It’s nice to see women having the last laugh. No wonder, what stayed with me after watching Netflix’s Lust Stories is Reena’s (Manisha Koirala) triumphant laughter in the last scene of Dibakar Banerjee’s short film. It tells you she has broken free, that she has just put two men in their place and would now keep, yes, keep them in her life on her own terms.
Reena is middle-aged (The director has made sure the cameras focus on the fine lines and ‘flaws’ on her face and hands multiple times) and caught in a 13-year-old marriage she is fed up with.
In keeping with the theme of Lust Stories, Reena is clandestinely sleeping with Sudhir (Jaideep Ahlawat), who is her husband Salman’s (Sanjay Kapoor) best friend, and their college mate. Yet, lust isn’t the dominant sentiment here. It is the complexity of relationships, marriage, and fidelity that Banerjee questions through words, both spoken and unspoken. These questions are raised at a stage of each character’s life when they are expected to have them all sorted out.
Reena has a powerful presence as she easily towers over the two men who wear their flaws on their sleeves, and are at a loss to deal with her or her clarity of thought. In fact, it is beyond the two men to even comprehend her.
Like most men, Salman doesn’t realise he wounded Reena’s pride and pushed her to the breaking point by using the word ‘permit’. ”Your life is what I permit you,” he tells her.
At the same time, Sudhir is at his wits’ end when Reena proposes that they should reveal their relationship to Salman when he visits them at the beach house they’re at.
It is no mean feat to behave nonchalantly with your husband the provider (Reena has no career) a night after you have told him that you had been sleeping with his best friend for three years. Reena does not show any guilt. Nobody uses the word cheating, or affair.
When Salman asks whether she went to Sudhir a day after they had a fight, Reena says, quite casually, “No, It was a peaceful day.” Can there be a stronger assertion of her own desire, and agency?
Hurt isn’t the dominant sentiment here, it is boredom. The impatience with a husband, who is emotionally weak and insensitive to his wife’s needs. It is the desperation to break out.
Salman is a careerist and brash on the outside, but is a man-child who cries and tells his wife not to tell Sudhir that he now knows about their affair. You chuckle here as this is the confession of the film: the world should not know how weak a man is, and that he cries in his woman’s arms. There is no raving and ranting (and you even wonder why is his name Salman at all).
Reena’s irritation with the banter between the two friends was also palpable and relatable. She spoke for the entire tribe of women when she says: “Main nahin bhoolti (I don’t forget).”
Women can take charge of their lives. The film tells you this in a manner that leaves you smiling in the end.
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