'It was liberating to create multidimensional, flawed characters': Ajeeb Daastaans team discuss 'twisted' Netflix anthology
Shefali Shah, Manav Kaul, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Shashank Khaitan open up about an equally heart-warming and heartbreaking film.
A blend of multiple short films, or anthologies is gaining steam on OTT platforms. After Emmy-nominated Lust Stories, and Ghost Stories Netflix will release yet another anthology consisting of four short film segments called Ajeeb Daastaans. Backed by Karan Johar, it brings together a team of directors — Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta, Neeraj Ghaywan and Kayoze Irani. Armed with an ensemble cast that includes Konkona Sen Sharma, Manav Kaul. Shefali Shah, Nushrat Bharucha, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Jaideep Ahlawat, and Aditi Rao Hydari among others, the four shorts explore jealousy, entitlement, and toxicity in modern relationships. Produced under the digital branch of Dharma production, Dharmatic creations, Ajeeb Dastaans, offers twists in all four stories, a thing that goes hand-in-hand with its twisted characters.
The writer-director of the box office hit Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Khaitan, who is foraying into the digital space, said it was liberating as well as exciting to write flawed characters, something that's not always possible in the commercial cinema space. In his short film titled Majnu, Jaideep Ahlawat and Fatima Sana Shaikh play husband and wife with Armaan Ralhan playing the third wheel in the relationship. “In commercial films we want the characters to be straightforward but here we were chasing imperfection and writing these multi-dimensional characters was fun,” said Khaitan, who was attempting a short for the first time where he had to communicate everything in just about 30 minutes.
“Normally I would write three scenes to communicate one thing but here I was trying to communicate three things in one scene. I instinctively reacted to the story and in my head, I was making a commercial film. For me these characters, these dialogues were commercial but I was trying to ensure that they were authentic. Also, our story is based in Barabanki, Hardoi, Lucknow, where the language is very expressive, so if you try and overdo things, it sounds fake. So, I was trying to say things with a very natural flow to it,” he added.
Fatima Sana Shaikh says she avoided theatrical, over-the-top dramatic reactions in order to be honest with her emotions. “The character I play is already very complex and layered so you can’t overdo things. I stayed true to the moment. Whatever were the circumstances and situation in front of Lipakshi and what she was feeling, I have tried to feel and perform the emotion honestly. I have explored a lot in myself through my character. She is confident and strong and I imbibe some of those qualities in me,” said Shaikh.
“As heart-warming as our film is, it’s equally heartbreaking,” said Shefali Shah, who plays the female protagonist of Ankahi with Manav Kaul opposite her. Kaul plays a mute man in love with Shefali’s Natasha who is married and has a speech-impaired daughter in the film directed by debutant Kayoze Irani. “When I learnt the sign language for this film, I realised that there is so much noise around which was completely unnecessary. Working for this short was so calming. For those few days, I didn’t want to talk to anyone even though I am quite talkative. But it was so amazing and I really want to pursue learning sign language now,” said Shah. “I am speech impaired in the film and I know the sign language while Shefali’s character's shown learning the language and hence the requirement of my character Kabir is to be absolutely flawless with the language. When I was doing the scenes I never felt the need to say something because sign language becomes a part of you and you really don’t need to communicate so many things in words. I feel the sign language is a delight for an actor as an exercise also,” added Kaul.
Both Kaul and Shah agreed to do the film instantly. “It is a love story and I am a hardcore romantic. It is such a beautiful story of two people communicating with their heart and not their words. I just had to do it,” said Shah, who can’t stop talking about her and Kaul’s on-screen chemistry. “It was magic; the first time they meet you know there is a spark. It may not be romantic or sexual but these two people connect straight on.” “I didn’t even blink before saying yes, or before the makers changed their mind. It was just that I was not very confident about the sign language and hence I wanted some time. I had to see if I could do it or not. But the director was very confident that I could do it. I am dying to see the reactions. Film goes to my heart. There has to be part two of this,” said Kaul.
Khilauna, directed by Raj Mehta, presents the dark and twisted tale of a housemaid (played by Nushrat Bharucha) struggling to make both ends meet. “We have presented imperfect characters, much like real life with no clear blacks or whites. It is entirely on your perspective and hopefully, the film will leave audiences feeling perplexed yet entertained,” said Mehta.
Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi starring Konkana Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari in the main lead explores the intersectional realities of two women from disparate worlds. “They are both longing for an emotional connection which they end up finding in one another. It was truly inspiring to see Konkana and Aditi bring these characters and their relationship to life. The film is a complex ride of emotions and I am very excited to see the audience's reaction to it,” said Ghaywan.
Ajeeb Daastaans will premiere on 16 April.
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