Ajeeb Daastaans REVIEW: Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Puchi saves the uneven Karan Johar produced Netflix’s anthology

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Directors: Neeraj Ghaywan, Kayoze Irani, Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta

Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Aditi Rao Hydari, Nushrat Bharucha, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shefali Shah, Manav Kaul, Abhishek Banerjee, Tota Roy Chowdhury

Produced by: Dharmactic by Karan Johar

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Ajeeb Daastaans, an anthology released on Netflix India has taken its title too literally, although not in a good way. The supposedly ajeeb ‘weird’ stories are supposed to leave you unsettled and shocked but for the first one hour, you wonder where is this going with these half-baked stories. Just like Netflix India’s earlier two anthologies, Lust Stories and Ghost Stories, Ajeeb Daastaans also is exasperatingly uneven and lacks depth. Unlike last times, Karan Johar has only contributed to this anthology as a producer. Weirdly enough, even as Ajeeb Daastaans starts poorly, the ending is rather fruitful.

After sitting for an excruciatingly inconsistent one hour with Shashank Khaitan’s Majnu and Raj Mehta’s Khilauna, Ajeeb Daastaans redeems himself with Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Puchi and Kayoze Irani’s Ankahi, which are not just well written and performed but leave an exquisite after-taste as well.

Majnu, directed by Shashank Khaitan stars Fatima Sana Shaikh and Jaideep Alhawat as a couple trapped in a loveless marriage in a small town. Majnu (Lover) is not just inconsistent but is crafted with kids’ gloves. Khaitan focuses too much on the plot while forgetting to engage the characters and bring in nuances and definitions to them. A film meant to shock you, only leaves you exasperated with its ridiculousness. Fatima plays a woman who is desperate to find companionship after being emotionally abandoned by her husband, played by Jaideep Alhawat. Both Jaideep and Fatima put up a good act but the writing fails them.

 

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Moving on to another inadequately made film Khilauna, directed by Raj Mehta. Starring Nushhratt Bharucha and Abhishek Banerjee, Khilauna (Toy) explore the class divide between the rich and the poor and everything in between. The plot yet again does not do justice to the performances by both the actors who are good in their parts. Nushhratt plays a maid who has a thing going on with the ironing man in the society, Sunil (played by Abhishek). She later faces exploitation at the hands of her employer which eventually leads to a jarring ending.

After pulling through these two films, Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Puchi makes for a refreshing watch. Delicately crafted and beautifully performed by Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari, the film has my heart. Possibly the longest movie in the anthology, Neeraj develops each character at a steady pace whilst dabbling with various subjects at the same time. Geeli Puchi (Sloppy Kisses) focuses on gender and caste politics, patriarchy, and sexuality, all in 40 minutes with no one subject overpowering the other. It is the sheer brilliance of Neeraj that we witness in Geeli Puchi.

Both Bharti (Konkona) and Priya (Aditya) are women working at a construction firm. Despite being the only two women there, the stark divide in their lifestyle is tactfully highlighted by Neeraj. The characters are nuanced and flawed with questionable morals with the patriarchy and gender and caste politics at the background affecting their behaviour. He does not let the plot overpower the characters which is an absolute delight to watch. Let’s just say that Neeraj makes up for the first one hour of sloppy work in the anthology.

 

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The last film of the anthology Ankahi by Kayoze Irani too is a beautifully enacted and densely packed film. Starring Shefali Shah and Manav Kaul, Ankahi explores the rude reality of dysfunctional marriages in a rather romantic urban setting. Shefali plays a mother to a daughter with a hearing disability, her husband is too busy with work and even goes on to say that he finds her voice annoying. Shefali then meets a man (Manav) who listens to her with his mind.

 

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The stark difference between the two realities and the way it all comes together in the end only shows the brilliance of the actors and the director. Shefali and Manav are terrific in the last scene especially.

Both Geeli Puchi and Ankahi are brilliantly made films which makes Ajeeb Daastaans a must-watch.

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