhana.
Later, she considers herself and says she isn't that overweight, to which he parries, "As compared to? These people, it is clear, know each other. It is soon evident they know each other too well. He is her husband's closest friend, and, as the night turns murkier, the cuckolded husband joins them at the beach-house.
Secrets and mangoes are sliced open. Banerjee's lines are reminiscent of a Woody Allen drama - in one gem, the husband calls the wife "the queen of ban sakti thi," the queen of what may have been - and so is this mature, emotionally terse imbroglio.
This film packs the wallop of a feature, perhaps because of the stunning performances. Jaideep Ahlawat - who was so strong in Raazi - is terrific as the man unable to choose between saving his friendship and saving his affair, and he finally gives up and sits by himself, reliving his own old triumphs on YouTube. Sanjay Kapoor is a startlingly good pick as the defeated husband, and there is "a moment of denial - where he hears his friend's name and still thinks of someone else - that is a knockout.
Speaking of knockouts, the film belongs to Manisha Koirala. Her unbearably expressive face shows off her vulnerability but then turns inscrutable as a Sphinx. At one point the husband asks whether her affair began after one of their fights. This one is a broader comedy featuring a buxom librarian and a silly principal who believes Nabokov meant to write 'lions' when his narrator called Lolita the fire of his loins, but there is a tenderness and a sense of purpose that makes it special.
A shy young bride, having considered her entire life right upto the wedding-night as foreplay, quickly tires of the five-second intercourse her husband loves so much. Kiara Advani is positively lovely as this wide-eyed young bride, with Vicky Kaushal suitably cringeworthy as the loser who refuses to multitask, or even to ask. It is the sly writing that really scores: It is about longing, about boundaries, about all that remains unspoken, and about love itself.
It starts with sounds of sex and, step by step, we see the characters and learn that she is the maid and he is the single man renting the flat. It is a minimal, beautiful film with Akhtar gradually and lovingly fetishising the very act of cleaning a house even as the maid begins to grow wistful.