Before you read this article, be aware that this is not a review. This is my observation of the society through a movie.
Karan Johar is riding the new wave, that he himself created, of anthology movies. I personally feel it is a good thing to watch four crisp short stories of 30 minutes each rather than watch an unnecessarily elongated movie of 90 – 120 minutes with non-required item numbers, comic situations and unrealistic action sequences.
After Lust Stories and Ghost Stories, the combination of RSVP Movies and Netflix decided to translate their next anthology movie title from ‘Strange Stories’ to Urdu and retitled it as ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’. Trust me when I tell you, there is nothing Ajeeb about these four tales. Characters like Babloo, Sushil, Priya and Natasha have always been around us. It’s us who haven’t noticed what goes on in their lives. It is strikingly similar to how we do not acknowledge what goes on in our own lives many a times.
Take, for instance, the first story, Majnu.
Babloo and Lipakshi are newly weds but Babloo doesn’t want Lipakshi as he loves another. Yet, the director doesn’t care to show a photo of his previous lover, indicating straightaway that the previous lover need not to be a woman, it could be a man as well. But, we are taken to other characters and diverted from the obvious discovery of Babloo’s sexual orientation. This is exactly what happens in real life as well.
A couple, if going through issues, changes the focus from their marriage to the lives of people around them. How often have you heard about a certain couple in an extended family who are married from years and yet don’t have any kids? You know where I am going. There are gays, bisexuals and lesbians all around us. We choose not to see them because they don’t fit in the idea of society we have in our minds. The underlying problem here is lack of communication. We never discuss sex in our families. It doesn’t matter. Our sexual orientation is taken for granted by our parents, teachers and guardians. It is such that all organized religions have ignored sexual orientation and focussed only on sex because reproduction is more important than happiness.
Temples need more Hindus, Gurudwaras need more Sikhs and Mosques need more Muslims. Period. These religious institutions do not care if the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims are happy or not. They only care for attendance. I have always felt the need of adding a seventh fundamental right in the Indian constitution, the right to happiness. Thanks to The Honorable Supreme Court of India, we at least have ‘the right to privacy’, though there is nothing called ‘privacy’ in a typical Indian family. Everybody wants to know everything but doesn’t want to tell anything.
Even at the end of Majnu, Lipaskhi still doesn’t know her husband is gay. Sadly, this is how it is for many wives in India. She is sad about her lover abandoning her, but not about why her husband can’t love her. She doesn’t inquire or address the issue and simply goes on about wooing other men. Denial is the quotient of many marriages in India. As long as one can successfully deny the issues in a marriage, things remain normal.
The same theme carries on in the third story, Geeli Pucchi.
It tells the story of Bharti, a Dalit lesbian and Priya, a married woman. The direction is bad but the situations are derived from everyday life. Priya is married into an arranged marriage set up, living in a cramped house, cannot love freely. Love, as it is, needs to flow. It cannot flow when there are eyes gazing and ears listening all around you.
On the contrary, Bharti, although Dalit, is continuously fighting for a promotion, a good position in the company. She is talented but ignored because of where she comes from. Generalization is still a disease that rampages lives and careers. She has her own space to herself. She can love freely but she has no partner to love. So she does the next best thing, she offers her space to the Priya so she can fall in love with her husband.
There is a beauty in this act. Her being a reason for someone else’s happiness by not being the person in it, that is beautiful and sad at the same time. Bharti’s initial jealousy towards Priya, when Priya was appointed for the position Bharti was fighting for, was not because of Priya being a Brahmin, but because Priya was not talented enough for the job. There is nothing Ajeeb here. The only thing I found Ajeeb in this Daastaan is director’s failed attempt at turning this beautiful story about friendship into a story of a masterplan by Bharti to replace Priya.
There was no evil in Bharti, atleast not as much as in Vinod from the second story titled Khilauna.
Meenal, a housemaid, played by sultry Nushrratt Bharuccha is poorly casted. But, if we see her from the point of view of Vinod, who has a pregnant wife at home, she is no less than a goddess. Khilauna tells the age old story of a sex deprived male forcing himself on a helpless housemaid who is only allowing him to gaze right through her clothes so she can get her electricity connection restored.
For about half an hour the story keeps revolving around Meenal, Vinod and Sushil’s complicated relationship of opportunism, sex and love until, out of the blue, Vinod’s new born son is cooked in a pressure cooker by none other than Meenal’s 8 years old sister. That is jealousy for you, right there. The kid is so jealous of the infant, and the kind of life the baby is going to live, and she has seen the kid’s father preying on her sister that she decides to cook the kid. Khilauna is a poorly written and poorly executed story. It relies on the only fact of life that jealous people can be very dangerous at times.
Lastly, there is a fresh breeze kind of a story about Natasha and Kabir titled Ankahi. Natasha is going through a terrible pain due to a constant reminder that her daughter is losing sense of hearing and will be a deaf soon. There is no greater pain for a parent to see their child deteriorating in any manner. Yet, I cannot understand the reason why numerous directors choose to show fathers of their stories as unemotional practical beings. This could be an even more wonderful story if the situations were reversed. Think about it for a minute.
If Natasha was a deaf and mute artist and Kabir was struggling at maintaining balance in his family. Would he choose to close the door at Natasha then, like Natasha closed the door on him at the end? It takes guts to say no to love but it is a far easier choice for a mother when choosing between her child and love. I personally loved Kabir’s character very much. Finding a middle aged married woman lovable is a task for any single young artist. The moment of realization for Kabir, when he discovers Natasha has a family, is shot fantastically. This is exactly what an artist needs in life. A rejection this strong brings out art from the hidden corners of an artist’s imagination.
Overall, there were many lessons to take from these very common stories about everyday struggles of going through human emotions wrongly titled as Ajeeb Daastaans. The production might as well chosen a title ‘Hamari Kahaniyan’ and it would have worked the same.