Lust Stories (Hindi) — How to tell women’s stories
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the TimesUp initiatives, the entire conservation of women’s sexuality is centered around one word “consent”. This is an amazing space to be and it’s very encouraging (though there are many setbacks including the pathetic Cavanaugh hearings and whatever good it did to Christine Blasey Ford and others who spoke up against him) to be able to engage in conversations in the media and elsewhere about this in a new light. We have a long road ahead of us and like any societal change the journey can go from apathy to acknowledgement to apology to atonement and hopefully we will chart a new course for everyone ahead. It is indeed a welcome change to witness people speaking up on educating their boys on proper behavior towards girls/women instead of focusing on what women wear and how it affects their exigency, in other words, classic victim blaming. The side of women’s sexuality which society fails to acknowledge and try to mask is “women’s desire”. Yes, there is such a thing and it is exactly what you would think of men’s desire, it’s basic. If our entire frame of reference around women’s sexuality is to do with consent, it is understood as something men have to ask her for, and she has a choice of accepting or not. This is very limiting to women, because what about situations when a woman wants what she wants? I am not just referring to promiscuity rather women’s right to have sex with whomever she wants (if there’s consent and desire from all parties). The desire doesn’t mean she wants sleep with anyone or anyone will be ready to have sex with her, there’s ofcourse, consent, standards, desire, mood and whole lot of other things. We all recall the old adage that if a man sleeps around he is casanova and if a woman sleeps around she is a slut. This is entirely perpetrated by men who think all men are same and if a woman is willing to have sex with someone she must be willing to have sex with me, what is that I don’t have that he has? The best way to understand women’s sexuality is to turn off the gender and acknowledge that they are as human as men and they have desires and will be willing to exercise them as they see fit as a man would, and they might make mistakes just like a man might make. Society vociferously denies any discussion about women’s sexuality and tries to frame it as the realm of women with loose morals. Best selling author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame speaks about women’s sexuality and how being promiscuous doesn’t necessarily mean that she needs to be “punished”, which is how it’s sanitized and hidden in popular culture almost exclusively. In her new book “City of Girls” she celebrates women who wish to live free in 1940s New York without any traditional “consequences”, do check it out.
I watched “Lust Stories”, an anthology film on Netflix and really liked it. It’s made of 4 short segments directed by 4 different auteurs (only one of them is a woman :( ) that captures various aspects of women’s sexuality, there’s stories of usual guilt, shame, desire, tradition. First off, we have to acknowledge the streaming platforms and the way it opened up independent storytelling without giving a damn about India’s antiquated censor system. It is however is not a license to go bananas with overt sex and violence sequences, that said, we need to appreciate that it caters to the long tail (is it really though?) of indian consumers who have an appetite for quality content that is miles ahead of standard fare on indian screens (another great example is the web series ‘Made in Heaven’ on Amazon Prime, that follows a pair of wedding planners, a social climbing business woman and her gay partner and their adventures among South Delhi elite socialists).
One of the segments in Lust Stories is titled “Kalindi” directed by Anurag Kashyap captures the modern woman’s sexuality like I discussed above perfectly. I started to think about this when a friend spoke to me about this segment and said Kalindi is more of a humanist than feminist. I wanted to explore that by re-watching the segment. Kalindi is a college professor who’s shown as someone who’s on a mission to explore her sexuality, she is married albeit lives away from her husband (it has nothing to do with her sexuality by the way). When we see her first, she is on a date with one of her students and ends up spending the night with him, the rest of the story revolves around how she comes to terms with sleeping with a younger man, who happens to be her student. Her ride involves panic, reasoning, obsession, jealousy, dismissal and finally equanimity. In a brilliantly designed series of vignettes that break the fourth wall (or we can imagine she is speaking to an invisible biographer) are sprinkled throughout the segment where she tries to reason with herself, explain herself and even dismiss herself with reckless abandon. This portrayal of a human who goes through this behavior would’ve been run of the mill if it was a man, but since it’s a woman it breaks new ground and gives us a new lens to view women as human beings who make choices and live with consequences, if this can be achieved without judgement from society that will truly be the day. The rest of the segments in Lust Stories also touch upon some unique aspects of women’s sexuality in a never-before-seen-on-an-indian-screen fashion (Not really, but let’s say it does ;) ), it’s worth a watch. I am not suggesting that women’s sexual liberation is women’s equality but I think it’s definitely a part of it, at least watching Lust Stories will give you a different perspective on women’s sexuality.
Written On June 8, 2019