BOTTOM LINE: An Anthology Uplifted by the Performances!
Rating: 2.5 /5
Skin N Swear: Regular use of strong language, several intimate sequences
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Drama, Romance|
What Is the Story About?
Ajeeb Daastaans is a potpourri of four shorts mirroring edgy relationships that don’t do much beyond serving as a pleasant distraction. Lipakshi, wedded to a local leader Babloo, is stuck in near-transactional marriage until her husband’s recruit, an urban-educated Raj Kumar sweeps her off her feet. Meenal, a housemaid who has to fend for her school-going sister Binny, knows to use her charm and marginalised identity to her advantage. Bharti Mandal, a Dalit woman working in a male-dominated factory, has to bear the brunt of her ethnicity all her life. Natasha, an urban woman, finds solace in a relationship with an artist Kabir while coming to terms with a nearly hearing-impaired daughter and a workaholic husband.
Jaideep Ahlawat is excellent in the role of a local leader, who uses his machismo as a shield to move on from his dark past. Fatima Sana Shiekh is no doubt a terrific performer but looks miscast as a young wife in a loveless marriage. Armaan Ralhan is passable as the third wheel in the marriage of Babloo and Lipakshi. Nushrat Bharucha oozes sensuality and displays enough vulnerability in her portrayal of a seductress while Abhishek Bannerjee is as dependable as ever in the character of a sex maniac.
The child artiste Inayat Varma proves to be a great find. Konkana Sen is at her very best, taking it on from where she left behind in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare with terrific composure and solid screen presence. Aditya Rao Hydari’s angelic charm continues to be her saviour. Manav Kaul makes the most of what’s probably his best-written role in recent times and Shefali Shah lends all the strength to an author-backed character of a wife struggling to make her choices.
Five years into their operations in India, all that Netflix has in its bag are stories that revolve around class privilege, extramarital affairs, sexual freedom, sexuality and deceit. Ajeeb Daastaans, an anthology of four short films, ticks all these boxes though it is among the better attempts from the platform at rooted storytelling. The stories are compact, make a good effort at subverting existing tropes, and boast of interesting cinematic flourishes. Yet, beyond the variety in the well-enacted plots, the anthology is found wanting in terms of depth and isn’t helped by its superficial treatment.
Shashank Khaitan’s Majnu aims to be a slick, modern-day upgrade to the Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam universe. There’s an added element of vengeance and an unexpected twist to justify the detachedness of the local leader towards his wife. The sexual tension in the backdrop isn’t explored to its fullest potential and the characters feel rather under-developed. The absence of a strong emotional hook and the simplistic characterisation are compensated by a handful of twists that sprinkle some vigour into the narrative. In the end, despite the interesting plot, you don’t invest in the characters or the performances enough.
Raj Mehta’s Khilouna is a dark take on class privilege and loss of innocence. The plot is unique because of its opportunistic protagonist, a seductress of a housemaid who plays her cards right. The story nearly resembles the setup of a B-grade film – a cunning housemaid trying to exploit the weakness of her horny owner, but the director turns the plot on its head with an interesting subversion to the trope. The juicy conflict aside, the short weaves in an intriguing parallel between a 20s something devious woman and an equally manipulative school-going sister. The short doesn’t break any new ground in terms of storytelling, though it’s a passable cinematic experiment.
Neeraj Ghaywan’s Gheeli Pucchi doubles up the conflict in his story, reflecting the trauma of lesbian belonging to a Dalit community. The short, beyond the sexual identity and the ethnicity of its protagonist, is a story of a woman who is denied her due in a male-dominated workspace. The class and caste divide is an integral part of daily life – even her love life doesn’t go the distance because of the same reason. The film is impactful because of a protagonist who’s unafraid to claim her share of the pie and revolt whenever necessary, even though it means that the line between right and wrong is blurred. After all, has life been even remotely fair to her?
Kayoze Irani’s Ankahi takes off as a charming extension of a rather abstract idea for a short. A man can speak, but can’t communicate well with his wife, but the other man in the woman’s life is speech-impaired and yet it doesn’t stop the two from having a whale of a time. The initial portions in this short explore the contrast between these relationships and the conflicts with verve, though the abrupt ending doesn’t have the craftiness you expect. Sparkling performances, terrific chemistry between Manav Kaul and Shefali Shah are the best reasons to watch this short that fails to deliver on its promise.
Music and Other Departments?
A good mix of songs in various genres in each of the shorts, both hummable and situational, lend momentum and zip to the storytelling. The visuals stay true to the milieu of the story and arrestingly establish the ambience and the mood of the various situations. One felt that the filmmakers had a lot to tell through their stories, but were constrained by the length. The dialogues do a fine job in taking the shorts forward, without dominating or taking over the proceedings.
Superb performances by Konkana, Shefali Shah and Jaideep Ahlawat
Neeraj Ghaywan’s wonderfully-written and enacted anthology
Superficial treatment of the stories at places
Inept and rather abrupt endings
Loosely established characters
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
In case you want to watch something on the lines of Lust Stories
Ajeeb Daastaans Review by Binged Bureau