‘Lust Stories 2’ movie review: A lacklustre anthology, with one stunner

Konkona Sen Sharma’s segment, with vivid performances by Tillotama Shome and Amruta Subhash, redeems this anthology that can’t measure up to its predecessor

June 29, 2023 12:39 pm | Updated June 30, 2023 03:48 pm IST

A still from ‘Lust Stories 2’.

A still from ‘Lust Stories 2’. | Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

I resisted rewatching Lust Stories (2018) before settling down to review its sequel. The original was like a prized poker hand of aces — dealt by the familiar quartet of Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar — and I did not want these card sharks influencing my judgment about the fresh bet. My efforts, it transpires, were in vain. The maiden anthology was just so good that it was impossible not to compare. Somehow, within their limited run-times, the filmmakers had managed to weave rich tapestries of lust and desire, insecurities and obsessive behaviour. There were performances that stung, with wit and humour to match.

Much of that is amiss in Lust Stories 2, which scores a dismal one out of four. Konkona Sen Sharma, who stamped her directorial authority with A Death in the Gunj (2016), turns in a layered, neatly judged short, exploring quintessential ‘Lust Story’ themes of class, space and female desire (as did Zoya Akhtar in her segment five years ago). The other films—by noted (male) directors R. Balki, Sujoy Ghosh and Amit Ravindernath Sharma—don’t pack the same wallop, none of these skilled craftsmen and keen social observers bringing to their shorts the sparkle and punch of their features.

Lust Stories 2 (Hindi)
Directors: Konkona Sen Sharma, R. Balki, Sujoy Ghosh and Amit Ravindernath Sharma
Cast: Kajol, Kumud Mishra, Tamannaah Bhatia, Vijay Varma, Mrunal Thakur, Angad Bedi, Tillotama Shome, Amruta Subhash
Run-time: 132 minutes
Storylines: Tales of lust, desire, class and compatibility in this follow-up to the 2018 anthology

Balki’s film, if anything, is strangely coy. Eligibles Arjun (Angad Bedi) and Veda (Mrunal Thakur) are about to close their match when the latter’s grandmother (Neena Gupta) butts in with a caveat. “Before buying a car you take a test drive,” she reasons. “Then before marriage, why no test drive?” Her contention is that couples who share great sexual chemistry lead fulfilling lives in the long run. As Arjun and Veda gladly fly off to put theory to practice, their parents are left red-faced. It goes from here to a metaphor about ‘eruptions’ on Mount Fuji, and the film begins to share its euphemistically embarrassed tone. Oddly, the casting of Neena Gupta as the gumptious granny doesn’t work here —she has played taboo-busting elderly women so often that somewhere the surprise of the conceit has worn off.

Sen Sharma’s film opens with an emblematic Mumbai image: clustered slums rimmed by looming high-rises. Occupying these two overlapping worlds are Isheeta (Tillotama Shome) and her maid, Seema (Amruta Subhash). One afternoon, Isheeta, a rich but lonely designer, walks in on Seema fornicating vigorously on her bed. The man is revealed to be Seema’s husband, who sneaks in at odd hours, and a strange game of seeing and unseeing unfurls between the trio. Working stealthily with images and sounds, with hints of Persona, Sen Sharma crafts a messy, mysterious tale (if a bit long in the tooth). It’s rare for Hindi films to examine voyeurism from a female lens, and even rarer to split that lens in two. Subhash can step up the wattage in any film, but it’s Shome, with her even and unrushed performance, who grounds it beautifully.

Vijay Varma driving down an empty road, chatting up multiple women on the phone. Less than two months since Dahaad, Sujoy Ghosh’s segment in Lust Stories 2 hits us with a recognizable image. The place that he lands up in though, after ramming his car into the trunk of a tree, is nothing like Rajasthan. It looks unmistakably like a soundstage, with houses and trees resembling figures on pop-up greeting cards. Here, Vijay, playing a man named Vijay, encounters Shanti (Tamannaah Bhatia), his ex-wife who had disappeared ten years ago. Ghosh appears to have received the wrong memo, directing an addled, rudimentary thriller that will better slot into a different Netflix franchise entirely (hint: it also has ‘Stories’ in its title). Apparently, Tamannaah and Varma paired off on the sets of this film, so it wasn’t all in vain.

Coming in at the end, Amit Sharma’s film is constructed like a dark fairy tale, spurning the comedy of his 2018 hit Badhaai Ho. In a serene temple town in central India, Chanda (Kajol) lives a sad, suffocating life. She wants to bundle her son off to England for higher studies, an idea that’s anathema to her abusive, caste-and-royalty-obsessed husband (Kumud Mishra). When a new maid enters this household, he starts leching after her, but is Chanda as muted and acquiescent as she appears? Despite Kajol’s best efforts, with those eyes that can suggest a world, the film doesn’t quite add up, neither logically nor emotionally. It’s also troubling how Sharma and writer Saurabh Choudhary decide to wrap things up in the end.

Anthologies have a place in a vibrant film culture like ours. Nevertheless, I wish producer Ashi Dua would go easy on them once in a while, or come up with something genuinely novel and unexpected. You can tune into this one for the Konkona segment. The rest are lost stories.

Lust Stories 2 is currently streaming on Netflix

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