When you watch the first episode of Lust Stories 2 on Netflix, you are reminded how one step forward always leads to two steps back: the short film, which is about two young people who are getting married and need their grandmother’s help getting it on, lacks any real passion and could be interpreted as Bollywood’s manifesto of talking about doing something but, heaven forbid, not actually doing it.
And that’s not the only trouble with Balki’s film, which aims for, one assumes, a fresh take on arranged marriages in which two sets of parents nod along amicably at the ladka (Angad Bedi) and ladki (Mrunal Thakur) smiling demurely in their midst, till the girl’s dadi (Neena Gupta) asks, without batting an eyelid, did you do it? Mic drop. This bald statement about ‘test-driving-the-car’ from a white-haired, wrinkled grandmother whose generation presumably believed in sex-for-procreation rather than recreation sends the company into paroxysms of horror. ‘Maaji aapki tabiyat theek nahin hai’, bleats the daughter-in-law (Kanupriya Pandit), while the son (Hemant Kher) can’t hide his distaste; the to-be-samdhis are equally stunned.
The two young children who appear more sedate than sexed-up and who need to be chivvied by an elderly woman to wander up and down hotel hallways where, presumably, they are discovering the joys of S-E-X are the most startled couple in this group. I say “presume” because the movie doesn’t think it’s important to show us anything other than the doors closing and not even the nodding of two flowers.
Watching the feisty Neena Gupta be turned into a smug advice-spouting sexpert without an iota of the said quality is so, um, not sexy? And also, yes, contrived. Which grandmother, in the kind of household where sex is never spoken of, where no one holds hands or shows any signs of PDS, will say what she does, especially in company? ‘Made For Each Other’ is nothing but preachy message-y Bollywood trying to please the millenials as well as showing a mirror to the oldies — sex-is-important-for-a-good-marriage — and falling flat.
Vijay Varma does a good job of being the kind of guy who’s always looking for the main chance: have woman, will leap. We see him tootling along in a car talking dirty to a woman who is clearly waiting for him, switching calls back and forth from an irate wife-and-two-kids, and suddenly finding himself up close to an ex-lover (Tamannaah) who left him many years back.
Why did you run, he asks, eyeing the curve of her waist. Wait, let me have a bath, she tosses over her shoulder, suggestively. Varma looks as if he was just waiting for that line to make a beeline for the bathroom door. Have keyhole, will peep. We are properly intrigued. It promises just the kind of messiness that a story of unbridled lust should have, and Varma is totally up for it, but then Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Sex With The Ex’ becomes more than a bit confused: is this a ghost story playing out in an alternate universe (the colours are saturated, the characters are exaggerated, the houses look like sets) or a man wanting to have his cake, and eat everything in the bakery shop?
Amit Ravindernath Sharma’s ‘Tilchatta’ has Kumud Mishra play a randy middle-aged man who cannot look at women without stripping them with his eyes. A newly-hired young house help (Anushka Kaushik) is his next target, and as he sets upon his seduction game, he is unaware that he is, in turn, being targeted. The decrepit haveli he lives in, with his put-upon wife (Kajol) and son (Zeeshan Nadaf), is falling down around his ears, but he will not give it up; nor will he give up rutting, even if it hurts those closest to him. Kajol may be the marquee name in this episode, but it is the others who are more effective, specially Kaushik who plays the timidly flirtatious maid, and the lecherous Mishra — a scene they share oozes with putrid lust, coming closest to the title.
The most intricate and satisfying section, in an unusual blending of class and desire, is Konkona Sen Sharma’s “The Mirror.” Ishita (Tillotama Shome) is a sophisticated lady who commutes alone to a posh office; Seema (Amruta Subhash) is the ‘bai’ who has been Ishita’s housekeeper for years. When Ishita unexpectedly returns to the flat, she finds Seema in bed with a man. The unbridled passion and sexual charge the two share draws Ishita in, exposing her barren existence and giving her the kind of release she doesn’t seem to be able to find on her own.
The voyeurism on display and the obvious power play between the owner of the flat and the’service’ class are both expertly done, but there is one minor angle that is not explored as smoothly as the others. There isn’t a single Dalit or member of a “lower caste,” another religion, or any other representation in any of the four segments that make up these lust stories, making it the only one that allows for characters other than those from the upper class.
Lust Stories 2 cast: Kajol, Neena Gupta, Vijay Varma, Tamannaah, Mrunal Thakur, Amruta Subhash, Tillotama Shome, Kumud Mishra, Anushka Kaushik
Lust Stories 2 directors: Konkona Sen Sharma, R Balki, Amit Sharma, Sujoy Ghosh