Ajeeb Daastaans Review – Strange Stories Of Ordinary People!
Reviewed by: Anil Sonawane
This anthology, containing four short films, lives up to the title as most of the audience would find the stories strange (the title can be literally translated as Strange Stories) and would think about the prevalent normativity around them.
Where do we belong as human beings? Do we belong to the majoritarian, heterosexual, physically fit, educated class, dominant caste, gender privileged and major religious social group? We would definitely find these stories strange as most of us are unaware of the privileges we carry. Being a man in this patriarchal society, being an upper caste and belonging to a major religion, being a heterosexual in a homophobic society, existing without any physical challenges is a privilege. Aren’t we divided into a society of inheritance and acquisition? We, as a society full of people believing and taking pride in inheritance and wrong ways of claiming acquisitions, are going to find these shorts a bit strange.
We have till now found it difficult to acknowledge the privileges and let the suppressed social groups improve their socio-cultural status by denying them well-deserved opportunities. Geeli Puchhi, appearing third in the sequence, directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, makes us aware of the caste as a determining factor for a homosexual, lower caste female working in a male-dominated factory. Her desire to get a desk job is relegated, despite having all the credentials and skills, to the manual labour with machines and drums just because she is a Dalit. Konkona Sen Sharma plays Bharti Mandal through her realistic acting in an understated way. Don’t miss the shot where Bharti punches her male co-worker in the face for misbehaving with her.
Bharti Mandal definitely stands out as one of the most convincing female Dalit characters to come out of the long history of Hindi cinema. And it had to be Mr Ghaywan to give us the nuances of presenting a Dalit character and situations of caste confrontations. Priya Sharma, an upper-caste married woman, Bharti’s newly found love interest and a competitor to get the desk job, is played convincingly by Aditi Rao Hydari. The fragile moments of love and the realism coming through the arrangement of visual images and convincing acting make this short appealing. Watch it for the sheer brilliance of the acting and sensitive handling of a complex, intricate and layered issue of being a Dalit, homo-sexual woman.
Majnu, the first short in the anthology, directed by Shashank Khaitan, deals with a feudalistic setting, an unsatisfied wife and a young intruder. Jaideep Ahlawat plays Babloo, the seeming patriarch who cannot love his wife and puts up with her sarcasm. If you think patriarchy dominates just women have a look at Babloo. The intruder is Raj, Babloo’s driver’s son who returns home after finishing his higher education. Raj’s entry brings some interesting points of departures in an otherwise dull life of the characters. However, apart from Jaideep Ahlawat’s acting, the story has usual twists in it, except the end for which one can bear with this dreary short in this anthology. Fatima Sana Shaikh plays Lipakshi, Babloo’s wife, with confidence.
The second short film, Khilauna has an unusual ending. It depicts the life of a family living on the margins of a small locality of upper-class people living in bungalows. Nushrat Bharucha plays Meenal who is a domestic worker living in a shanty that is dependent on the houses she works in for the illegal electricity supply. The electricity supply is cut and she finds sleeping through the nights a drudge.
In an attempt to get the electricity supply back, so that she and her young sister can watch the television and forget about the hardships of life with colourful dreams, Meenal approaches a new house for work and this has some serious outcomes. Bharucha and Abhishek Bannerjee act well. Bharucha proves to be a surprise in a de-glam role. The ending is going to surprise you as the mystery ends in a strange way. Sometimes realities are stranger than fiction: Raj Mehta, the director of this short says, “…it is based on a true incident”.
Kayoze Irani’s Ankahi appears as the last short film and would definitely make you long for love that is desired in silence. Natasha, a mother, played by brilliant Shefali Shah, to a daughter going deaf, and a wife to a husband busy in his work and not paying enough attention to his daughter, feels neglected and ignored. She learns sign language to communicate with her daughter. Manav Kaul plays, Kabir, a photographer who is deaf but sensitive and charming. Natasha meets him at an exhibition of his photographs. Kabir is elated as Natasha manages to communicate with him in sign language.
Their acquaintance develops into a subtle relationship with a comfort level that both Kabir and Natasha find wanting. Manav Kaul seems to overact a bit. But the chemistry between these two characters is appealing. The scenes of arguments between a married couple with lots of noise and the development of love in silence with the use of sign language between Natasha and Kabir are juxtaposed adequately. The anthology ends on a loving note rather than longing for love; more love.
The anthology is a mixed bag. Geeli Puchhi and Ankahi come out as better directed and scripted than the other two shorts. But all the actors give their best. These short films are going to make you aware of your own privileges. How many of us are ready to give up our own inherited privileges or positions of privileges and think of better associations with what exists outside of us? Shouldn’t we strive to acquire more sensitivity towards equality and be more compassionate and transcend into a society of acquisition rather than a society of inheritance?
I recommend, “flix it.”
Run Time: 2hrs 22 mins.
Produced by Dharmatic Entertainment, Netflix, Karan Johar, Apoorva Mehta.
Streaming now on Netflix.
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