Movie Review: ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ (Netflix)

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‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ (2021) premiered on Netflix on 16 April and is the latest offering from Karan Johar’s production house, Dharmatic Entertainment. The film is a collection of four short stories, titled – ‘Majnu’, ‘Khilauna’, ‘Geeli Pucchi’ and ‘Ankahi’ – which have been directed by four renowned directors. Each story takes you on an individual journey into the different lives of the characters within them and explores their complex relationships and the struggles they experience. A lot of current social issues were also brought to the forefront in varying manner which included topics such as, love, sexual identity, discrimination, prejudice, and jealousy.

‘Majnu’ (Directed by Shashank Khaitan)
The marriage between Babloo or otherwise known as Babloo bhaiya (Jaideep Alhawat) and Lipakshi (Fatima Sana Shaikh) was a business arrangement between the two families. Lipakshi who was unaware of this at first can’t believe she was now trapped in a loveless marriage. She yearns to meet someone who could love her and to help her escape this hell she was in. However, this didn’t deter her bold and flirtatious manner around other men in front of her husband, which didn’t end well for anyone who dared! Then arrives Raj (Armaan Ralhan) an attractive, intelligent guy, who’s father has been committed in serving Babloo bhaiya most of his life, when he himself decides to join Babloo bhaiya’s business, but what is unknown at the time is his motive in doing so. The storyline quickly develops and showcases the mastermind behind Ralhan’s character.

There were moments in ‘Majnu’ that came across a bit like ‘Mirzapur’ and felt a little over the top. You find yourself questioning why a man who didn’t love his wife was bothered if another man admired her. Yes, it was about the family reputation, but did the punishment need to be so harsh? Alhawat, essaying the menacing don was fair, but it was in the latter half of the film when the truth finally reveals itself that he excels. Ralhan probably stood out the most in this film and the few times he and Sana Shaikh shared screen space their chemistry worked well. Sana Shaikh performance was nuanced and though she didn’t have much dialogue delivery, she was able to portray the loneliness, frustration and fragility disguised by her front of this strong-sassy female.

‘Khilauna’ (Directed by Raj Mehta)
A story about a maid Meenal (Nushrat Bharucha) and her younger sister Binny (Inayat Verma), at first seems quite normal and innocent, it’s only when you realise how conniving the pair are in trying to fool the rich households they work for. Binny is seen dressed in school uniform, but instead of attending school she accompanies her sister and helps with the chores. Having issues with no electricity in their neighbourhood, Meenal tries her best to persuade the housewives she works for to see if they are able to help her put in a word with the local minister Vinod Agarwal (Manesh Verma) who is in charge. Still struggling to find a solution Meenal encounters a chance meeting with Agarwal and lands the opportunity to work at his house, and this is when the film slowly starts to take a dark turn. Mehta has done a great job in concealing any indication that this film would turn into a chilling crime drama. The nature of the crime and when you get to the end and learn about who committed the crime leaves you feeling slightly disturbed.

The storyline highlights the differences between the rich and poor and the privileges that the rich have. It also showcases the bond between two sister and the pure love they have for each other. Bharucha has done a decent job portraying a maid. Also starring in this is Abhishek Banerjee who plays Sushil, runs his own business on the streets of the housing complex pressing garments and also as Meenal’s love interest.

‘Geeli Pucchi’ (Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan)
Bharti Mandal (Konkona Sen Sharma) though intelligent and ambitious, works on the factory floor amongst men only because her caste prevents her from becoming an aspiring account for the company that she works for. Mandal is the only female employee there and is not treated as one as she is seen as a tomboy and faces discrimination from every angle. The company hires a new recruit, Priya Sharma (Aditi Rao Hydari) for the accounting role Mandal wanted and is angry at the favouritism and difference in treatment that Sharma is given. Sharma clocks Mandal and takes the first steps to make friends with her and although they don’t hit it off initially, it soon turns into a beautiful friendship. The twist in this story is applause worthy and is really unexpected.

‘Geeli Pucchi’ is thought provoking and touches upon LGBT issues, casteism and heartbreak. It also highlights the inequalities women face on a daily basis whatever their background.

If you are a fan of Sen Sharma then you will not be disappointed by her performance in this film. She completely nails the mannerisms of her character and proves why she is regarded as one of the best actresses in the industry. Rao Hydari also gives a brilliant performance too.

‘Ankahi’ (Directed by Kayoze Irani)
The final of four films and delivered very differently to the others. Natasha (Shefali Shah) and Rohan (Tota Roy Chowdury) are going through a rough patch in the marriage. Their daughter, Samaira (Sara Arjun) is in need of a cochlear implant and tension between husband and wife arises due to the lack of understanding from Rohan to learn sign language for his daughter’s sake. Natasha who attends an art gallery one day, meets photographer Kabir (Manav Kaul), the man behind the lens of all the portraits and quickly discovers he is deaf and starts communicating with him through sign language, which takes Kabir by surprise. The two form a close friendship and find they have feelings for each other. Much of the films dialogue is in sign language and the expressions by both Shah and Kaul are outstanding. The entire film is so captivating and moving that you want know more.

Not knowing what to expect, all four films were gripping from beginning to end and full of twists and turns throughout. There was no way of predicting how any of the storylines were going to unfold. At times, the predicament of the characters would have you question their morals and behaviour, but you could empathise with them too.

Overall, ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ is a brilliant and entertaining film. Everyone from the writers, directors and actors have done a superb job that I hope we see more films like this.

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