If a movie is made up of four short films and only one of them is good, would you think it’s worth a watch? That’s the 2021 Bollywood film ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ for you and I can’t decide if it should get a thumbs up or thumbs down. The four films are directed by four different directors and while three of them have a great cast too, only one story saves the day in this one, the one made by Neeraj Gaywan of ‘Masaan’ fame.
The biggest problem with ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ is its title itself, it literally means “Strange Tales”, which obviously generates interest and intrigue in the viewer, but the tales fail to live up to the title. Let’s break the four stories down without any spoilers.
- Majnu – The first story directed by Shashank Khaitan is about a wealthy couple trapped in a loveless arranged marriage. The husband never touches the wife, so she chooses to flirt with whoever comes her way. Will the entry of a new dashing accountant change their lives forever? Obviously, it has to, but in an unexpected way. While the basic plot of this short is quite akin to a lot of things we’ve already seen in many movies and stories, the ‘twist’ was definitely unexpected, but felt ‘forced’. As a viewer you don’t feel like “woah, didn’t see that coming”, instead you think “really? that doesn’t seem very plausible”. Also, there is nothing strange about the twist or the plot, if anything’s ‘strange’, it’s the maker’s idea of ‘strange’. There’s absolutely no foreshadowing for the climax, the director just cheats the viewer with an ending that most wouldn’t see coming. It’s like JK Rowling putting a twist in the last Harry Potter book – declaring that Voldemort is actually Harry’s real father. It’s would have been a twist that cheats the reader. You are given no signs that Voldemort could actually be Potter’s dad. But Rowling in the very last last chapter sneaks up a flashback of Harry’s mom having an affair with Voldemort. Not plausible? Exactly.
- Khilauna – Directed by Raj Mehta, the second short film is about a house-help who starts working in the house of a creepy rich guy in hopes that he can help restore her illegal electricity connection in her home. Nushrat Bharucha plays the poor but street-smart help, but she is not convincing in her role at all. Again, the twist in this story makes no sense. It’s not strange, but far-fetched.
- Geeli Pucchi – The third short was the shining beacon in this long movie. Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, it stars Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari, who were complete show stealers, backed by a very strong script. Konkona plays hardworking Bharti Mandal, a factory worker who is discriminated against at her work place due to her caste. An amateur upper caste Priya Sharma comes swooping down to steal the promotion Bharti had her eyes on. The two however form an unlikely friendship that has an unlikely conclusion too. Ironically, while this short film is the strongest link in ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’, it also is the most realistic and believable of them all, not ‘strange’ in any way. Neeraj Ghaywan poignantly captures class divides, sexual repression and the hidden desires of women. Konkona and Aditi Hydari brilliantly bring his vision to life.
- Ankahi – The fourth short directed by Kayoze Irani touches upon a subject rarely seen in movies – hearing disability. Shefali Shah plays Natasha, mother to an almost deaf young girl. Natasha is frustrated with the fact that her husband makes no effort to learn the sign language & starts doubting her marriage. Strangely enough, she meets a deaf photographer, who gives her a fresh take on life. This story was filled with old school sentimental stuff that would have perhaps moved viewers in the 1980s, but can only get amused smirks out of intelligent viewers. For example, the deaf photographer says he voluntarily chose not to use an implant that would’ve helped him hear, because “people always lie to him”. He claims that he prefers sign language because people “cannot lie with their eyes”. Sentimental soap-opera stuff right there. Either this deaf guy is a super privileged rich person who never has to walk on the streets, or just dumb. It almost felt like the makers unintentionally trivialize hearing disability. This short-film could’ve been a nice two minute romantic poem, but as an almost 30 minute long film, it was quite disappointing. Good acting by the cast cannot save this script. (I am aware I have said this in older reviews).
If I had to allot 5 points for each film, I would perhaps give a 5/5 to “Geeli Pucchi”, maybe a 3/5 for Majnu, because the unadulterated Hindi was a joy to hear, the other two get a 2/5 each, which makes it 12/20, so that would make it a 6/10. So it’s a 6/10 from me for “Ajeeb Daastaans”.
Do check out our podcast on Youtube by the same name – AbstractAF!
Episode 27 is a SPOILER-FILLED explanation on why this film was not strange (embedded below)