Sex and Passion

What the film Lust Stories reveals about the TRUE nature of urban relationships in India

How does the modern Indian woman or couple tackle the troublesome topic of lust? Ignore it or exploit it or hide it away?
Lust-Stories

Not quite what you expect to see

A beleaguered middle-aged man turns to the beautiful woman lying next to him for consolation. He has just learnt a bitter truth about his marriage and doesn’t know how to react. She holds him, runs her hand through his hair as if to say, ‘It’s all right, things will be fine’. He holds her tighter as if seeking comfort, acknowledgment of his grief and perhaps an acceptance of his own guilt at letting things come to this pass. She is stoic, he is dumbfounded, yet there is a silent understanding between them. What happens next is left to our imagination.

The woman this man turns to is actually his wife and the bitter truth that has devastated him is that she has been cheating on him with his best friend. And the conversation and action that happens between them is at the said friend’s house.

Related reading: My friend invited me to his house and I fell in love with his wife

It’s more complex than you’d think

Welcome to the complexities of the institution called the ‘modern Indian marriage’. An institution that has just shown a giant middle finger to all those morals and sanskaars that hitherto governed it!

This scene stays in your mind long after viewing Lust Stories, the Netflix anthology on love, lust, betrayal and marriages, directed by four of Bollywood’s best filmmakers – Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar. Simply because it lays bare several myths about fidelity, love and trust – elements that are supposed to be the bedrock of a committed relationship. They don’t shock you as much as they make you realise how drastically yet smoothly our social mores and beliefs have changed over the years.

Lust Stories
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The beauty of the anthology also lies in its realism and unapologetic look at desire, both male and female. In matters of relationship, long gone are the janam janam ka saath or till death do us part fantasies peddled by our movies and pop literature. Instead, undying love and loyalty have been replaced by pragmatism, temptations and a willingness to keep body above soul.

Instead, undying love and loyalty have been replaced by pragmatism, temptations and a willingness to keep body above soul.

They’re all ordinary people like you and me

What makes this four-story film all the more riveting is the ‘ordinariness’ of the protagonists and their lives. Lust, in cinema as well as soap operas, is usually either glamorised or melodramatised. Songs, uber-good looking actors, heart-pounding sex accompanied by snazzy music… these are the staples when it comes to showing lust, be it in Hollywood or Bollywood. Think Unfaithful (Richard Gere-Diane Lane) or in its poor country cousin Murder (Emraan Hashmi-Mallika Sherawat), to give just two random examples.

Lust Stories takes this sheen off lust. The protagonists stay in one or two BHK apartments in non-Instagram worthy Mumbai. Their language is regular, they lead far from jet-setting lives and their romance is not champagne-soaked. They are people like you and me.

The college lecturer who has a secret affair with her younger, undecided student living with his aaji. The corporate professional with strange sexual fetishes even as he agrees to a marriage arranged by his parents. The well-heeled businessman, his adulterous wife and friend, all living in upscale neighbourhoods and driving fancy cars, and the middle-class repressed-yet-sex obsessed newly married couple, struggling to keep their fantasies hidden from parental eyes. These are all easily recognisable, supremely identifiable Indians who hold the mirror to some uncomfortable yet ‘real’ truths about relationships in urban India, caste, class and age differences, notwithstanding.

Related reading: 5 Bollywood couples who are just like real life couples

Look closely at the people around you

Look around you. Your well-groomed bachelor neighbour could perhaps be having dirty sex with his housemaid who has to scrub the floor and make him tea, after intercourse. Needless to say, she will never be good enough for marriage. But is she even allowed to dream about more from her saab? It’s a question that does not get answered. Or, take the example of your family friends among whom there will undoubtedly be the ‘perfectly matched’ couple with grownup children. You know, the sort who go for holidays together, fret over their kids’ education and join golfing sessions with fellow rich couples. Are they as perfect as they seem? Simply put, scratch the surface of a seemingly ideal relationship and the not-so-hidden skeletons tumble out with remarkable ease.

Another lesson that pops up from this anthology is that urban India has become convenient when it comes to cheating. Rituals, traditions and the sanctity of marriage are all great, but why rock the boat for a ‘stray’ incident here or there? ‘Lead your life and let me lead mine while staying married’ is perhaps the new-age mantra. Divorce and the resultant mess is way too stressful and cumbersome.

I know of a couple, a typical well-educated middle-class couple, where the 50-something wife has been having an affair with a man 10 years younger than her for years, yet continues to be married to her loving husband who, after the initial shock, preferred to look the other way than end the sham of a marriage. “What’s the point…. Too many questions will be asked, it will be embarrassing for the children,” was his logic. Suddenly, standing up for self-respect, fighting betrayal, getting shocked by infidelity seems to go out of fashion!

Showing the truth about modern Indian women

Lust Stories also reveals the change in Indian women who are far more uninhibited and open about their need for sex. There is no embarrassment in the lady, in one of the stories, who is in an open, long-distance marriage but seeks pleasure through an illicit affair with a student. Who knows what her legally wedded husband is up to! In another story, a young wife depends on her experienced friend to learn the art of self-pleasure, since her husband is just not up to the job. Whatever be the age or economic and social situation of the women, they are shown to own up to the needs of their bodies rather unabashedly.

Whatever be the age or economic and social situation of the women, they are shown to own up to the needs of their bodies rather unabashedly.

While all this may be new territory that urban Indians are negotiating, what is familiar are the emotions that the lust in Lust Stories leads to. Whether guilt, jealousy or love, it’s these emotions that form the crux of the plot in each story. The partners may change, they may be nonchalant about adultery but the core still remains the same – love along with a bit of lust is all that you need in life!

Watch Kiara Advani learn the art of self-pleasure in Karan Johar’s segment of Lust Stories

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1 Comment

  1. I have watched Lust Stories on Netflix. The incidents, as detailed, cannot be glamorized as the new-age regular events, which the present author, Lekha Menon, soothingly suggests that one should not make a big deal. Thus she opines by citing the example of the 50 year old couple that a “live and let live” policy can allow the moth-eaten, corpse of a dead marriage to survive. Perhaps that view is appropriate, but to me it does appear as misguided feminism. It is like the famous video by Deepika Padukone – MY CHOICE which shows Ms. Padukone advocating freedom to engage in infidelity as a beacon of female empowerment.

    While infidelity is probably very common in India, thanks to the rising popularity of the Canadian website: ASHLEY MADISON, no one of the cheaters be it men or women
    would disagree that cheating is indeed immoral. However as Ms. Menon suggests, accepting such immorality in an intimate relationship (legalized by marriage vows) should be the rational course of action. My question: WHY?

    Immoral (infidelity) actions by any spouse can readily end up in divorce, where by the Supreme Court decisions in various cases, women in the game get the cake with the man getting the short end of the stick. The fear of financial loss acts as a deterrent for the man in particular to challenge his wife’s infidelity. Thus in the movie LUST STORIES Manisha Koirala’s husband was crying because he must have known that he cannot do anything to his advantage. He just has to bow his head and exist. So maybe he cried. That scene, to me, showed how women in India can hit their husband’s very hard through compulsive infidelity, because laws are mostly in favor of women. The men shall stand small and like a emperor without clothes.

    This brings me to the issue that what can be done to deter cheating? There should be two options: (a) monogamous and (b) polyamorous or open marriage systems. However in both options trust and truthfulness will be the key. In option (b), as practised in Westen (Scandinavian) countries and in US, Canada, Great Britain, married couple can engage in multiple partners but each member couple (who are legally married) should be clean about whom they are having sex with. Each couple should know other’s sex partners. The situation may become very complicated if children are born. Who gets to take the responsibility?

    Enforcing options (a) or (b) should happen through what we know as PRE-NUPTIAL AGREEMENT. This is a legal procedure that legally commits the partners to strictly abide by a set of rules that have been MUTUALLY AGREED upon by both partners prior to marriage. If properly done (dotting all the lines with legal provisions) this shall certainly prevent cheating and infidelity.

    Our divorce system anywhere in the world, and particularly in India, all end up in financial settlements. Divorcing a cheating spouse does not heal the emotional loss that can cause severe depression (ask Deepika Padukone), cardiac problems from stress and other forms of ailments that stay long term.

    The conditions mutually agreed upon in a pre-nuptial agreement shall face criticism because of the prevalence of arranged marriages in India. If two adults desire to get married, then they should know what type of contract they are getting into and what are the expectations. These and many other issues can be legally articulated by a well-thought pre-nuptial agreement, that shall act as a strong deterrent for cheating outside the contract with either options (a) or (b) as above.

    I would remain interested to see a film that highlights the importance of this pre-nuptial agreement, showing how cheating can be prevented.

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