In a season of anthologies, Ankahi Kahaniya is the latest Netflix combine of three unusual short stories. While love is the binding theme, directors Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Abhishek Chaubey and Saket Chaudhary arrive at other broader emotions and experiences. The three directors use distinct stylistic approaches and milieus for their individual stories, yet each one touches upon ideas of escape, fantasy and loneliness in a big city.
The trilogy that opens with Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s story about Pradeep, a migrant into Mumbai who is caught in the drudgery of a dead end job and loveless in Mumbai, unlike his Casanova co-worker and his roommate who is perpetually flirting on the phone. A lonely garment store salesman, Pradeep is desperately clinging on to his job and a sliver of dignity. That is until he forms an unlikely connection with a show window mannequin named Pari. He takes her on dates, carefully grooms her and even becomes possessive of his unspeaking, unfeeling companion. His boss and colleague are aghast at this perversion. But there’s nothing smutty here.
As Pradeep, Abhishek Banerjee juggles melancholy and obsessiveness with elation and respite. While the concept of a man fascinated by inanimate objects is not new (Lars and the Real Girl, Mannequin, Her) Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain and Nitesh Tiwari’s story captures a migrant workers mundane life, his aloneness, far from home and life-long connections, but sidesteps any complexity about Pradeep’s behaviour.
In Abhishek Chaubey’s exquisitely crafted adaptation (screenplay by Chaubey and Hussain Haidry) of Jayant Kaikini’s short story ‘Madhyanatara’, Rinku Rajguru and Delzad Hiwale transport the viewer into a world where movies and real life intersect. A quiet connection is made between an usher at a local single screen cinema hall and a visitor. Manjiri, frustrated by her circumstances, wants to realise her big dreams. Nandu is desperate to break free of hopeless entrapment. They both find escape in the movie theatre.
The onscreen scenes become imaginary, romantic spectacles featuring Manjari and Nandu as the heroine and hero of their own story. Rajguru and Hiwale delicately and skilfully communicate their angst, attraction and anticipation through expressions and actions. The result is as surprising as it is refreshing in what is the most thoughtful and inventive film of the trio.
The final story, directed by Saket Chaudhary (script by Chaudhary and Zeenat Lakhani), upscales the setting. Revolving around two couples dealing with infidelity, it stars Kunal Kapoor as Manav, the cuckolded husband in one marriage, and Zoya Hussain as Tanu, the betrayed wife from another. They come together in coffee shops, teahouses, and seaside resorts, trying to retrace the moves that resulted in his wife Natasha (Palomi Ghosh) and her husband Arjun (Nikhil Dwivedi) having an affair. In their pondering and plotting they end up questioning the roles they have come to occupy in their respective marriages. Wordy and visually flat, Kapoor and Hussain’s best efforts can only nudge this cliché-ridden and skewed story.
Untold love stories are the broad strokes glue to this anthology, yet the explorations of reality and imagination and the finer themes of acceptance and parting resonate, particularly in Chaubey’s striking contribution.