Film Review: Ajeeb Daastaans (Strange Tales)
Starring: Fatima Sana Shaikh, Jaideep Ahlawat, Armaan Ralhan, Nushrat Bharucha, Abhishek Banerjee, Inayat Verma, Konkona Sen Sharma, Aditi Rao Hydari, Shefali Shah, Manav Kaul and Tota Roy Chowdhury
Directors: Neeraj Ghaywan, Kayoze Irani, Shashank Khaitan and Raj Mehta
The trend of anthologies, with a collection of thematic stories spun together into one film, seems to be catching on in Bollywood as the Indian film industry gets more comfortable with exploring complex subject matter across streaming platforms. This latest release falls within that very bracket, packed with a variety of thorny issues loosely woven together.
Majnu (Romeo): This is the first of the four-film anthology, which navigates a forced marriage between an influential politician’s daughter Lipakshi (Sana Shaikh) and wealthy businessman’s son Babloo (Ahlawat). On their wedding night, Babloo makes the rather insensitive declaration to his new wife that his love for another means he would never be able to give her any marital happiness. It triggers years of strained relations and extra-marital affairs until the entry of the son of a loyal family driver, Raj (Ralhan), whose dubious intentions set the couple on a twisted spiral of love and betrayal.
Khilauna (Toy): A pair of clever and wily sisters, Meenal () and Binny (Verma), have learnt the tricks of extracting the maximum benefit from the wealthy homes where Meenal is employed as a domestic help. Young schoolgirl Binny is advanced beyond her years as a result of their dire financial situation but manages to remain quite the happy-go-lucky child despite these hardships. However, their tenuous grasp on some semblance of a poverty-stricken yet happy life is shaken up when a sleazy local politician rocks the boat.
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Geeli Pucchi (Wet Kiss): Bharti (Sen Sharma) and Priya () are two women who could not be more far apart in terms of their caste and upbringing. Their lives collide when Priya takes over the role of a data analyst that Bharti, a Dalit tomboy machinist, has been eyeing for some time. However, the two are drawn closer together as the only women in an all-male work environment and Bharti soon overcomes the professional jealousy. But things take a menacing turn when their caste divide is thrown back into focus in a harsh way.
Ankahi (Unspoken): An unhappy Natasha (Shah) stumbles into a photo studio where a chance encounter with Kabir (Kaul) turns into a welcome escape from her estranged husband, who has been struggling to cope with their daughter’s impending deafness. The bond with Kabir is made stronger by his own deafness and their unspoken communication via sign language triggers an instant bond. But a sense of doom seems to lurk behind this new-found happiness.
All four tales certainly tick all the boxes of strangeness referred to in this film’s collective title. As another production from ’s Dharmatic Entertainment, set up to give newer writers and filmmakers a voice, this anthology has much going for it.
With four very different though thematically linked stories, it is only to be expected that not all will tick all the right boxes. However, each of their handling of intricate human emotions of love, jealousy, betrayal and revenge makes for a very watchable collection.