What’s with OTT platforms and anthologies? From the quartet of Ray to the nonet of Navarasa to the latest triptych, Ankahi Kahaniya, the format has become a streaming staple. And like all fads, the results are increasingly middling. Ankahi Kahaniya is everything we have come to expect from an anthology: A confluence of the mildly interesting, the lazy and the indifferent.
In the three films here, each running 35 to 40 minutes, there’s just one scene that actually stayed with me: A girl boarding a bus to Surat, looking around nervously, the minutest hint of a smile on her face despite the uncertainties that lie ahead, reaching into her purse and bringing out a couple of nankhatais wrapped in a packet that the boy she made her escape with has given her; the boy, on a bus to Pimpri-Chinchwad, wiping his face with a handkerchief which he realises she has embroidered, resting his head against the windowpane, his face suddenly lit by a shaft of sunlight… The background music adding layers of meaning as the screen cuts to black.
That out of 110 minutes, barely 30 seconds remain with you is an indication that the films barely pass muster. The basic issue here is that they have nothing new to say and go about saying that in tried-and-tested ways with characters we have seen and encountered countless times before: lonesome souls looking for companionship and love, for aeons a chimera in this big, bad, soulless city that offers only mirages as consolation.
In Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s film, Pradeep [Abhishek Banerjee] is a young man from Gadarwara, Madhya Pradesh, employed as a sales clerk in a garment shop in Mumbai who develops a relationship with a mannequin to cope with the loneliness that assails him. His obsession leads him to be fired from his job, following which he returns home and gets engaged. Despite a nuanced performance by Abhishek, there’s little that’s fresh about the story — human relationships with inanimate objects have been explored right from Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik to Hollywood outings like Lars and the Real Girl and Spike Jonze’s Her.
And whatever merit the film has is dissipated in a needlessly expository climactic monologue that sinks it. The same garrulousness mars Saket Chaudhary’s venture about two people who discover that their spouses are having an affair. As they negotiate this and come to terms with it, they begin to develop feelings for each other, a la Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. This attempt to explore the contours of marriage and relationships suffers from an excess of talk and an artifice in the exchanges between the two. I found it hard to shrug off the feeling that if only they stopped talking and analysing for a bit, they would know how to deal with the situation better.
Given the limitations of these two, it is no wonder that Abhishek Chaubey’s film, based on a story by Jayant Kaikini, comes off best, the only one here that is actually true to the ‘ankahi’ of the title, relying on the visuals for an evocative exploration of the lives of its impoverished protagonists: Nandu [Delzad Hiwale], an overworked multitasking staffer at a movie theatre in 1980s Bombay (we catch a glimpse or two of a Mohan Gokhale film) and Manjari [Rinku Rajguru], a regular patron at the theatre. Both seek an escape from the dreariness of their lives and find in each other an impetus to escape from the drudgery.
A heart-wrenching melancholy underpins the narrative, made more palpable by two excellent performances. However, even this one gives in to that hoary cliché of films that romanticise the film-watching experience: Nandu turning into a cigarette-flicking, baddie-busting hero, as Manjari, draped in a sari, looks on admiringly, filmy fog billowing around them. I had half-expected this dream sequence and the makers don’t disappoint. But that’s a small quibble for a genuinely heartfelt experience, and Chaubey makes up in spades with that evocative ending.
Title: Ankahi Kahaniya
Cast: Abhishek Banerjee, Rinku Rajguru, Delzad Hiwale, Kunal Kapoor, Zoya Hussain, Nikhil Dwivedi, Palomi
Directors: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Abhishek Chaubey, Saket Chaudhary
Rating: 2.5 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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