Directors: Neeraj Ghaywan, Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta, Kayoze Irani
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Aditi Rao Hydari, Nushrratt Bharuccha, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Shefali Shah, Manav Kaul, Jaideep Ahlawat, Abhishek Banerjee, Armaan Ralhan, Inayat Verma
Streaming on: Netflix
There have been quite a few anthologies being made in Hindi and South film industry in recent times. There’s one common thing about the Hindi ones – there’s only one short/segment which stands out. It was Anurag Kashyap’s segment in Bombay Talkies, Zoya Akhtar’s segment in Lust Stories, Dibakar Banerjee’s segment in Ghost Stories, and Avinash Arun’s segment in Unpaused.
Here in Netflix’s Ajeeb Daastaans, it is Neeraj Ghaywan’s short Geeli Pucchi. Geeli Pucchi translates to wet kiss. It is a story about two women from different classes of the society crossing each other’s path in an unexpected way. Konkona Sen Sharma plays Bharati, a Dalit, gay woman who works in a factory. She is the only female worker at the factory. Aditi Rao Hydari plays Priya Sharma, a Brahmin ‘Sharma Ji Ki Bahu’ who joins as the new employee.
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Priya is naïve and vulnerable whereas Bharati has lived a life of discrimination (she continues to do so) which has made her tough, and smart. What starts as Bharati’s insecurity towards Priya snatching her job grows into sharing an intimate bond with her. But class eventually plays its role between the two. Through some fine detailing, Ghaywan shows the discrimination based on caste which still plagues Indian society.
With a stunning climax, Ghaywan gives us a rewarding storytelling experience. Almost clapped and shouted “brilliant”. Aditi Rao Hydari surprises with a nuanced performance. Konkona gets into the skin of Bharati so well that you forget for a moment that an actor is playing a part.
The other film which shows some spark is Raj Mehta’s Khilauna. It has an underrated Nushrratt Bharuccha as a maid, an always reliable Abhishek Banerjee as a laundryman and an enigmatic Inayat Verma, the little girl we saw in Anurag Basu’s Ludo on Netflix. The actors give their best to play their parts. But a slightly sloppy execution kills the thrill of the big unveil.
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Kayoze Irani’s Ankahi features Shefali Shah, a housewife trying her best to give a ‘normal’ life to her daughter who is gradually losing her ability to hear. Her husband is always working. He doesn’t have the time to learn sign language so that he can communicate with his daughter. The couple quarrel over this. The daughter can see their marriage falling apart. Shefali’s Natasha meets Rohan (Manav Kaul), a charming photographer who is hearing impaired. The two communicate through sign language. Shefali can notice the little things which make the big differences in relationships.
Irani’s film is not so ‘ajeeb’ compared to others but is a warm, soothing end to the anthology. The ending of this short reminded me of Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air (2009) and Shilpa Shetty & Shiney Ahuja’s track in Anurag Basu’s Life… In A Metro (2007), but never mind. Shefali graces the screen with her luminous presence and Manav is effortlessly charming. Together, they create some beautiful moments.
Shashank Khaitan’s Majnu is the most bizarre and weakest short of the anthology. Based on a powerful human feeling – revenge, the film fails to kick off. It is the first film of the anthology and it makes you wonder if similar films will follow. All the main actors here struggle. Jaideep Ahlawat as a politician, Fatima Sana Shaikh as his wife, and Armaan Ralhan as Ahlawat’s driver’s son look complete misfits in their parts. Actors save the slightly weaker scripts of Mehta’s Khilauna and Irani’s Ankahi. But there’s no scope for actors in Majnu. They basically say their lines and move on.
The anthology is produced by Netflix and Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment. The production design, costume, cinematography in all shorts is top notch. Nitin Baid’s editing flourishes in Ghaywan’s short and does its best to save the remaining ones. Each film has one song, all quite good. But the background score sounds like the leftovers from the Sacred Games’ score.
Watch the trailer of Ajeeb Daastaans here:
Ajeeb Daastaans could have been released as four part series like Netflix released the Tamil anthology Paava Kadhaigal and Telugu anthology Pitta Kathalu. Saying this, because all four stories in Ajeeb… are set in different milieus, and ‘a catalyst causing a disruption’ as a theme is not that strikingly defining in the narratives. The 2 hour 22 minutes runtime seems like a daunting task. Ajeeb Daastaans is streaming on Netflix, whether you watch all four or not, don’t miss Konkona Sen Sharma’s performance in Neeraj Ghaywan’s directorial.