Ajeeb Daastaans - An interesting anthology that includes a terrific short by Neeraj Ghaywan!
Relationship is the common thread that runs through Ajeeb Daastaans. Legitimate, illegitimate, moral and immoral - all of them find a place in this anthology that has atleast something going for it in all the shorts.
Majnu by Shashank Khaitan (2.5/5)
Shashank Khaitan's short is a dark comedy that builds up for a twist at the end. The tone is a bit ambiguous and it does feel like it is intentional. The three primary characters have something deceptive about them. They are in situations that is thrust upon them but they use it as an excuse to exploit others. A revelation about one of the characters works but the final twist and closure come across as forced. Keeping the motive of Raj (Armaan Ralhan) under wraps might have worked better. The problem with Majnu is that we remain alienated with the characters and despite them being in precarious situations we just do not care. This aloofness with the emotional plight of the characters might not have mattered if the dark humour had clicked.
Khilauna by Raj Mehta (2.75/5)
This short about the battle between the haves and the have nots opts for a non-linear narrative and the focus is on playing it out like a thriller. There is definitely more concern for the characters here but then again, all of it doesn't really come together. This one might get you thinking about Bong Joon-ho's Parasite. Like the Oscar winning film, everyone here thrives by exploiting the other. In other words, everyone is just a toy for the other. And like Parasite, the story culminates in a bloody climax. Khiluana works for the most part but the intent to shock overrides everything else and leaves us with a mixed feeling.
Geeli Pucchi by Neeraj Ghaywan (4/5)
Neeraj Ghaywan delivers a masterclass on intersectionality and Geeli Pucchi is definitely the calling card of Ajeeb Daastaans. Discrimination of every kind (gender, caste and sexual orientation) is showcased in Geeli Pucchi. Konkona Sen as Bharti 'Mandal' and Aditi Rao Hydari as Priya 'Sharma' are classic examples for understated brilliance. This is a film where you care for the characters and their plight hurts you as much as it hurts them. The film shows you the complex ways in which oppression works and how it all boils down to your gender, caste and sexual orientation. You might be on top of the pyramid in one of the sections but that might hardly make a difference in another section. In fact, your privilege in one section might even work against you in the other! Like any good film, the message here is only a byproduct of an excellent narration with terrific performances.
Ankahi by Kayoze Irani (3/5)
What if someone who isn't getting love and being exploited, ends up exploiting someone else unintentionally? Kayoze Irani is successful in narrating a relationship drama where the emotions work and the characters breathe. The performances are neat and this one along with Geeli Pucchi are the two films in the anthology that are well rounded.
PS: Streaming on Netflix