Now streaming on Netflix while trending on social media platforms, Ajeeb Daastaans can be retained as a successful anthology film made in India. After making and ruining several Bollywood films for decades, looks like Karan Johar is on a spree to alter his doings with Dharmatic Creations, a digital branch of Dharma Productions.
Ajeeb Daastaans consists of four short films namely – Majnu, Khilauna, Geeli Pucchi, and Ankahi, directed by all-male directors – Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta, Neeraj Ghaywan, and Kayoze Irani, respectively. These fresh yet impactful names are a hope that Bollywood is over its big-name phase! To prove that point further, take a look at the casting. Not-so-mainstream yet power-packed artists like Aditi Rao Hydari, Konkana Sen Sharma, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Abhishek Bannerjee, Nushrat Barucha, Manav Kaul, Shefali Shah and Jaideep Ahlawat, are the major faces starring in Ajeeb Daastaans.
While anthology films are not a relatively new concept in India – with movies like Lust Stories, Ghost Stories, Bombay Talkies, Paava Kadhaigal, etc, popular in that sub-genre, Ajeeb Daastaans stands at the same line yet marching towards being atypical. The premise of each film speaks of a different volume and yet falls under the umbrella of queer love, caste, privilege, and conflict.
As much as we love talking about caste-based biases, we are to a core, still, bias. As they say, movies are a reflection of our society. Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi is one such reflection that revolves around a Dalit factory woman (played by Sen Sharma) who vies for the position of a data manager which is conveniently given away to a Brahmin character (played by Hydari). While there is no doubt about the excellence in writing and direction in this one, the winning title goes to Sen Sharma’s performance.
From those baffling eyes to watchful gaze and words of wisdom she delivered through her body language which could picture the lives of every Dalit woman who might experience such instances in their lifetime. This 40-minutes long short film holds layers and layers of nuances that are tricky to understand but once you do, there is no going back. Ghaywan, who is also the director of Masaan, brings several notions like patriarchy, class, and sexuality, without overburdening the viewers.
Now, one may think – Geeli Pucchi is a feel-good film? This where the hidden layer by Ghaywan kicks in and punches you in the face leaving you connecting the dots and the realities of lives.
Then comes Majnu, which happens to be the first part of Ajeeb Daastaans. Directed by Shashank Khaitan loops around (literally) a ‘haveli’ where a hapless wife (played by Fatima) gets married to a local politician who claims to love someone else? When Babloo (Ahlawat), the politician, hires a burning hot and strapping new recruit, the wife tries to rile him up. Sounds familiar? Majnu gives a lot of ‘Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster’ vibe in a 31-minute long duration.
While Geeli Pucchi begs to differ from your regular Bollywood flick, Majnu sticks to be otherwise. The script looks rushed, incomplete (Shaikh’s character seemed unknown except that she was lonely), glamourized, and more so, unsettling. Whoever chronological the films and decided Majnu be the opener ought to bite the bullet because if not patient enough, this could be destructive.
Talking about movies reflecting the realities of society, monologue is gaining popularity. For its emotion delivery system to furnishing humour. Ankahi has a piece of news for you – it isn’t it all. It goes with Natasha, portrayed by Shefali Shah, a homemaker with a teenage daughter who is losing her hearing ability and a husband who refuses to learn sign language for the daughter. This takes a turn when Natasha bumps into Kabir (Manav Kaul), a photographer, who happens to be impaired with hearing.
Directed by Kayoze Irani, this 26-minute long, making it the shortest in the four parts, delivers depth about communication and connection in a non-verbal format. What’s interesting is the mood of Ankahi that sets it apart – be it the vibe, intensity, or even the plot. We are not saying Ankahi has a happy-go-lucky texture, but a serene rhythm that has been created by the makers and artists.
The non-conventional relation painted between Natasha and Kabir will surely give you butterflies in your tummy and leave you with a feeling of enchantment. Ankahi, which is the last part of Ajeeb Daastaans, feels like more than a good direction. Shah and Kaul have gone beyond and above to depict the characters, so much so, it now looks like they wrote a story of their own and lived in it. Who knew that signs, eyes, emotions tied together would make such a delightful result? Without further disregarding the credits, three cheers to Uzma Khan and Sumit Saxena for writing such a magnificent script.
Khilauna – the fourth film in Ajeeb Daastaans – spins around the lives of domestic help (Meenal) played by Bharuccha and her little sister, Inayat Verma, who, together, do a whole lot to make their way into survival. It also has Shushil, played by Abhishek Banerjee, who is an ironing man and happens to be in love with Meenal. Directed by Raj Mehta from the fame Good Newwz, this second piece in Ajeeb Daastaans, is a so-called depiction of the people in the marginalized sector.
The story kicks in with illegal electricity at Meenal’s house being lost. She is seen attempting ways to get back the lost connection only to end up ‘seducing’ the society secretary. Mehta in this one has tried to portray how the under privilege mends way to get what is considered as a basic human need.
However, with all the sexualizing and foul words/phrases, the plot seems unestablished. While the aspect of society’s class division is strongly pushed in the script, the implementation is perfectly misfired.
The prime reason why the short films in this review are not arranged as per the movie is to not demotivate you. The two-part of the four-part is enchanting, horrifying, and spectacular but the remaining two happen to be scrappy.
As a whole, the movie drives deeper into themes of class bias, privileges, patriarchy, toxicity, entitlement, jealousy that resonates with India as a whole. Thus, it’s hit and not to be missed is what we suggest.