How did Netflix's 'Lust Stories' Lust come about?

The quartet of filmmakers behind Bombay Talkies reunite for a set of shorts centered around the primal instinct

Updated - June 12, 2018 02:05 pm IST

Published - June 08, 2018 10:43 pm IST

 Filmy reunion: Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee.

Filmy reunion: Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee.

Five years after Bombay Talkies (made to commemorate 100 years of Indian cinema), Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar are back together with Lust Stories – a four film omnibus for Netflix. The subject embedded in the title itself needs no elucidation. On a long day, filled with media interviews, we caught up with the four filmmakers on a muggy afternoon at Bandra’s Taj Lands End. While Banerjee’s leg gets pulled for his long answers and doing a PhD on the lunch menu, Johar admits he is conscious of trying to keep in step with his three collaborators, even the second time round. Excerpts from an uninhibited conversation…

Whose brainchild was it? What prompted the focus on lust?

Dibakar Banerjee: BJP.

Anurag Kashyap: It was Karan Johar and Ronnie Screwvala.

Karan Johar: We wanted one common theme. Last time it was more broad. We thought it would be infinitely better to see everybody’s interpretation of love and lust. I suggested it they liked it, he (pointing to Banerjee) took ten minutes to like it…

DB: Seven…

KJ: Ok seven. It eventually evolved into #LustStories.

I was wondering whether the present-day sanskari Bharat prompted you to go all out for lust. After all Indians are supposed to be the ones who believe in love not lust…

AK: Indians don’t believe in love either. They are into worship. We worship our women.

Zoya Akhtar: Well said [claps]. Then we abuse them.

DB: We put them on a pedestal, worship them and then abuse and use them.

KJ: None of us realised that all our leading protagonists were women. It was pure coincidence. It’s a reflection of the way we think as individuals.

ZA: Female sexuality in India is much more in the closet, much more repressed, much more denied. It’s not even accepted that there should be anything sexual in women at all. So weirdly each one of us had women protagonists in the lead. All had female stories. You saw the film together and there was this feminine paradigm from four different kinds of filmmakers but clearly we are all slightly left at some level. There are some similarities in our attitude.

In such an omnibus film how much do you have to work together amongst yourself, between your individual films ?

AK: We don’t.

KJ: Actually we don’t meet each other before. We didn’t know the stories. I didn’t know anything. Barring upar upar ka (the surface), what they were about. I knew more about Zoya’s because we meet each other more often socially. Anurag had told about the broad strokes of what he was doing. Dibakar I heard just one word.

DB: What was that?

KJ: Infidelity. I knew nothing about your narrative. I had no idea. There was never any collaboration. For me it was much more of an effort to fit in. I am always very aware of who I am making these films with. I role play. I am Gemini so I can be two people. So one of me is like the films I [otherwise] make and then I role play Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar. I do a khichdi of this role play and find my voice through that. I am very, very conscious of what Anurag and Dibakar will particularly think of my film. I make these films more to appeal to them than anyone else. They must like, they must not feel like ki ye pata nahin kahan se aa gaya (where has he dropped from); Hamara baigan ka jo bharta ban raha tha usmein galat masala daal diya (he has added the wrong spices in our dish). I consciously role play: cerebral, intellectual, left wing.

ZA: Left wing you are.

KJ: Then there are things about Zoya. And I am like this Zoya will kill me for. So my first audience is the three of them… I was the sur (note) that was alag (different) even in the first film. When Viacom came to me they were seeking some big song and dance kind of short film with major motion picture movie stars. I purposely didn’t do it. I was like it’s an opportunity I have got to really fly. Otherwise we soar at one level but if you really have to fly you have to go out of your comfort zone. But ultimately we are all accountable, we are filmmakers with a certain sensitivity and sensibility and that’s where you see it all coming together.

Did you get brownie points from them?

AK: I was laughing so hard I kicked the table.

KJ: We all saw each other’s films at Zoya’s house. We did it twice. We did it first for Bombay Talkies and then for Lust Stories . We even sat at the same place. Five years later it wasn’t deja vu, it was a deja deja moment. It’s always a nerve-wracking experience. You are relieved when yours is done with. And mine was coming the last.

AK: It is the best climax I have seen in a film in a long time.

To go back to the broader theme, is lust easier to define?

DB: I would disagree. We just try and define it.

AK: No, it’s very complicated. What we want to talk about is very simplistic lust which is actually just desire.

DB: … just physical, sexual desire.

AK: Lust is not just that. It is so much more than that. Lust is also for your own self. When I was doing my story it totally came from this woman who is trying to find something she does not know. She is so contradictory. Because she is so driven by something that is not in her control, she doesn’t quite have a finger on.

KJ: Also love is so derivative, lust is personal.

ZA: It is also so primal.

KJ: It is personal, primal, individual. It is so complicated and layered. Of course love can have all the baggage but it’s such a constant emotion that surrounds, you live it, you fight it, you embrace it.

ZA: Lust is specific. Love is something you have for your family, your friends, partner, colleagues, dogs, pets. Love is a state of being and an emotion that is much more generalised. Lust is primal, it is human nature. It is the strongest force.

AK: Lust is like the force that drives the world and love is what helps you deal with it.

KJ: I have a big problem understanding lust, dealing with it. I have this strong sense of distrust with lust. That has been a constant battle within. It doesn’t come easy. It comes with a lot of apprehension, fear and questioning.

DB: I agree with all of it and since I have to say something different…

[Pause and all round laughs]

AK: Dibakar keep your answer short...

DB: What they said gives me a kind of insight, something that is there in all the films. Lust is the other side of a lack, of an emptiness that you are trying to fill. And I am not talking about it physically. It’s about a vacuum. It’s about needing something that you don’t have. Or creating a need in yourself. Lots of things are pushing you and telling you. When I see Anurag’s film I see a protagonist so conflicted. She is between two extremes. She does not know what she wants… All she knows is that she wants...

AK: She wants to resolve everything then and there.

DB: Karan’s film is about pleasure that you can have, unadulterated, without associating it with any sense of guilt. That moment, thousands of years ago, when we added the sense of guilt to pleasure so every time you are pleasuring yourself you feel the guilt. His [Karan’s] film, it’s a rebellion against that guilt.

AK: And the song he plays in the background! Insane!

DB: The brilliant thing about Zo’s film is that the character never says what she wants. That is another part of lust no? That unvoiced thing is lust. The films make me feel very hopeful. My film I wouldn’t want to talk about because you can’t be objective towards your own work. It is about something you can’t express. Kuchh chahiye par pata nahin hai kya chahiye (You want something but don’t know what). But one thing that politically happened in all the four films and that I am very happy about is that they are all f*#$g anti-patriarchal. I have never seen such a universal, peaceful, chilled piece of anti-patriarchy without any naarebaazi . None of them is naming it but it is there. I am happy about it and I am happier about Lust Stories as a unit than Bombay Talkies . It’s a much more resolved film.

Do these work better as shorts? Would they work as well in long form?

KJ: No you totally can explore them. Each one of these can be full length feature as well. Hers [Zoya’s] is under 20 but we are all 25-30 minutes. It’s half an hour away from feature film anyway, give it six songs and we will be there.

AK: Mine can be a good web series. With Radhika at the centre of it I can go anywhere. The overall theme might be lust but there’s an individual tenor in each of the films…

DB: You know who Karan’s film reminded me of? I can say this to you and not be laughed out or be blanked. If Karan had walked a certain different path or culture, don’t you think his film is like an early Almodovar film?

KJ: You know one of the lesser known facts is that I am obsessed with Almodovar.

DB: What are you saying!

The first time I met Karan he went on and on and on about Almodovar…

KJ: And you remember that! I am embarrassed to say it because no one believes it when they see my films. They think naam jhaad raha hai (throwing big names). I love his films like I love Woody Allen but I have never tried to attempt it [in the mainstream world]. In a film like this I felt the need to create a quirky world, a world full of crazy characters. I am not too far removed from your [Dibakar’s] analogy because it is in my zehan (mind). He [Almodovar] is the lord and master. I am a good fan but no one would even compare and say both are names in the same zone.

The casting felt very interesting to me…

KJ: In fact I was most intrigued with Dibakar’s cast. Jaideep Ahlawat I know of through Raazi much later. I realised what a wonderful actor he is. When you cast Sanjay I was like this is most interesting casting and Dibakar has hit the nail on the head in some weird way because I would [otherwise] never associate Sanjay with Dibakar. Not Manisha [Koirala] as much as I was intrigued by the casting of Sanjay. His is the performance of the film, he is the best actor in the film. In so many ways Sanjay nailed it because of where he is in his life, in his head, what he feels disappointed by, where he feels he didn’t live up to. He brought so much of that baggage to that portrayal. I found the idea to cast him in the role almost genius. I wasn’t so surprised with Radhika Apte because that level of dysfunctionality is in her DNA as an actor.

DB: When it started I was like ok but the neurosis took it to another level.

AK: It’s Bhumi’s best performance till date [in Zoya’s film].

DB: There is a quiet power…

AK: Kiara Advani [in Karan’s film] is wonderful. She has a Juhi Chawla thing.

ZA: There is a sweetness. You can identify with her…

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