By Pranjali Wakde
Weaving strange tales… with ‘love’ – The Netflix original, Ajeeb Dastaans, is all set to drench you in conflicting emotions.
Love – or the lack of it – can make you do strange things; strange, ajeeb but slightly understandable. That’s what seems to hold Ajeeb Dastaans together, but only at a cursory glance. Exploring this Netflix original would, however, bring more nuanced elements to the forefront. Produced by Karan Johar and Netflix, Ajeeb Dastaans weaves together the genius of four directors, i.e. Neeraj Ghaywan, Kayoze Irani, Shashank Khaitan and Raj Mehta to present this beautiful ensemble. Even the opening credits of Ajeeb Dastaans are fascinating, displaying snippets of the characters in an artistic rendition – and you know it’s going to be good.
The anthology first places Majnu in your lap, written and directed by Shashank Khaitan. Babloo Bhaiyya (Jaideep Ahlawat) is an all-bark-but-no-bite, Barabanki man, forced into marrying Lipakshi (Fatima Sana Shaikh), daughter of an influential politician. Their marriage wouldn’t be a happy one, Babloo reveals on their wedding night, as he’s in love with someone else. Lipakshi’s unhappiness makes her seek love in other men, all of whom are either killed or severely mutilated by Babloo. And then, their lives change when Raj (Armaan Ralhan), the handsome son of Babloo’s driver takes over Babloo’s finances.
The turns and twists of the tale are unexpected, but not that surprising, thus diluting the suspense. The story is bogged down by many elements – politics, power structures, unhappy marriage, betrayal, revenge… (the list won’t end). Forcing them to appear in an equal amount and coexist together actually fails to provide a stimulating feature.
The second short, Khilauna, is my favourite of the lot. Packed with class divide, innocence and gruesome ending, the story jumps back and forth in time brilliantly. A young woman, Meenal (Nushrat Bharucha) keeps herself and her sister, Binny (Inayat Verma) afloat by working as a maid. She is pursued by the area’s ironing man, Sushil (Abhishek Banerjee) and even by the new secretary of the residents’ association, Mr Agarwal (Maneesh Verma), only to be exploited by the latter in exchange for electricity for her house. And this is not even associated with the main reveal at the end.
Directed by Raj Mehta, the tale is a depiction of the class divide and struggles of the lower class. However, in leading the audience on the wild goose chase so that they don’t connect the dots for the reveal, the story went overboard. In fact, it went so overboard that the unsettling ending is given just one dialogue as a connection – “Bachha nahi tha unka. Bass, Khilauna tha.” Thanks to Inayat’s fabulous acting though, the short is interesting to watch!
There’s nothing in Geeli Pucchi, directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, that can be criticized, by both critics and audience. This short focuses on two, layered characters, Priya Sharma and Bharti Mondol, played by the talented actresses, Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari respectively. Bharti is a low-caste but capable machine-woman in a plant, secretly eyeing the plant’s data operator position. The job goes to the beautiful, high-caste Priya, who knows only the basics of the job, making Bharti dislike her. However, Priya’s innocence, stories of her past and welcoming nature quickly win Bharti over, only to be reminded of her place in the social hierarchy as the tale progresses.
The short deals with sexuality, caste, gender politics and social biases, which are accentuated all the more by Sen Sharma and Rao Hydari’s flawless acting. There’s a touch of realism to the tale – including laidback settings, morally dubious characters and a sincere display of emotions – which makes it even more interesting to watch.
If the other tales are rooted in social issues, then this tale is a surreal and whimsical story, switching between an angst-filled household and rose-tinted Mumbai. This switch also underlines the dual life that Natasha (Shefali Sharma) leads, who is a loving mother but an emotionally starved wife. Her husband (Tota Roychoudhary) is the source of her tension, whose reason to not interact with their almost deaf daughter is, “I work hard” or “I am busy”. She finds her solace in a deaf photographer, Kabir (Manav Kaul), who not only provides her beautiful escape but also paints her a picture of how her daughter’s (Sara Arjun) future would be. It’s such a fairytale story, whose ending, unfortunately, isn’t a happy one.
Directed by Kayoze Irani, Ankahi isn’t characterized by sudden outbursts and surprising reveals. Rather, like some of the main characters, it’s a silent commentary on suppressed feelings, where gestures and sign language take precedence. Even Kabir’s heart breaks in signs and gestures, and when he says, “Tumne toh apni aankhon se bhi jhoot bol diya,” you see exactly what the director wanted to convey. If not dramatic, this poignant tale hits closer to home.
All in all, with their set of pros and cons, Ajeeb Dastaans are just that – strange stories, laced with earnest emotions, not-so-happy endings and different kinds of love.
Rating – 4/5