Shorts from directors like Neeraj Ghaywan, Kayoze Irani, Shashank Khaitan and Raj Mehta, Netflix’s latest 142-minute anthology film Ajeeb Daastaans, produced by Dharmatic Entertainment, opens with an animated credits scene followed by four mini features that tell tales of relationships from different walks of life, with a twist.
The film aims to bring contrasting stories involving different social scenarios portraying the complexities of caste and gender identities that one faces in a country like India. With a blend of unique cinematic style from each director, the film gave rise to some extremely engaging moments and unconventional endings which leaves the viewer thinking in the interludes.
The first mini feature by writer-director Shashank Khaitan, Majnu (Lover) shows the story of Babloo bhai (Jaideep Ahlawat), a wealthy crooked local businessman from Barabanki who is forced to marry a woman of his father’s choice as he did not approve of his old lover, and his wife Lipakshi (Fatima Sana Sheikh) who seeks to escape from her loveless marriage to overcome the loneliness in her life. The story takes off when Raj (Armaan Ralhan), a handsome young man and son of Babloo’s driver earns Babloo’s trust and becomes one of his henchman. Raj soon gets involved with Lipakshi and the story takes unexpected turns making the feature a little engaging. While the plot manages to capture the attention of the viewer, it still feels a little incomplete as it doesn’t give a complete understanding of the issue in focus.
Khilauna (Toy), written by Sumit Saxena and directed by Raj Mehta also gives a feeling of incompleteness. The story follows the lives of Meenal (Nushrat Bharucha), the house help and Binny (Inayat Khan) her younger sister, who use their strong survival instincts to make do in their lives. The story shows exploitation that a domestic worker goes through and the lack of power they have on their own lives and the people they serve. While the end of the film is meant to be unsettling, it doesn’t sit quite well in its chosen atmosphere or illuminate the class divide that it tries to portray.
Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi which appears third in the four-part Netflix anthology, was the only chapter which completely executes the milieu to the brief. It points out the co-existence of caste and class bias with Konkona Sen Sharma who plays Bharti Mandal, a Dalit factory worker who finds an unexpected friendship with her Brahmin colleague, Priya Sharma (Aditi Rao Hydari). Geeli Pucchi manages to capture the casteism, patriarchy and homophobia that runs in through the societies of this country. Ghaywan’s display of intelligence and sensitivity while handling delicate issues and a strong performance by Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari makes the feature an impactful one.
Finally, Kayoze Irani’s Unkahi (Unspoken), a film which shows a family unravel as their child loses her hearing. The story shows Natasha (Shefali Shah) drifting away from her husband Rohan (Pushparag Ray Choudhary) due to the strain of their child losing her hearing. Natasha finds solace in arms of a deaf photographer Kabir (Manav Kaul) but ends up regretting it. While the film fulfils the brief and the characters performance hits the point, it still misses the impact that the previous film, Geeli Pucchi, has.
While the movie had a chance to showcase a lot more in a better way, for the short narrative format it was a great showcase, which overall makes Ajeeb Daastaans a satisfying watch.
Ajeeb Daastaans is out on Netflix, now!