Ajeeb Daastaans REVIEW: Uneven But Interesting Anthology With A Stand-out Turn Starring Jaideep Ahlawat, Fatima Sana Shaikh And Konkona Sen

This is a diverse provocative bouquet of stories of four women in search of an emotional and physical fulfillment that eludes them.

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Ajeeb Daastaans REVIEW: Uneven But Interesting Anthology With A Stand-out Turn Starring Jaideep Ahlawat, Fatima Sana Shaikh And Konkona Sen

This is a diverse provocative (sometimes too consciously so) bouquet of stories of four women in search of an emotional and physical fulfillment that eludes them because…well, they have obligations. Don’t we all! Uneven in quality, some of the plotting conceits verge on the absurd. To begin with, let’s take the first story Majnu directed  by Shashank Khaitan. It is a passionless passion-tale about  a marriage  of convenience between  a moneyed dangerous  criminal Babloo(Jaideep Ahlawat) and Lipashi(Fatima Sana Shaikh). The  film opens with one of Babloo’s henchman making a preposterous  pass at his Bhabhaiji , and never recovers its equilibrium  .

Once the self sconsciously  handsome Raj(Armaan Ralhan)  enters the  couple’s  loveless marriage  the lustrous levels  of lust  in the story overpowers all logic. The  ever-dependable  Ahlawat struggles  to give dignity  to his  character  of a goon with a  dark secret. But when the revelation comes  his emotions  are demonstrated  with such   embarrassing irony  as  to make the  mood of the story seem facetious rather than tragic.By  the time the goon’s wife announces her pregnancy the story’s  credibility level  is long aborted.

The second story Khilauna directed  by  Raj Mehta is a sly pro-capitalism  drama  where a househelp Meenal(Nusrat Bharucha, a revelation) uses  all her charms to make  her way through the  world of the  privileged(who are  not  awful exploiters but  still awful  enough)  with her kid-sister(the amazing Inayat Verma  from Ludo).The  impetuous mood  of the story  comes to a grinding halt with a bizarre macabre  distasteful twist  in the tale . Without revealing anything I would  just like to say that after seeing this story we can  never look at a pressure cooker  the same way.  The  performances of Bharucha, Inayat and Abhishek  Bannerjee as Barucha’s stree-wala silent lover  are  first-rate.For not showing the downtrodden as perpetual victims this story deserves a special  mention.

However  the third story overpowers  all the rest. Geeli Puchchi(wet kisses) is  so  heads and shoulders above  the other three segments  that it seems like the centerpiece of the anthology(which it is) with  the rest as serving as space fillers.  Neeraj Ghaywan whose  only feature film Masaan so far is  a class act on socio-economic discrimination, goes deep into the theme in just over 30  minutes  of playing time.

Ghaywan has the ever-reliable Konkona Sen Sharma giving a magnificently layered performance as a Dalit, working woman in a factory whose  job and respectability  are threatened when a prettier,upper-caste  fair skinned all-feminine woman Abha(Aditi Rao)  joins in. The  unlikely friendship between the two women never reaches  where we think it would. Ghaywan and his writers are constantly ahead of the audience , creating  a  kind of playful yet sinister and tragic dynamic between the two women from completely  diverse  backgrounds. Just when we think we have their  relationship figured out , the narrative does a  somersault which  refuses to make the Dalit woman Bharati Mandal  a martyr .Why should the underdog always remain buried  under the  heap of  broken dreams?

Geeli Puchchi is  a miniature masterpiece with a central performance that is hard to  put aside.Among its many prominent virtues try this: Abha’s  husband is  no cad  providing an alibi for her  meandering heart. He is a caring man who even cooks  for her. As she  confides guiltily in her new friend Bharti Mandal, “Shiv bachche ki soch raha hai aur main ussey pyar bhi nahin karti.” Having someone love you is not reason enough to love  that  person back. Geeli Puchchi is filled  with an aching  passion and  a bridled wisdom.

Finally, another disappointment. Kayoze Irani’s Ankahee has a terrific plot premise behind it. A sophisticated  urban  mother Natasha trying to cope with her teenaged daughter’s impending deafness with no help from her husband(Tota Roy Choudhary). And when that woman of substance is played by the amazing Shefali Shah, we expect fireworks. Sadly the flame dies out the  minute Natasha meets Rohan(Manav Kaul), a deaf and  mute photographer  with whom she  proceeds to communicate passionately  in sign  language.I don’t know  how  they say , ‘Let’s sleep together’ in sign language. But that’s where the two end up in the progressively absurd arthouse  entry that  goes horribly wrong.

Ajeeb Dastaans has  its  near-fatal flaws .Some of the twists and  turns fail to carry us  with them. But the anthology never fails to be  interesting even in its absurdest interludes.And  Neeraj  Ghaywan  makes us overlook the cracks and crevices in  the  other stories.One geeli puchchi for  the  team .



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