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    Movie Review: Ajeeb Daastaans

    The anthology is a lesser explored but a much loved film format and the OTT platforms has accelerated its growth. Netflix India has already presented two films in this space – LUST STORIES [2018] and GHOST STORIES [2020]. And now, it releases its third anthology, AJEEB DAASTAANS. Backed by Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment, it consists of four short stories. The trailer and the ensemble star cast have raised expectations. So does AJEEB DAASTAANS manage to entertain audiences? Or do the four stories of this film fail to entice? Let’s analyse.

    1. Majnu (Directed and written by Shashank Khaitan)
    The plot: Babloo (Jaideep Ahlawat) gets married to Lipakshi (Fatima Sana Shaikh) as a part of a political alliance between their respective fathers. On the wedding night, Babloo makes it clear to Lipakshi that he loves someone else. Three years pass. A lonely Lipakshi turns promiscuous and tries to seduce any man who shows interest in her. Babloo, meanwhile, kills or permanently deforms these men. One day, their driver’s (Abhay Joshi) son, Raj (Armaan Ralhan), comes to visit Babloo. Raj has completed his studies and has secured a job in London that pays him Rs. 15 lakhs per annum. Babloo advises him to leave the job and work for him. In return, Babloo promises him to pay him Rs. 25 lakhs annually. Lipakshi gets instantly attracted to the dashing and well-built Raj. Raj, too, finds himself lusting for Lipakshi.
    Majnu’s first scene lays out the backdrop of the story in a quick and effective manner. In no time, the story moves three years ahead and Lipakshi’s promiscuous side is also well depicted. Raj’s entry and the sexual tension between him and Lipakshi keep the interest going. The twist in the tale in the last few minutes is quite unexpected. The ending is also unpredictable and goes well with the title of the film.
    Jaideep Ahlawat sleepwalks through the role of a dangerous, rustic fellow. But he is a surprise in the last 5 minutes. Fatima Sana Shaikh is apt for the part while Armaan Ralhan is a nice mix of looks and talent. Abhay Joshi, Arvind Pandey (Gopal) and the actor playing Raj’s friend are decent.
    2. Khilauna (Directed by Raj Mehta; written by Sumit Saxena)
    The plot: Meenal (Nushrratt Bharuccha) works as a domestic help in a posh locality. She lives with her younger school-going sister, Binny (Inayat Verma) who also helps Meenal with household chores. Meenal is in a relationship with Sushil (Abhishek Banerjee), who irons clothes in the same locality. Trouble arises when the newly appointed secretary of the locality, Vinod Agarwal (Maneesh Verma), cuts off the electricity in the settlement where Meenal and Binny reside. This distresses Meenal and in order to get the electricity restored, she tries to get into the good books of Vinod. Vinod gets sexually attracted to Meenal and employs her as house help. One day, he tells Meenal to sleep with him and in return, promises to solve her electricity problem.
    There’s a lot happening in this story, besides the electricity track. There’s a police track involved and the film moves in a non-linear manner and it surely intrigues viewers. However, director Raj Mehta takes too long to get to the point. A scene in the pre-climax is chilling to say the least. But it soon gets predictable and one could easily guess who the culprit is even before the makers make the revelation.
    Nushrratt Bharuccha, however, beautifully slips into the role of the maid. Abhishek Banerjee is decent. But his character seems to be similar to what he played in the other recent anthology film, UNPAUSED [2020]. Inayat Verma delivers yet another bravura performance after LUDO [2020]. Maneesh Verma is a great find.
    3. Geeli Pucchi (Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan; written by Neeraj Ghaywan and Sumit Saxena)

    The plot: Bharti Mandal (Konkona Sen Sharma) works as a machine man in a factory and is the only woman in the workplace. She aspires to work as the data operator job in the back office. However, her boss (Gyan Prakash) refuses to provide her the job since she hasn’t learnt Tally and Microsoft Excel. Bharti’s work colleague, Dashrat (Bachan Pachehra), reveals to her that she’d never get the job as she’s a Dalit. Bharti rubbishes it off. But she soon realizes that Dashrath is right when a young girl, Priya Sharma (Aditi Rao Hydari), a Brahmin, is given the same job that Bharti had set her eyes on. What’s more, Priya, too, didn’t know how to operate Tally and Excel, and yet landed the job. Bharti, obviously, is repulsed with Priya. But they soon strike a friendship. Trouble arises when their bond gets deeper.
    This is the best story of the lot as there are many too many surprises in the narrative. The way director Neeraj Ghaywan blends homosexuality with caste is a unique idea. The manner in which Bharti and Priya get closer to each other is sweet. The last 15 minutes however are highly unpredictable. However, at around 43 minutes, it is the longest story of the anthology and should have been shorter. It’s also quite niche and not everyone would be able to digest the shocking developments.
    Geeli Pucchi belongs to Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari. Konkona is commendable and gets into the skin of her character. Her hardened look goes very well with her character. Aditi Rao Hydari is adorable and delivers an equally powerful performance. Gyan Prakash, Bachan Pachehra and Sreedhar Dubey (Shiv; Priya’s husband) are fair.
    4. Ankahi (Directed by Kayoze Irani; written by Uzma Khan and Sumit Saxena)
    Natasha (Shefali Shah) and Rohan (Pushparag Roy Chaudhary) are married and have a teenaged daughter, Samaira (Sara Arjun). Samaira has gone deaf and needs a cochlear implant. Natasha is upset with Rohan as she feels that he is not making an effort to form a bond with Samaira. This leads to a lot of fights between the two. One day, she goes to an art gallery where she stumbles upon an exhibition by a photographer, Kabir (Manav Kaul). Both become friends as Kabir is deaf and mute and Natasha understands sign language. In no time, both fall for each other.
    Debutant director Kayoze Irani knows his art and treats some moments beautifully. However, this story turns out to be the biggest disappointment of the lot as the plot has too many loopholes. This becomes evident in the last few minutes. Even before that, the story doesn’t really impress as the idea of a woman, unhappy with her marriage, resorting to extra-marital affair has been beaten to death.
    It’s the performances that save the film to some extent. Shefali Shah looks stunning and is flawless. Manav Kaul manages to impress without uttering a word. Pushparag Roy Chaudhary (also known as Tota Roy Choudhury) gets limited scope. Same goes for Sara Arjun. Special mention should also go to Tanuj Tiku’s background score. It has a crucial part to play as there are hardly any dialogues.
    On the whole, AJEEB DAASTAANS consists of two fine stories while the rest of the two fail to impress. It hence turns out to be an average fare.
    Rating: 2.5 stars

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