KJO 2.0: Karan Johar’s new avatar in Lust Stories

‘Lust Stories’, aired only on Netflix, sees big names from Bollywood talk about taboos in society

Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal in Karan Johar’s short.

Netflix’s Lust Stories remain temperate till when Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee have their hands on the steering wheel, and then there’s the explosion. No more of that realistic-slice-of-life nonsense! Let the festivities begin!

And what fireworks Karan Johar’s festivities have inspired! The masturbation scene is the most discussed aspects of what, at the moment, is the most discussed Indian film. An achievement surely, given that people still haven’t finished groaning about Race 3.

With the people for whom the film was not intended for grumbling, and those for whom it was intended in ecstasy, people are shouting out from all corners.

In an unexpected controversy, relatives of Lata Mangeshkar have come out saying it was completely inappropriate to play the Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham title track as score for a scene with a woman reaching an orgasm.

The other films…

Not all films in Lust Stories received the same sort of acclaim.

Some eminent critics in the country have appreciated both Zoya and Banerjee for their “moving” and “brilliant” and what-not works. While the films in fact are well-told and manage to put their points on lust across in complex ways, Johar and Kashyap do more with the cinematic idiom.

To tell the story of an intelligent, well-read, obsessive and violent lecturer (not necessarily in that order) stalking her student after a one-night stand, Kashyap chooses the mockumentary format, something not very common in Indian cinema. A well-placed musical score, juxtaposition of starkly different personalities and a play with doors towards the climax (A twist on the old bang-into-the-door comedy) make Kashyap’s movie fine cinema.

And Johar...

Johar’s innovation may not seem so fancy on paper.
He doesn’t have Kashyap’s patience to draw comic situations from realism; he draws his comedy from the cartoon versions of the characters that may have been.

His film, like Zoya’s, deals with a middle-class family, but she is far subtler than him.

In her film, when a middle-class boy uses his maid as a toy for sex, and casually chucks her out when it is time for his marriage, Zoya does not make her character react violently. Rather, she focuses the camera on his family.

Which is a real horror. The conversation, about the most banal of matters, goes around in circles. They move excruciatingly slowly from one banality to another. Zoya seems to tell us: the herd mentality, ladies and gentlemen.

The masturbation scene that has lifted everyone’s eyebrows up is another. In that scene, a newly wed bride climaxes in front of her mother-in-law. To make things worse, she was using a vibrator.

The herd is in a different mood with Johar. He takes the cow by the tail. To present the banality of that family, he unleashes one of Ekta Kapoor’s monsters into the world: the mother-in-law.

However, treacherously, in between these cozy cliches, he plants landmines. The most a sexually liberated librarian (Neha Dhupia) would have got in a traditional Bollywood film is the chance to use heavy loads of sexual innuendos. Here, she gets to “fulfill her fantasy” of climaxing in a library (The location is crucial: that it is a library makes the irreverence more irreverent).

The masturbation scene that has lifted everyone’s eyebrows up is another. In that scene, a newly wed bride climaxes in front of her mother-in-law. To make things worse, she was using a vibrator. To make things worse, the Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham theme was playing in the background. To make things worse, the granny in the house was remote-controlling the vibrator!

This brash irreverence (to some) is a door to a new aesthetics for Johar. In a recent interview, Johar had said that Kashyap, Banerjee and Zoya are starting the 2.0 version of their filmmaking with Lust Stories. Whether or not that is true of them, it certainly seems to be true of Johar. Who’s to tell what is to come out of Johar’s new bag of demons?

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KJO 2.0: Karan Johar’s new avatar in Lust Stories

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