Lust Stories Review: More than sex on its mind

A deep desire runs through the four central characters of Lust Stories. Sex sparks it, but it’s neither the focus nor a means for erotic imagery. 

The theme here is not so much lust, but the impact it has on the lives of four very different women from different walks of life. Their varying disposition and emotional texture, elevated by four stunning performances, is what engrosses and turn a blind eye on the limitations of an anthology film.

Made for Netflix, Lust Stories is a unique effort to bring lust out it in the open and treat it like any other regular human need while acknowledging the moral complexities it may provoke in a conventional society.

The series reunites the same quartet of film-makers — Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar — who made Bombay Talkies (a multi-faceted ode to Mumbai’s cinema soaked inhabitants). They employ humour, grace and quirk to understand the course of passion.

Lust Stories begins with Kashyap’s short film and the sight of a sloshed Radhika Apte enjoying the wafts of a cool midnight breeze against the melodious nostalgia of Awaara.

Her companion (Akash Thosar) happens to be her student and a virgin, a taboo combo that Apte is only too eager to guzzle down in her drunken stupor. But the hangover is unending as she tosses between guilt and rebound. Her nervous wrath, volatile outbursts, relentless stalking and rambling logic reveal a woman unhinged.

Ever the champion of unbridled discomposure, Apte makes a brazenly annoying character a study in chaos and her character’s neurotic need to have the upper hand inexplicably liberating. Her dark energy is perfectly complemented by a quietly effective Thosar.

Zoya Akhtar’s story opens around a torrid sex scene between a man (Neil Bhoopalam) and his domestic help (Bhumi Pednekar). It is the only explicit moment of an exceptionally understated narration.

Often reproached for telling stories from the privileged point of view, Akhtar displays a genuine understanding of the disadvantaged class as well as the female mind. The manner in which she has filmed her segment is testimony to her versatility and willingness to go beyond the comfort zone.

I loved how the stillness of the frames capturing an empty house resonate the silence of Pednekar’s housemaid, as she prepares tea for guests expecting to fix a match with the guy she enjoys a sexual license with. Not a word is exchanged, no accusing glances and yet you sense her quietly brewing distress and half-hearted acceptance of an inevitable reality.

A lot of credit goes to its leading lady. In under 20 minutes, Pednekar delivers more artistry than some actors do in their entire career.

Up next, Dibakar Banerjee sets the scene for adultery in the most brilliantly introduced manifestation of ‘more than meets the eye.’ Avoiding the melodramatic clichés common to the theme of unhappy marriages and extra-marital affairs, Banerjee simply concentrates on the disclosure of infidelity.

Despite its curious approach and fascinating insights on lust as opportunism and hypocrisy of wimpy, self-centered men where one tells another, ‘Reena se better package nahi milega‘, there’s something dull about the chemistry of its man, wife and best friend set-up.

While Sanjay Kapoor is surprisingly swell in his portrayal of a man who cannot help himself, Jaideep Ahlawat is a bit of a dry choice for a character whose reluctance would flourish persuasively under someone like Irrfan Khan.

The takeaway, of course is, Manisha Koirala. Her ambitions have come a long way since Akele Hum Akele Tum. One can now read a whole life’s worth of emotion in that radiant face.

Karan Johar’s witty persona reflects in his depiction of lust. It is as obvious and excitable as the sentimentality in his film-making. Turns out it is not a bad thing when he lampoons it savagely to stage the funniest scene in Lust Stories.

The Lucknow in his movie may not seem like the one you know, but its crowd of floating cleavages, bumbling men and moral policing mothers and mothers-in-laws challenging all things sanskari under KJo’s facetious touch give much to muse and amuse about.

Neha Dhupa’s sexy divorcee stereotype seems unnecessary, but Kiara Advani is a revelation in how she lends levity and guts without compromising on her composure. Vicky Kaushal’s ease around comedy adds to the fun of this simplistic slice of sex life.

Lust Stories doesn’t dwell on consequences. It bears the quality of life and moves on from one chapter to another. Given the talent involved, its feeble male presence and failure to look beyond heterosexual framework is disappointing. But it is also definitely worth a watch for exactly the same reason.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Race 3 review: Sorry Bhai fans, this one’s a big zero!

If ‘I have no words’ could be an actual review, I’d leave it at that.

But if you absolutely must know, Race 3 doesn’t merely demand you to leave your brains behind but guarantees you won’t find them anywhere even after the ordeal is over, much worse if you’re suffering it in 3D like yours truly did. 

In this ineffably stupid and tortuously long movie dangling between daft and deafening, slow motion dominates 100 minutes of its 159 minutes and 41 seconds running time. In its first 30 minutes, only guns and grenades are fired against the changing backdrop of an airbase, highway and warehouse.  

There’s a scene where a drone vamooses with a suitcase full of money. I don’t know about cash but I wonder if it also took along the script. Maybe it was never written at all given how triumphantly a pen is blown to smithereens in the opening sequence itself.  

The Race franchise, a stylish hodgepodge of glamour, adrenalin and flimflam kick-started by Abbas-Mastan, was never particularly bright. But Race 3’s mental incapacity — abounding with nuggets like ‘Bro isse dil nahi Dell khol ke dikhao’ — under the baton of choreographer-turned-director Remo D’Souza makes its predecessors’ follies look like action thrillers of its decade.  

Having run out of fruits to pun innuendoes around, Anil Kapoor is now cast as Oxford-educated Salman Khan’s step daddy running an arms dealing empire in Saudi Arabia. Sporting a scruffy silver fox, Kapoor looks like an actor running between a Sanjay Gupta and David Dhawan set. 

When not swaggering in slo-mo and trench coats, he’s harping about homesickness and returning to Zila Handia like a filmi UP gaonwala. Zila Handia is uttered so many times in Race 3, it might just come close to breaking Padmaavat’s Rajput record. His other two kids, Saqib Saleem and Daisy Shah, play hamming twins and come a close second with their usage of ‘Bro’ in every single sentence.  

Lending them company is the ‘loyal, loveable and lethal’ no, not a Labrador but a deadpan Bobby Deol. Basically, he’s the equivalent of the parcel used in a game of, well, passing the parcel. His mobile allegiance prompts one of them to say, ‘Team Sikandar ko chhod ke Team Twins join kar lo.’ Who he ultimately joins is as relevant as Jacqueline Fernandez’s input in any movie she’s ever starred in.

Here’s the thing with this one.

Interpol acts as a middleman to expedite a meeting of politicians caught in a sex racket while a hard disk containing visuals of their colourful libido is stolen from a locker in Cambodia and an army of camo-clad men is thwarted single-handedly by Bhai. 

In the middle of this ruckus, Remo throws in a splash of family drama involving sibling rivalry, property dispute, mother’s will, sepia flashback, a vapid love triangle, a con girl from Beijing, random henchmen and pointlessly withheld secrets for over a decade. Mostly, though, everybody breaks into group dance whenever they discover the truth about a deceitful friend or family. 

It’s almost as if a character is defending the idiocy when she says, ‘When the money is so good, why ask questions?’

Such sheer randomness is superstar indulgence at its worst.

Co-producer, leading man and lyricist Salman Khan has infused life in many a mindless movie but his barely awake disposition made me wonder if he has accidentally popped some of those Calmpose pills Anil Kapoor keeps referring to. And what was with that unexplained fake moustache and beard getup in the Beijing interlude? Tiger to Sikandar, continuity woes?  

If entertainment amounts to sedans and sunglasses doing all the emoting, cars going kaboom, one fancy bike vrooming ahead a host of others, cat fight of She Hulks, a takedown of shirtless wax mannequins, folks jumping off from buildings and mountain tops in magically emerging wing suits or conducting a bank heist while two members of their group arrive in a chopper, inject themselves with micro fluid tracker device to distract non-existent security by pole dancing in a swanky Cambodia club, then Race 3 deserves a gold medal. 

But, sorry Bhai fans, it’s a big zero from me.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review: Predictable, yet petrifying!

Steven Spielberg’s ingenuity and vision in building a world of prehistoric awe and scale made us care. At the heart of its spectacle, Jurassic Park (1993) had something valid to say about man’s tendency to tamper with nature.

There are scores of dinosaurs in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom too — the fifth in the franchise and second of the Jurassic World trilogy — but the only thing to emerge out of their power play is Hollywood’s endless appetite for playing by the numbers.

Everything comes down to magnitude and prolonging an idea by shamelessly feeding off the original’s legacy and Jeff Goldblum’s spunk.

Fallen Kingdom is not a terrible movie, but an uproariously silly one where dinos love and hate collide around endangered and hybrid species to suggest some elusive ideas of coexistence and looming threat.

What distinguishes it from its 2015 predecessor, whose sexist stereotyping of its leading lady continues to rankle, is a refreshing lack of conceit and wholehearted acknowledgement of its B-horror ideals.

New director J A Bayona’s resolve to keep things cold and creepy is evident in an eerie opening sequence that evokes Jaws. Everything about its dangerously dark, stormy night screams bad news except to the team diving under water to collect DNA samples. Fallen Kingdom prides itself on such idiotic contrivances where characters make it point to go looking for trouble. What kind of a moron walks into a cage of a work-in-progress Indoraptor?

Fallen Kingdom is every bit a horror film split into predictable hostility and periodic close calls. And so while the bad guys are point blank gobbled down, the nicer folks have to make a run for it. Doors get jammed and open right before a ravenous beast can sink his teeth into a fella’s leg. Molten lava nearly sears another. Blood samples are drawn out of a tranquillised T Rex all the while teasing the viewer with the possibility of a potentially hazardous situation.

‘They don’t need our protection. They need our absence,’ believes Sir Benjamin Lockwood, an ailing partner of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond. His spooky, sprawling mansion is stuff gothic novels are made of and a significant setting for a bizarre creature auction and The Shining-like pursuit of a mysterious kid who knows too much.

As the unwitting ‘parents of the new world’ Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt channel all their energy in scramming through stampedes and saving the dinosaurs. Their oddball charm is lost on Fallen Kingdom‘s humourless landscape and confused empathy.

Between the teeming clichés, corny exchanges and devised action, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom often feels like a job disguised as a movie.

Call it the curse of franchise or a line Goldblum says, ‘Genetic power has now been unleashed, you can’t put it back in the box.’

Rating: 3/5

This review was first published on rediff.com

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