What is lust? A casual Google search led me to this definition: "to have an intense desire or need: to crave, specifically : to have a sexual urge". In other words, it is less about having sex, more about the craving to have sex. Only Konkona Sen Sharma's delightfully pervy episode in Lust Stories 2 captures this sense of the forbidden. It's called The Mirror, and it shows us a mirror. What are we – the audience – if not watchers, voyeurs? We see things happening on a screen, big or small, and get our kicks. Here, the "screen" is a literal mirror, and the reflection is that of a couple having sex. To extend the movie-metaphor further, they are the "actors" and the "audience" is someone else. Tillotama Shome and Amruta Subhash play the two women – house owner and domestic help – whose lives get intertwined. They are stunning, as is the film.
Lust is shown as not just having sex but also something caused by not having sex. It's not just about the body. It messes up the mind, with feelings like yearning and envy and perhaps a lot more. You may be privileged in terms of wealth, but in your eyes, the truly privileged person may be the one who has ample amounts of what you don’t have. And the kink runs both ways. If the watcher is watching, the watched-upon (like any performer) enjoys being watched. Death in the Gunj already showed us what a superb director Konkona is, and The Mirror made me lust for more from her. The way she captures mood and wispy atmosphere is exquisite, and I loved that the man here is a very ordinary-looking man, who carries around a paunch. Cinema restricts lust to the fit and fabulous, and even that is subverted here. The ending that tells us something about the familiar yet distant relationship between actor and audience – it's brilliant. The Mirror is one of the finest character studies I’ve seen.
R Balki's episode, titled Made for Each Other, is a giggly, fun story about how it is important to find out if a couple is sexually compatible before getting married. Mrunal Thakur and Angad Bedi play the soon-to-be-wed couple, and Neena Gupta is the grandmother who has very progressive notions about male-female relations. Before you buy a car, you take it out for a test drive, right? Then why be, um, premature about choosing your prospective partner? Why not take him/her out for a "test drive", too? The same subject could have been treated as drama, but Balki mercifully avoids stepping into that messagey minefield. (In any case, there will probably be those who wag a finger and say that sex is not everything in a marriage.) And yet, for all the feel-good-ness in this episode, it feels… ultra-thin. It feels like a 10-minute film extended to a half-hour.
Sujoy Ghosh mixes up genres in his, um, entry: Sex with Ex. Vijay Varma plays Vijay, a man who likes big money. He also likes big breasts. Now, here's a fetish that genuinely falls under "lust". He runs into Shanti, played by Tamannaah Bhatia. They have a connection, which is something like the ones we saw in our reincarnation movies. The small – or large – difference is that those films did not have the leading man look longingly at a lacy red bra with a generous cup size. It's a great idea to combine the big twist at the end and the idea of fulfilling one's fantasies. I mean, it is not unusual to wish for a partner with different physical attributes. But the writing doesn't quite click, and the twist sounds better in the head than on the screen. The best part of the film, for me, was a big, choral version of the song, 'Jab koi baat bigad jaaye…' It brought back memories of 'Tu aashiqui hai' from this director's Jhankaar Beats and made me very nostalgic.
Amit Ravindernath Sharma's Tilchatta has Kajol playing the wife in a feudal household. Kumud Mishra is the lecherous and abusive husband, the king of the palace. Revenge is in the air – and again, there is a twist. And again, the twist sounds better in the head than on the screen. Sex, here, is a mode of power, a means of showing who is boss. That, somehow, doesn't sound like lust to me. There's a scene where a woman is washing clothes and the slo-mo shots charge this simple domestic chore with electricity. But think back to a similar scene in Gangs of Wasseypur and you'll recall there was real horniness in the air. There was something more than sexual attraction. There was something delightfully pervy about Manoj Bajpai making a fool of himself with his actions that resembled using an Indian toilet in the Indian Railways. That's something this series needed more of. I don’t want to watch something called 'Lust Story' for a lesson on patriarchy!