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‘The more popular four-letter word to live your life by’: Hence, ‘Lust Stories’

The anthology film by Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee, will be out on Netflix on June 15.

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.”

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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.
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.
Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal in Lust Stories. Image credit: Netflix.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.