‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ Film Review
Truth is stranger than fiction, said American writer Mark Twain. But that’s not the full quote. In the remaining part, he explained the reason. Ajeeb Daastaans with its title (which in literal English translation means Strange Stories) claims to be an anthology of films with unusual characters/plots/themes as weird as facts. It turns out to be stranger than real lives portrayed on reels.
Bingo! So here we witness an ominous, flawed marriage in ‘Majnu‘; the class conflict with its intrinsic foibles in ‘Khilauna‘; the undying caste and gender prejudice in ‘Geeli Pucchi‘; and the endurance of family despite its maladies in ‘Ankahi‘. These four short films make Ajeeb Daastaans produced by Karan Johar and Apoorva Mehta which is streaming on Netflix.
The trove of films begins with Shashank Khaitan-directed ‘Majnu’ and the opening scene has a just-married beautiful-nervous-bride Lipakshi (Fatima Sana Shaikh) waiting in her room for the bridegroom who soon turns up to declare that the wedding has been shoved down his throat by his ambitious, local strongman father and she should not expect love and child from him as he loved someone else and would avenge his father by denying him an heir.
The nervous bride turns stern and demands to know what is expected of her then. Bridegroom Babloo (Jaideep Ahlawat) says she should uphold the reputation of the family. This is how the opening scene set the tone for the rest of the story. But, ironically, Lipakshi doesn’t shy away from ruining the reputation seeking lovers, while Babloo chooses to punish the lovers, not his wife. What follows in the first strange story is irrelevant as it does not add up to the premise. The only attraction of the opening film is Fatima Sana Shaikh owing to her ability to speak from her look. Jaideep Ahlawat doesn’t have much to show.
This is the story of a housemaid Meenal (Nushrat Bharucha) who hates her ‘masters’ for their insane wealth, steals their money and clothes and knows to play her cards well to win their sympathy. She has a kid sister Binny (Inayat Verma) who is learning the ropes. Directed by Raj Mehta the film tries to shed new light on the old rich-poor class conflict, in which the well-off ones continue to be predators, but the badly off ones are no naive, and vengeful.
Meenal is sharp-witted and fully aware of the way of the world, she uses her charm to secure a job at a particular house to get her shanty restored with the illegal power connection, but an act of molestation by the house-owner leaves her shaken to the hilt. The rest of the story is just the twists of the plot that do not hold much water.
Nushrat Bharucha essays her role adroitly, with gusto and gumption while Inayat Verma aptly impresses the audience. Abhishek Banerjee as Sushil (Meenal’s lover and society’s ironer) shows no spark.
Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, the third film in the anthology has all the subtle nuances required to sketch the inherent caste and gender biases of the society. Konkona Sensharma (playing Bharti Mandal) is evocative, eloquently enunciating the feelings of her character who is fighting a two-front war: exteriorly to find a position she deserved but denied due to her caste, interiorly with her sexuality.
The story unfolds with the life of Bharti Mandal, a machine man in a factory who is qualified for a data operator job, intersecting with Priya Sharma (Aditi Rao Hydari), who is hired for that position despite a deficit of expertise, thanks to her brahmin roots.
Priya, with consistent efforts, breaks through the wall built by Bharti around herself and their bonding grows, only to be shattered by the stark reality of life. In her role, Aditi Rao Hydari also has suitably manifested the layered expressions.
The last film, directed by Kayozi Irani, is another gem in the compilation. Actors Shefali Shah (as Natasha) and Manav Kaul (as Kabir) speaking in sign language exhibit deeper emotions than what words could achieve. Racked by the receding hearing ability of her daughter, Natasha expects her husband also to learn the sign language and interact with their daughter, but infuriates him further striving to persuade him every time.
Torn between the sentiments of a concerned mother and anguished wife she veers off the course finding solace in deaf-and-mute photographer Kabir. In his vicinity, communicating with him in the language of her daughter, she resurrects her happiness and one night she gets intimate with him. The next morning, returning home she discovers her husband and daughter delightfully chatting with each other as they get time to mix in her absence.
Natasha is happiest and she shuts the door on Kabir who follows her home after the intimacy of the past night.