'Ajeeb Daastaans' Review: Is fiction actually stranger than life?
Ajeeb Daastaans literally translates into “strange tales”. So when I came across the title, I was immediately hopeful that this will be a collective of Roald Dahl-like short stories. The ones with a twist in the tail end.
Did it measure up?
Not in the ‘strange’ department. There is nothing dramatically unexpected in at least three of the four short films — Majnu, Geeli Pucchi and Ankahi; at best, they can be tagged as ‘unconventional’. Okay, maybe Majnu can also be accorded a ‘mildly unpredictable’ accolade (read: if you hadn’t been taking note of the subtext playing out). Khilauna is perhaps the only one that dares to take a strike at ‘unexpected’, but, to be honest, I was a bit mixed up about the outcome.
Having said that, all four stories have a strong compelling component: new-age storylines, post-modernist characters, cutting-edge ambitions and a breaking away from the conformist matrix. Even though the anthology has been produced by Karan Johar, don’t be on the lookout for comforting, wholesome closures.
It’s has not been given top billing by a lot of critics (whereas general audiences have lapped it up); they found it “patchy”, “inconsistent”. But I found the lack of a cohesive DNA pretty interesting; each story has an agenda — and a voice — of its own. And yet, all four have character interplay as the holding métier. Whether it’s the slightly twisted romance in Majnu or the manipulation of a swathe of love-cum-friendship in Geeli Pucchi, exploration of human psychology and the grey area of relationships come up trumps at the end of each chapter.
The best bits? The diversity of settings in each short and the carefully-curated dramatis personae — with no attempt to buttonhole characters into a certain ‘type’. High-quality performances abound, with Shefali Shah and the combo of Konkona Sen Sharma-Aditi Rao Hydari (in Ankahi and Geeli Pucchi respectively) creating lasting impressions. On a different note, anthologies have a certain cadence to them: you can watch them all at one ago and feel you’ve done a marathon binge even when only it’s two-and-a-half-hours long; or you can take breaks and watch them through the day. For me, it was a bit too intense for a “binge”, so I watched it over two evenings.
The worst bits? The one with the kid — Khilauna — threw me off somewhat; if the ending implied what I thought it did, there’s an element of surreal implausibility that creeps in. You’ll have to watch it to get the drift!