Zindagi inShort review: Guneet Monga serves a versatile mix of small, delectable shorts in her life-affirming omnibus
Guneet Monga's anthology Zindagi inShort presents seven separate stories about 'extraordinary situations in our ordinary lives.'
Language: Hindi with some English
Guneet Monga has a penchant for telling slice-of-life films that tug hard at your heartstrings — be it the poignant Masaan, the hopeful The Lunchbox, or the incisive Oscar-winning documentary Period: End of a Sentence. With Zindagi inShort, Monga's maiden collaboration with Flipkart Video, she has attempted to present seven separate stories about "extraordinary situations in our ordinary lives," as she describes herself. Firmly grounded in reality, these seven stories are connected by a shared feeling of optimism, celebration, and rumination.
Pinni by Tahira Kashyap Khurrana
The anthology begins with Tahira Kashyap Khurrana's short Pinni, which she has crafted with utmost delicateness. This is a story about a neglected woman (Neena Gupta), whose daughter and relatives call her only when they need her to courier them her special handcrafted pinnis (a type of sweet popular in Punjab). Her husband (Shishir Sharma) is never malicious but often fails to regard his wife as a thinking entity. Silently, she seeks refuge into the bountiful, bustling kitchen with its clanking dishes, whistling kettles, and boiling pots. There is also a cheeky observer — the domestic help (played by the effervescent Srishti Shrivastava). Neena's only human interaction is with the help, who does not spare a moment to roll her eyes at Neena's dedication towards her family or belt out a saucy remark at her naivety. But Kashyap's masterstroke to make Neena quiet and shy helps the film from slipping into intense melodrama. Even in her rebellion, it is Neena's dignified quietude that makes the ending so powerful and effective.
Sleeping Partner by Punarvasu Naik
Punarvasu Naik's directorial Sleeping Partner is also about a woman's journey to emancipation. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Beena (Divya Dutta) hopes one day she will be recognised and respected for the woman she is. Her husband (Sanjay Kapoor) addresses her as his "sleeping partner," and treats her as a subhuman. Divya, systemically raped and sexually abused by her husband for over two decades, feels emboldened when her husband's colleague Ravish (Jitin Gulati) assures her she "deserves love."
Dutta imbues her character with utmost vulnerability, and Kapoor nails his portrayal of an abusive husband, by making him a spectacularly ordinary man. His gait, and the twitch is his eyebrow is as far from a quintessential antagonist can get — which makes Kapoor so chilling. Despite the superb acting though, one may find Sleeping Partner a tad too melodramatic and Bollywoodised, especially in the end.
Nano So Phobia by Rakesh Sain
Talking about Bollywood, the most un-mainstream ventures in the anthology are the deliciously zany Nano So Phobia and Swaaha, both laced with a wicked sense of humour. While one tells the tale of an old, disheveled woman fighting to cope with the trauma of being robbed by her domestic help, the other captures the plight of a man who has just been informed that his wife has been an infidel.
With Nano So Phobia, director Rakesh Sain poses a commentary on society and its apathy, but without a pinch of sermonising. In fact, Nano So Phobia is so good that it may be even come to define what a model short film should look like.
Sain turns the home invasion genre on his head with a relentlessly wacky narrative, and a supposedly senile septuagenarian (Swaroop Sampat) at the centre. She routinely has nightmares her former vertically challenged help Rancho (Arun Kushwah) will break into her house. Her fear of vertically-challenged men, instilled by her dwarf domestic help, finds expression in her obsession with vertically challenged television villains. That she is a scatterbrain is established in the very beginning as she rummages through her drawers to look for her cellphone.
The story and its life-affirming ending aside, what makes Nano So Phobia perhaps the most remarkable short of the lot is its sharp editing (masterfully done by Dnyanada Samarth) and Daniel B George's booming operatic background score.
Swaha by Smrutika Panigrahi
On the other hand, Smrutika Panigrahi's Swaaha is treated as an intriguing cat-and-mouse chase, where the husband and wife struggle to gain one-upmanship over each other to have the last word. The film follows Deepak Dobriyal's Kapil Agarwal, an insecure, underconfident man living in constant fear of being abandoned by his far prettier wife (Isha Talwar).
While attending his brother's engagement ceremony, Kapil gets an anonymous tip-off about his wife cheating on him. Initially scared the move may jeopardise his marriage, he finally resolves to confront his wife, who threatens to demand a lump sum alimony if he takes the matter to court. The rest of the film sees Kapil and his wife come up with ingenious arguments that slowly but assuredly dismantle the notion of the "sanctity of marriage." The humour is frivolous, even bordering on the risque at times. But it is Panigrahi's conviction in her material that shines through a film that seeks to question age-old lofty traditions.
Chhaju Ke Dahi Bhalle by Gautam Govind
Gautam Govind Sharma's Chhaju Ke Dahi Bhalle is a heartwarming take of young romance seen through the lens of Partition. Amrik (Manjot Singh) and Amreen (Aisha Ahmed) find each other on a dating site, and instantly connect on their shared love Shah Rukh Khan, cricket, and street food. Belonging to orthodox families, both Amrik and Amreet remain hush-hush about their blossoming love. But soon they realise their love needs to overcome a far catawampus hurdle than familial consent.
Sunny Side Upar by Vijayta Kumar
One of the most remarkable feats of Zindagi inShort is its conscious effort to diversify its genres. The thematic resemblances between the shorts are rather slim. It is this versatility that makes Zindagi inShort a delightfully unpredictable watch. The only other film that belongs to the romantic genre is director Vijayta Kumar's Sunny Side Upar — but unlike Chhaju Ke Dahi Bhalle, Sunny Side Upar does not concern itself with the heady, all-consuming romance.
Kavya Menon (Rima Kallingal) is a go-getter oncologist too occupied with her profession to acknowledge her loved ones' overtures or care about her own well-being. She dismisses her boyfriend Sunny's (Nakuul Mehta) talks about marriage as malarkey until one day, she gets the news of her brother's illness.
Where Chhaju Ke Dahi Bhalle ends at the crescendo (as do many short films), Vijayata Kumar does not shy away from being indulgent in Sunny Side Upar. Under Kumar's skillful direction, Kavya's transformation never seems half-baked or rushed, despite not having the luxury of being a feature-length film.
Thappad by Vinay Chawwal
Vinay Chawwal's Thappad is a cleverly conceived story of an underdog who snacks on comic books and hopes to bash bad guys up one day like his favourite superhero Super Commando Dhruva. The young Babloo is too awkward for his own good, waiting patiently for his elder sister to hand over her own tiffin to him because he was scared to ask the teacher for a tiffin break. His puny structure is frequently juxtaposed with that of the burly senior boys of his school, who corner and torment him and eve-tease his elder sister Vaani.
Chawwal takes a familiar story — an unassuming hero taking on a gang of powerful opponents — to burnish it with outlandish filmmaking techniques. There are slow-mo shots aplenty, which lend Thappad its heart-pumping thrill. Hardly ever does cinematographer Piyush Putty's camera focus on the perpetrators. It is their fidget-spinners, the footballs they are dribbling, and their brawny shoulders set against the slouching figure of Babloo that establishes the power structure. The comic book-inspired stylisation works for most of the film, except for the end. Chawwal may have attempted for his innovative short to have a compelling conclusion, but fails to stick the landing.
For the most part though, Zindagi inShort proves to be worth your time. If you are in the mood to indulge in some web-watching this weekend, this omnibus of short, delectable nuggets of entertainment, sans the pressure of commitment to countless follow-up seasons, will not disappoint.
Zindagi inShort is now streaming on the Flipkart Video app.
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