Anthology films are the flavour of the season. Several short films are put together, with a single theme or thought process which eventually speaks about the stories as a whole. In the past, Netflix has backed anthology films from the Dharma productions such as ‘Lust Stories’, ‘Ghost Stories’ etc… This time, Dharmatic, the digital content creating branch of Dharma production has joined hands with Netflix for their latest anthology film named ‘Ajeeb Daastans’ loosely translated to strange tales. The stories are from the different nooks and corners of life, providing their take on the inevitability of the randomness that life eventually offers. Directed by Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta, Neeraj Ghaywan and Kayoze Irani, the four short films are ‘Majnu’, ‘Khilauna’, ‘Geeli Pucchi’ and ‘Ankahi’.

The film begins with ‘Majnu’ aka The Lover, which is essentially a revenge story. Led by Jaideep Ahlawat, Fatima Sana Sheikh and Armaan Ralhan, ‘Majnu’ is about a feudal landlord, his wife and his obedient aide who’s incidentally the wife’s lover as well. Sloppy writing and faltering actors mar this story. The next film in the anthology is ‘Khilauna’ aka The Toy. It offers the proverbial difference in strata between the haves and the have-nots. Much better than its predeceasing story, ‘Khilauna’ is led by Abhishek Banerjee, Nushrat Bharucha and Inayat Verma. This short ends on a terrifying note, which highlights the grudge of a stratum that is perennially in the mercies of the rich people of upper echelon. However, it doesn’t give enough fodder to set up the premise for the climax, though it tantalises enough for it. So it’s more of a missed opportunity for the director.

This brings us to the next two shorts which are arguably the best of the lot. The third short is named ‘Geeli Pucchi’ aka Wet Kisses and it’s directed by Neeraj Ghaywan of ‘Masaan’ fame. This story is about the friendship of two female employees of a factory. However, there’s more to the story than meets the eyes. Casteism, homosexuality, sexism rampantly features in this little tale of two women. Neeraj is brutally honest when he conveys the reality of society via his protagonists. He barges into the audience’s face to tell them that perhaps we’re not aware of it, but deep down inside, we all are somewhat a little homophobic, casteist and bigoted. Terrific acting makes the film more relevant and the credit goes to a brilliant Konkona Sen Sharma, who arguably is one of the greatest contemporary actors. She plays the character of Bharti Halder, the Dalit employee of the factory and hits it out of the park with her performance. Aditi Rao Hydari plays the Brahmin employee and is radiant in her character of a confused, closeted woman. The last shot of Bharti sipping tea from a steel cup as her revenge finally flourishes is spine chilling. 

The last story is ‘Ankahi’ aka Unspoken, led by Manav Kaul and Shefali Shah. Shefali is the mother of a young girl, who’s on the verge of losing her hearing. This puts her relationship with her husband in jeopardy. One day she meets a deaf and mute photographer and eventually falls in love. Most of the short film is in sign language in which the characters converse. And more than the language, it’s their eyes that convey the message. An ending, that is reminiscent of George Clooney’s ‘Up In The Air‘ (2009), shatters the heart into thousand pieces as we witness it. Again credit goes to the actors, who take the story few notches up with their incredible performances. Shefali Shah and Manav Kaul are outstanding actors who time and again remind us of the volume of talent they possess.   

‘Ajeeb Daastans’ are essentially about the lives that we live. Lives which may be a little miserable, sometimes oppressed and somewhat opportunistic. Yet it’s the life that surprises us with its unpredictable nature. 

Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction!

‘Ajeeb Daastans’ now streaming on Netflix worldwide. Run time of two hours and twenty-two minutes, rated Adult for content and disturbing visuals. 

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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