Lust Stories, Veere Di Wedding lift the veil on female sexuality

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By HT

Female sexuality has long been a taboo subject in India. But a few years ago, Bollywood actor Vidya Balan put it so succinctly on a popular chat show: “Women like it, want it, need it as much as men do.”

By that time, Vidya was famous for playing the role of a big movie star, modelled on the late Silk Smitha, who was unabashedly sexual, both on the screen and off it. But her character stood out in a repressed society. 

Whereas a recent wave of films and web series show that ordinary women — a young married socialite (Swara Bhasker in Veere Di Wedding, 2018); a young teacher with a dissatisfactory sex life (Kiara Advani in Lust Stories, 2018) ; a 55-year-old family elder buried under responsibilities (Ratna Pathak Shah in Lipstick Under My Burkha, 2016) — can and do find ways to fulfil their sexual needs, and that such needs are real. Film and TV producer Ekta Kapoor has also ventured into this space with the web series Gandii Baat.

With female sexuality now boldly becoming a part of mainstream entertainment, the trend is breaking the awkward Indian silence over this subject. More than being about sex, this is an acknowledgement of women being equals.

Alankrita Shrivastava, director of Lipstick Under My Burkha, says, “I feel there has definitely been a shift. We’ve really moved forward. I’d say that there are more and more films coming up that are trying to break the stereotype of female characters. Veere Di Wedding has broken the glass ceiling, because audiences in such large numbers have gone to watch the film. People are now open to seeing women in different sorts of ways.”

Alankrita adds, “A wave of films has kind of helped open up this space and, of course, it’s just the beginning. I feel that if 50% of the population is women, then 50% of films should be about women and by women writers, so that at least the female point of view becomes more visible. It’s a good time to tell the stories and hope for a change in the system that shouldn’t discriminate against stories.”

Actor Neha Dhupia, no stranger to bold characters, appears in one of the four stories in Lust Stories, playing the role of a librarian who masturbates on the school premises. 

She says, “I think if you give them anything with a pinch of entertainment [combined] with great storytelling, the audience always receives it well.” Handling a heavy topic with a light touch makes it “easier to communicate”, believes Neha. 

She adds, “Makers like Karan Johar (one of the directors of Lust Stories) have the ability to do so. Usually, as far as I’m concerned — and I’m looking at it as the audience — when things are dealt with wit and humour, they’re always communicated well, as opposed to dealing with heavy subjects in a far heavier and loaded way. So, it’s also how you put the point across.”

Aahana Kumra, who was part of the female-led Lipstick cast, says, “I see a welcome change, because now at least women don’t [only] play parts where they have to look pretty. I’m glad that now filmmakers are open to writing roles for women who’re very open about sexuality.”

And how do men see this evolution of female sexuality? Jaideep Ahlawat, who stars in one of the Lust Stories, as a man sleeping with his best friend’s unhappy wife, feels that it’s high time for this change. “I think female sexuality has been a taboo for a very long time and someone really has to change it,” he says. “I’m glad people are now watching stories that talks about sexuality. It’s very normal if you talk about male sexuality or homosexuality, so why can’t we talk about female sexuality? It’s a great change for us and the audiences, and we should keep making such cinema.”

Bollywood trade analyst Atul Mohan says, “Stories like Veere Di Wedding, Lust Stories, and Lipstick Under My Burkha are being accepted by the audience. They’re shedding their inhibitions and enjoying the movies.” He adds that such films are more popular in metro cities, with smaller towns yet to warm up to them.

However, Ratna, who played the role of Buaji, exploring her sexuality and then being criticised for allegedly not acting her age, thinks that a “sea change” in social attitudes is still not on the horizon. “Two-three female characters and references to their sexual behaviour don’t make a sea change,” she says.