Infidelity, pleasure, a class divide and the forbidden: the Netflix anthology film Lust Stories will explore lust and love through four narratives. Directed by Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap, the upcoming anthology film has unique and varied visions, the filmmakers said at a press event in Mumbai on Friday.

The four directors had previously collaborated on the 2013 anthology film Bombay Talkies, which celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema. Lust Stories stars Radhika Apte, Bhumi Pednekar, Manisha Koirala, Kiara Advani, Vicky Kaushal, Jaideep Ahlawat and Sanjay Kapoor. It will be out on the streaming platform from June 15. The film has been bankrolled by Ashi Dua and Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP.

“Four shorts with different visions and the same theme is such a unique concept,” Screwvala said at the event. “From the time we spoke about themes, it bordered around women, love and lust. It has a meaning of contemporariness. And that was the overpowering theme that we went with.”

Lust Stories (2018).

Karan Johar, who will be directing Kaushal and Advani in his segment, said that his short centered on women seeking pleasure. “Invariably when you are given the choice of love and lust, more sensible people will choose lust,” Johar said at the event. “It is infinitely more exciting than love and the more popular four-letter word to live your life by. My film is about seeking pleasure. It’s also about a woman’s right to pleasure and not just the man’s.”

Akhtar’s film will explore attraction in the context of the class system in India. Banerjee’s contribution will focus on wanting the unattainable. “The reason why we are here is because the last time Ashi [Dua] brought us together, we had fun,” Banerjee said. “My story is about infidelity and lying, but wanting to tell the truth and not being able to. It’s being hopelessly attracted to someone whom we aren’t allowed to.”

The filmmakers and the cast acknowledged that the digital platform had more scope to explore such themes, compared to the movies. “I’m constantly looking for newer feelings to feel and boundaries to break,” Pednekar, who plays a housemaid in Akhtar’s episode, said. “As actors we want our stories to reach as many people we want. People on the internet are braver and want newer things.”

Bhumi Pednekar in Lust Stories. Image credit: Netflix.

But freedom does not translate into mindless provocative content, the filmmakers noted. “Just because it is called Lust Stories doesn’t mean it has got an overdose of sex,” Johar said. “It is very emotional. You will find a beating heart within all the lust. That is the USP of all our narratives. Hate Story [Vivek Agnihotri’s 2012 erotic thriller] has more sex than Lust Stories. We haven’t chosen Netflix just to show provocative content. We have chosen it because of its versatility and global reach.”

Lust has been looked at through a callous prism in Indian films, Johar added. “The feeling of lust has been used in a bad way in various platforms without any sensitivity,” Johar said. “Not many have shown lust sensitively in films. If we depict it sensitively enough, love and lust can coexist. Lust cannot be always gazed with negativity.”

Akhtar argued that love and, by default, lust, have been in the syntax of Hindi cinema for ages. “Different cultures goes to the cinemas for different reasons,” she said. “One of the biggest reasons our audience goes to the cinema is escapism, aspiration and fantasy. Love is something that is still taboo in our culture, sadly, because families still decide who you should spend your life with. So love stories will always be big in our culture. In terms of lust, some people have depicted it beautifully and some people are crass. Lust has always been in our films, but it’s mostly very elegant that you hardly notice it.”

Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal in Lust Stories. Image credit: Netflix.