The latest Netflix anthology film Ankahi Kahaniya is a triptych, with Mumbai as its canvas. In this often alienating and cruel megapolis, characters reach across the communication divide, form unusual connections and seek freedom from their circumstances.

Smaller in scope than previous such anthology films, Ankahi Kahaniya kicks off with a local riff on the Hollywood film Lars and the Real Girl. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s contribution is based on a story and screenplay by Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain and Nitesh Tiwari.

Hard-working clothing store salesman Pradeep (Abhishek Bannerjee) finally gets an escape from his robotic existence – he develops feelings for a female mannequin. Banish any kinky thoughts. Although Pradeep, who lovingly dresses up the mannequin every now and then, seems a fit candidate for therapy, his intentions are honourable.

The story makes a case for non-normative love and suggests, not too convincingly, that inanimate objects can animate human relationships. We will have to wait for a sequel to figure out the power dynamic between an unattached adult male and a life-sized doll.

Abhishek Bannerjee in Ankahi Kahaniya (2021). Courtesy RSVP/Flying Unicorn Entertainment/Netflix.

Abhishek Chaubey’s film is closely based on Kannada writer Jayant Kaikini’s short story Madhyanatara (Interval). Written by Chaubey and Hussain Haidry, the chapter is set in the 1980s, in the city once known as Bombay.

Nandu (Delzad Hiwale) is the underpaid and overworked guardian of the single-screen theatre Pradeep Talkies. A frequent visitor is Manjari (Rinku Rajguru), who is fleeing dreary poverty, a quarrelsome mother and neighbourhood perverts.

As films starring Mohan Gokhale unfold on the screen, usher and patron develop feelings, but what does each of them actually desire? The richly layered screenplay dials down the dialogue and relies on its atmospheric evocation of working-class life and excellent central performances. Dellzad Hiwale’s wonderful sunken and searching eyes and Rinku Rajguru’s expressive face convey the gap between the imagined and the real.

Delzad Hiwale and Rinku Rajguru in Ankahi Kahaniya (2021). Courtesy RSVP/Flying Unicorn Entertainment/Netflix.

The third film, directed by Saket Chaudhary, is a quartet between characters played by Kunal Kapoor, Zoya Hussain, Nikhil Dwivedi and Palomi. Written by Chaudhary and Zeenat Lakhani, the film uses a familiar device – the spouses of a man and a woman who are having an affair team up – to explore the contours of marriage and modern relationships.

When Tanu (Hussain) learns that Arjun (Dwivedi) is cheating on her with Natasha (Palomi), she reaches out to Natasha’s husband Manav (Kunal Kapoor). Tanu and Manav attempt to retrace the beginning of the affair and strategise on its fallout.

The game of Detective Detective reveals as much about Tanu and Manav as it does about their partners. The film is visually ordinary but benefits from sensitive performances, especially from the lively and criminally underemployed Palomi.

Ankahi Kahaniya (2021).

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