"Ek choti si gaadi lene se pehle test drive karte ho na? Toh shaadi se pehle no test drive?” This dialgoue where Neena Gupta is schooling her onscreen granddaughter (played by Mrunal Thakur) on the importance of sexual compatibility before marriage in Lust Stories 2 teaser may raise many eyebrows. After all, it's not often that we find such progressive grandmas dole out words of wisdom in real or reel life, trying to normalise conversations around female orgasms. Another dialogue from the movie is where Gupta says, “There’s a volcano like Mount Fuji inside the body. It gets satisfied once it erupts” is as real as it can be.
Women voicing their sexual desires is still not acceptable in India. Even today, they are expressed in hushed voices that often lead to moral policing, expecting women to be in control of their sexuality. However, what we can’t deny is, how Indian cinema has evolved by putting stories about female sexual desires at the forefront. They have been instrumental in normalising the taboo that keeps women from owning or expressing their desires.
With a focus on expressing the intimate needs and desires of a woman, the much-anticipated anthology Lust Stories 2 produced by Flying Unicorn Entertainment, is here to unlock the nuanced carnal urges of a woman. With a terrific bunch of directors, such as Amit Ravindernath Sharma, Konkona Sen Sharma, R Balki and Sujoy Ghosh, it narrates the different shades of lust that often get suppressed due to patriarchal norms. The anthology features a stellar ensemble star cast featuring Tamannaah Bhatia, Mrunal Thakur, Kajol, Vijay Varma, Tillotama Shome, Neena Gupta, Kumud Mishra, Angad Bedi and Amruta Subhash in pivotal roles and will release on Netflix India on June 29, 2023. So, ahead of the much-awaited release, we got producer Ashi Dua, to talk about female desires, what women want men to know, and a lot more. Ashi who's previously worked on some of impressive films such as Bombay Talkies, Wonder Women, Ghost Stories and Ankahi Kahaniya, says women want it as such as men do, and men should respect that. Read on.
1. How different is Lust Stories 2 from the previous one?
It’s very different because it’s an entirely new story and perspective with new protagonists. It’s taking the franchise forward keeping in mind the theme of lust, yet very different stories. Exactly how even the first one, where each story was different from the other, similarly we have tried to keep that. That’s the whole fun of an anthology for different chapters, where every story must be starkly different from the other. Lust is different to different people. I think each director has their own vision of how they want to tell a story of lust, that’s exactly how they have done it.
2. What were the energy and vibe like while shooting Lust Stories 2 with such talented and powerhouse women?
The vibe on the sets was amazing. There were all sorts of protagonists, not by design, but it just so happened they are all female. I personally love working with women because last year I shot two web series, and both my directors are women. I prefer women in my crew; I truly believe they are more efficient and good at multi-tasking. They just get things done faster.
3. Anything in Lust Story 2 that you thought is too bold and censored it out?
Too bold has become so subjective. To me, what doesn’t feel bold, to somebody may feel really bold. So yes, we try to be mindful of not hurting anybody’s sentiments. The directors have said the story that they want to say, very authentically. The idea eventually is for people to be entertained. It’s not a documentary.
4. Love at first sight or lust at first sight? Which one do you believe in?
It can’t be love at first sight because when you see someone how do you fall in love with them? You don’t know them, their likes, dislikes or anything. So according to me, it’s always lust at first sight. You see someone, you find them attractive, and you want to be with them physically. That’s lust, not love, which we always think is love. Love is after that, it’s a step after that when you actually fall in love with the person for the way they are. I truly believe it’s always lust at first sight which we always call love, we are calling it lust.
5. Which character from Lust Stories 2 do you like the most and why?
Neena Gupta’s character is my most favourite. It’s directed by R Balki, in which Mrunal Thakur plays her granddaughter. It’s about a grandmother in her 70s who’s very spiritual and religious but very progressive in her mind. She speaks her mind and advises her granddaughter about how physical chemistry before marriage is important. What I love about her character is how she can be any woman in a saree, extremely religious, respectful of everybody around but yet very progressive in her thoughts. Also, when you are talking about lust, it’s not just a physical act. It doesn’t mean you have to show things physically, lust is also in the mind. Kajol’s is a thriller, it’s a very grassroots homegrown story set in one of those middle-India towns. She’s done something that she’s never done before. Tammanaah Bhatia and Vijay Varma’s story is very Sujoy Ghosh style of filmmaking. Their chemistry is exceptional.
6. What did The Emmy Awards 2019 nominations for Lust Stories mean to you and by extension the industry?
The Emmy Awards 2019 nomination for the Best TV Movie/Mini-Series meant a lot, it’s like an Oscar! That’s why there’s a lot of pressure but we are very authentic with the stories we want to tell. In an anthology, it’s like a buffet, you never like everything that’s on display. You always have your favourites, which is okay.
7. Things about female desire you want men to know?
Whether it’s female desire or female aspirations and ambitions, none of that ever gets spoken about. Women know what they want, they also have a voice, you just need to hear it. It’s not that women don’t want to talk about their aspirations or desires. In fact, they talk about it in many ways, people just need to stop and listen to them. So, when people say, women need to find their voice, they don’t need to because they already have a voice. They know what they want. They know what pleases them, and what doesn’t. People, and by that, I mean the other counterpart - men need to listen to them. For a woman, mental stimulation is equally important as physical stimulation. Ask most women, if they are physically attracted to someone, it also lets them attract to them mentally. And men should engage in that a little more, keeping in mind her desire and what makes her happy in every sphere, not just in the physical space.
8. How has working with Anurag Kashyap impacted your style of cinema?
So, once I moved to Bombay and assisted Anurag Kashyap for Dev D, I realised this is what I want to do and I put together my first film, Bombay Talkies, where all of these amazing directors came together and decided to pay homage to Indian cinema on the 100th anniversary. My first one as an assistant producer in Bombay Talkies is special because I was really young and everything first in life is always special. Working with Anurag Kashyap and just knowing him has actually made a huge impact on me. I actually didn’t know that I could be a producer so he actually empowered me, enabled me, and made me realise that I could be a producer. I owe him a lot.
9. In 2023, what are some of the biggest challenges for a new-age producer?
I have not faced any gender bias, so I am not going to talk as a woman but as a producer. I feel like anybody who comes from the outside, not born or brought up in the industry, or been in the periphery of the industry, like for someone like me who’s not from Bombay, I think it’s very hard. The chances you get are very far and few. People from the outside should be given more chances just purely based on talent, whether it’s a writer, director, or an actor, producer or musician. People who do not know about the industry but are purely talented, they should be nurtured more, and they should be given more chances. That needs to happen. Because I feel even now only if you know someone or find a link, you kind of make it. It’s really sad because there are so many people out there who are so talented, but they just don’t know the way to get into the industry. That passage to the industry needs to be smoother.
10. How has the proliferation of OTTs helped different types of storytelling come to the fore?
Amongst the many things it has done, one thing is that it has given us a larger audience globally. A few years ago, it either had to be theatrical, or you had to download a pirated film. Now it has given us a global platform to talk to so many other people and reach their minds. It has given a lot of opportunities to put incredible content out there. And thanks to OTT, we survived the lockdown!