By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Anthology examines Indian social issues; language, violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Women aren't offered the same opportunities as men. Social mobility is a myth. Homosexuality is a taboo.
Positive Role Models
People trying to live their authentic lives are thwarted. Some become angry and resort to violence. Others find ways to get what they want sneakily. Gay people are expected to hide their sexuality. The police always side with the higher castes against members of lower castes. Employers hire members of higher castes, leaving manual labor to even the most qualified lower caste members.
Violence & Scariness
A man taunts a female worker. She throws water in his face and he punches her. She punches back. A man tortures and kills two employees, one by lowering him into hot oil and the other by hitting the man while he's bound. A man puts a gun to his wife's throat and threatens to kill her. A husband asks his trusted aide to kill his wife. An employer uses a cricket bat to break an employee's leg. A pressure cooker is seen boiling over with blood, indicating a child has been murdered. Men try to force themselves on women.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Two women kiss. A man expresses love for another man. A young man has consensual sex with his boss' wife. Two women of different castes are attracted to each other but can't be together. Couples are seen having sex, without nudity. A married woman kisses a new lover. They are seen in bed the next morning.
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"F--k," "s--t," "bitch," "bastard," "ass," "damn," "piss," "screw," "d--k," and "hell."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Ajeeb Daastaans (Strange Story) is an Indian anthology of four short films by four writers and directors (in Hindi with English subtitles) exploring the complications of relationships set against local mores, customs, and prejudices. Women's limited rights are highlighted, but men are portrayed as almost equally limited by the roles they're forced to play. Homosexuality in the sector of Indian society shown here is taboo, a dark secret that ruins lives. Caste, or social class, although legally banned, is shown as a persistent built-in bias that limits upward mobility economically and socially. Teens may appreciate the obviousness of many biases that are equally stubborn but more unspoken in America. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "bastard," "ass," "damn," "piss," "screw," "d--k," and "hell." Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. Sexual problems ensue when gay people reluctantly marry straight people to conform to expectations. Couples are seen having sex but without nudity. Vengeful men of authority torture and kill rivals. A pressure cooker is seen boiling over with blood, indicating a child has been murdered.
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What's the Story?
The four stories of AJEEB DAASTAANS focus on relationships set against mores, customs, and prejudices of modern India. The first, The Lover, depicts an unhappy arranged marriage. He, wealthy, violent, and seemingly criminal, promises he'll never love her. From a powerful family, she is given no choice but to accept her fate in the convenient merging of the two families. Soon, the reason he gives her no kids is clear. When he demands the promising and handsome young son of an employee manage his finances, sexual tensions rise in the house. Both husband and wife are attracted to him, but the employee has his own agenda. The chapter called Toy highlights the difficult life of an orphaned and poverty-stricken housekeeper forced to raise her young sister. A wealthy family hires her, but the powerful and violent husband tries to force himself on the housekeeper. The story ends in a bloody murder. Sloppy Kisses features the only woman working in a factory. Abundantly competent, with a college degree and hopes of moving to a white-collar financial job, the masculine-looking employee is passed over for a less competent, higher-caste, more feminine-looking woman. When the two fall in love, the higher-caste woman fails to protect her lover, leaving the lover to seek subtle revenge. Unspoken, the last episode, is the most conventional but perhaps most relatable, as an unloved married woman with a deaf daughter encounters a joyful deaf man and falls in love. Class plays no part here, but distant male parenting versus nurturing female parenting offers other stereotypes that the filmmakers seem to want to break down.
Is It Any Good?
Like Parasite, bobbing between greatness and questionable shock value, Ajeeb Daastaans is an ambitious expose of a way of life in India in which the poor serve the rich and privileged. Using drama to illustrate a repressive social order, the directors and writers mostly unveil the interactions and relations between the devastatingly poor and the rich who live nearby. The Lover is short on character development, and the supposed shock ending feels abrupt and underplotted. Toy pits a cliched, scheming underdog against a cliched, villainous stereotypical man of wealth, with no real emotional impact. Sloppy Kisses at least attempts to draw fully-realized characters and to suggest that in India upward mobility is a nearly hopeless dream for those at the bottom. Unspoken is the film's most conventional story about what loveless marriages can drive people toward. Two winning actors, Shefali Shah and Manav Kaul, make this irresistible and moving.
The other episodes dwell on caste and gender prejudices. Women are rare in certain workplaces. Lower caste members, identified by certain surnames, are relegated to physical labor and rarely have desk jobs despite high qualifications. Arranged marriages merge families of money and power to profit parents, but often leave the bride and groom miserable. Homosexuality is a dark secret that ruins lives. Corrupt police protect the wealthy and support unfair practices against lower caste members. Higher caste members invite lower caste members in for tea but don't serve them with the nice china. While this doesn't break new ground, it may be an eye-opener for Americans unfamiliar with Indian customs.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how choices are limited in the lives of the Indian adults portrayed here. How can Indian people fight those norms, or do you think upholding and perpetuating long-held traditions is important in maintaining national identity? Who do you think benefits from continuing these policies and habits?
Men who hire women of lesser status seem to believe they have the right to demand sexual favors from them. How does the movie portray women who fight back?
A gay woman suggests another gay woman give in to the normality of male-female marriage and motherhood. Why do you think she gives that advice?
- On DVD or streaming: April 16, 2021
- Cast: Fatima Sana Shaikh, Jaideep Ahlwat, Shefali Shah, Manaz Kaul
- Directors: Neeraj Ghaywan, Kayoze Irani, Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 142 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 19, 2023
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