Ajeeb Daastaans Review (SPOILERS): Nothing Goes the Way You Expect it to Go

What a great concept for a short film collection! Take a story we think we know, and then turn it into something totally different just when we think we know what is happening.

The first story sets the stage. It is “Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam”, again. One of the oldest story settings in Hindi film. It starts, plot plays out, and you think “okay, I got this, there is a standard structure that you can play with but we won’t go far outside of it”. And then, BAM! Something just COMPLETELY unexpected!!!!

This is a collection of films made for an educated viewer. Someone who knows the standard narrative traditions, who is used to predicting what will happen next. That’s the fun part, THINKING you know what will happen, and then having your jaw drop as it doesn’t happen that way after all. But it is also DARK. The last film is the brightest, but still not exactly “happy”. If you do not feel up to watching some thing dark, then you can read these spoilers to enjoy the surprise of where the story goes and discuss it. If you enjoy surprises and a little bit of darkness, don’t read the spoilers, the surprise is the joy of the stories.

Majnu (Shashank Khaitan)

Fatima Sana Sheikh is married off to wealthy ancestral landowner Jaideep Ahlawat. But on their wedding night, he declares he loves someone else and will never sleep with her. 3 years later, she is sexually frustrated and coming on to everyone in the house, while Jaideep threatens and kills anyone who returns her affections. Then a new employee arrives, the driver’s son who has been educated abroad and is hired on as a new money advisor. He starts an affair with Fatima. And then Jaideep confronts him. And explains that he is IN LOVE WITH HIM!!!! Jaideep was in love with another man, his father found out and killed his lover and his family. Now Jaideep is in love again. The new employee is shocked by hides it. Jaideep believes his wife is having an affair with someone else, he assigns the employee to kill the wife while he kills the other man. But at the last minute, the employee sends him a video. He explains that he planned this all along, vengeance for how Jaideep disrespected and abused his driver father. He has stolen his money and seduced his wife and left town. Jaideep goes to the train station and finds heartbroken Fatima, abandoned by her lover. As he is about to kill her, she says she is pregnant. Jaideep stops, and sits next to her and holds her hand.

Ajeeb Daastaans review: Find out which episode is the best in the Netflix  anthology film

The start of this story is blah blah obvious. Bored rich wife, new servant, secret affair, complicated relationship between servant’s loyalty/resentment of the master and the rich wife. But putting in the “and the master is gay and in love with the servant” twist in the middle is no small thing. We are so used to the uninterested cold husband, we never think about “what reason might there be for him being so uninterested?” Flipping that and saying that both these people are trapped in this marriage, and that he is punishing his wife for marrying him by making her as frustrated as he is, that’s very different! And then the ending of the husband and wife seemingly coming together in a plan to raise the child of the man they both loved, also unexpected.

Khilauna (Raj Mehta)

The whole thing is structured with police interrogations asking what happened after an “incident”. Nushrat Bharucha is a maid living on the pavement within a gated community and working as a maid for one of the households. She is raising her much younger sister, and she plays all the angles to get her to benefit. She teaches her to pretend to be hurt in order to get the employers to feed her, to help her steal clothes, etc. etc. She encourages Abhishek Banerjee, the other lowerclass worker who has an ironing stall on the sidewalk, to be braver in front of the rich folks and play angles too. She gets a job at a better household and leaves her original employer. The other household has a newborn baby, and a husband who likes to look at her. One day the husband tries to rape her while her sister watches. Later that day, he comes to the ironing stall and beats up her friend Abhishek. That night she has to go back to their house to work at a party. The lights go out in the middle of the party and when they come on again, the baby is missing. And then they see blood bubbling from the pressure cooker and realize the baby was killed by being put in the pressure cooker. Back at the police station, slowly the police realize that it wasn’t Nushrat or Abhishek who did it, it was the little sister, trained by Nushrat to see rich people as just “toys” not real people.

Nushrratt Bharuccha on Ajeeb Daastaans: 'I started observing my own house  help, she was a great reference point for me' | Hindustan Times

This story is DARK. But the situation is dark. The whole fantasy of the happy maid/employer relationship hides the fact that the powerless maid is willing, required even, to lie and cheat and steal in order to survive. And that the employer will shamelessly take advantage of the maid. Both sides smile but see each other as the enemy. And both sides are right, they are the enemy. Nushrat is really amazing in this movie, she lies all the time, but the audience can tell when she is telling the truth. She loves her sister, she cares about Abhishek, she puts on a show for the rich folks but goes just so far and no father. The point is, her little sister can’t tell when she is lying. The little sister was raised seeing the lowerclasses being abused again and again, and fighting back however they can. She truly thinks of the spoiled rich baby as just “toys” and nothing more.

Geeli Pucchi (Neeraj Ghaywan)

LESBIANS!!!! Konkona Sen Sharma is a manly-styled factory worker who wants an office job but won’t get it because she is lower caste. Instead, a pretty upper caste married woman Aditi Rao Hydari is hired. Aditi and Konkona become friends on their first day, and Aditi mentions her “friend” from college. Konkona goes home that night and looks at a video of herself kissing her old girlfriend. Aditi and Konkona become friends and possibly lovers. Aditi is increasingly unhappy with her life and in her marriage. Konkona starts to encourage her to live her “truth”, but in the middle of it admits her lower caste status. Aditi pulls away instinctively from the low caste. Konkona sees the class prejudice and pulls back from Aditi, switching from telling her to live her “truth” to telling her to have a baby and adjust to marriage. She encourages Aditi to get pregnant, gives her advice, even lends her the apartment to have sex with her husband. When she goes out on maternity leave, Konkona starts doing Aditi’s job. By the time she is encouraging Aditi in front of her family not to come back to work at all, Aditi sees it all. Her lover trapped her in marriage and babies just to take her job.

Is Ajeeb Daastaans a True Story? Is the Netflix Movie Based on Real Life?

The central idea of this film isn’t actually that interesting. Caste > Sexuality isn’t that deep. But the way it is presented is what challenges you. First, with the lesbianism, this isn’t a “coming to realize I am gay” story. Both women clearly had previous relationships. And they spot each other and start up a fling with full awareness of where this could go. And second, while there is a defining moment that shows Konkona switching from being in love to caste jealousy and planning to steal the job, it also isn’t that clear cut. She is planning out how to trap Aditi in pregnancy and so on, but also still smells the sheets she left behind and clearly desires/loves her still on some level. Life is messy.

Ankahi (Kiyoze Irani)

Shefali Shah has a deaf daughter, Sara Arjun. She is a dedicated mother, and is fluent in sign language in order to talk to Sara. Her husband, on the other hand, has not bothered to learn sign language and instead just texts with Sara, doesn’t spend time with her. Shefali fights with him all the time. Sara sees it all and confesses to Shefali that she is worried no one will ever love her because her mother Shefali is so beautiful, and can hear, and still her father does not love her. And then she meets a deaf artist at a gallery. He is delighted to discover she also speaks sign language and assumes she is also deaf and Shefali does not correct him. They start spending a lot of time together and fall in love. Eventually, after another big fight with her husband, Shefali comes to his apartment and they have sex. The next morning, he can’t bring himself to say “I love you”. But then regrets it and chases after her to confess his feelings. Shefali arrives home to discover her husband signing with her daughter, he is actually making an effort. And in that moment, her lover arrives and learns she is both married and hearing. He leaves, Shefali cries, and Sara sees her and asks, “did that man love you?”

Ajeeb Daastaans movie review: Neeraj Ghaywan saves Karan Johar's uneven  Netflix film from disaster | Hindustan Times

This is a surprisingly simple little story. A woman has an affair because she feels unloved. The affair unwinds when it is discovered, but the end result is her young daughter realizing that it is possible to have unconditional love from a man, something she had stopped believing in after seeing her parents marriage. The sign language is a lovely metaphor for communication and how slippery it is. Shefali and her husband don’t really communicate, she and her lover do. But in the end, that “I love you” can’t be said by anyone. Her lover is too afraid to say it when he should, and then it is too late. She doesn’t say it to him either. And her husband says it not through words, but action. Finally making the effort she wanted him to make all along. Surprise ending, husband and wife may find their way back to each other, the affair may have been a good thing in the end.

Which was your favorite? Which was your least favorite?

30 thoughts on “Ajeeb Daastaans Review (SPOILERS): Nothing Goes the Way You Expect it to Go

  1. OOOOOHHH. I wasn’t really going to watch Ajeeb Dastans because my brain can’t handle a lot of messiness right now but…HM. I think I’m changing my mind! I also started Roohi last night, it’ll take a few days to finish it (because time crunch), but I like it so far!

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    • Yeah, Roohi is fun! And you don’t really have to worry about anything too bad happening, it’s just funny.

      Ajeeb Daastaans is WEIRD!!! But big advantage for you, each story is separate, so you can do just one a night if you want.

      On Sat, Apr 24, 2021 at 4:09 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Just finished it! I think this is my favourite of the Indian 4 short film movies.

    Majnu: SO MANY TWISTS! Had me at the edge of my seat. I felt so bad for both of them, and Jaideep’s confession made me tear up.

    Khilauna: This one gave me such a shock. It wasn’t until I read your spoiler review did I realise how the baby died. A total gut punch at the end!

    Geeli Pucchi: This was the one I was most expecting (pun unintended). Konkona is so good, I loved how she was soft and loving under all those walls, but not stupid. On the other hand, Aditi’s sing-song voice and frail features are a perfect casting for this. At times there was this kinda balance of power shifting between the scenes. Then when it came to fruition it was a bit satisfying, but also sad.

    Ankahi: This made me so happy and then sad. Shefali is so wonderful and lovely and the deaf photographer was such a sweetheart. So simple yet so effective. I am feeling torn at the ending since I loved the photographer so much.

    Overall, I loved it! Interesting and so many twists and turns.

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    • Majnu: Yes! And Jaideep must have put something in his performance from the start, because I found myself sympathizing with him the whole time, more than I should have considering his character was pretty awful.

      Khilauna: Such a gut punch. And so well done drawing out the shock. at the start I assumed one of the two men was dead, then maybe the mother, but certainly not the baby. And certainly not the little girl being the one who did it. the flashback structure was well done giving us hints and keeping us guessing.

      Geeli Pucchi: it was sad. So sad. Konkona gets half her happiness, and Aditi gets nothing.

      Ankahi: the ending of this one didn’t bother me that much. I loved Shefali and the photographer together, but I didn’t have that trapped feeling at the end like I did for Aditi in the last film. Shefali can get a divorce if she wants, she can find a different new love, she can just find an interest outside the house, anything can happen. Even for the photographer, now that he has opened up to feeling love again, he could find a new better relationship.

      On Sat, Apr 24, 2021 at 4:11 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I loved Geeli Puchi!! I was expecting it to be a hopeful empowering liberating story…you know the usual “love wins”…Aditi gets the gumption to live her truth and run away with Konkana after some big speech (maybe a little like Ek Ladki ko Dekha)….but no…I was not expecting reality…and it was perfectly done…

    what I really loved was that both were victims and perpetrators…you kind of hate both but also feel sympathy for both…and both Konkana and Aditi played it perfectly

    Such few Indian movies dare to tackle caste, sexuality, or gender and when they do it’s either problematic or too preachy…this movie managed to discuss all these issues deftly in 30 minutes…Neeraj Ghayan really needs to make more movies!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so DEPRESSING! reality is depressing! I want to go back to Ek Ladki Ko Dekha world. Or Dabangg, where Salman casually marries out of caste.

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  4. So much to discuss with almost all of these stories.

    You forewarned us about many twists, so I did see the gay angle coming for the first story. Only I thought the new employee might have been the husband’s lover and was now jealous of the wife. And I’m not sure I would have wanted to keep the baby of the guy who hurt both of them so badly – though the husband deserved it.

    The baby story had such a clever twist. Again, I was partly warned, but while the investigation was going on, I could only think that some accident had happened to the kid. That might have actually been more traumatizing for me.The pressure cooker bit was so over the top that I almost gave a dark laugh. Something like that wouldn’t happen in real life. And it definitely made me reassess the suspects, because none of them had seemed quite that deranged. So yes, it being the little girl made perfect sense in a very dark way.

    Story 3 really was depressingly realistic. Caste (or any real-world problem, really) > sexuality may not be a deep thought, but I don’ feel like it’s discussed in fiction that much. The world of this film seemed to possibly only have three lesbians at all (if there’s only one woman calling her lovers “witch”) – and still those two were tearing each other up. That’s so sad. I have to admit that I was unsure Konkona had fully switched to working against Aditi when she “helped” her with getting pregnant. She was definitely trying to push her away, but she still seemed so hurt when Aditi’s family knew of her caste. (By the way, it’s infuriating that being a midwife makes you a Dalit!) I think that might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back and at least cemented Konkona’s decision. For me, personally, it was when Aditi was still signing off with “wet kisses”. You don’t do that to someone who’s trying to get back into the friend zone!!! That was the moment when I wanted Konkona to get her job in revenge, so I was actually quite satisfied with the ending – even knowing that Aditi hadn’t objectively done that much wrong. I’m really feeling sorry for the poor baby, though. What a family to be born into.

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    • Oh, I want your version of the first story! At the very least, I was kind of hoping that the lover would end up being sincerely in love with the boss and pick her over the wife. But no, no happiness all around.

      Along with everything else in the baby story, I liked the confirmation that kids are SOCIOPATHS. That is, they don’t really fully grasp the world and identity and all of that yet, they are just little sponges soaking up whatever happens around them. The little girl has no moral center because she hasn’t learned a moral center yet, she is just a little girl. And she certainly can’t tie actions to consequences, the adults would never do something like that because they know they would be found out, and they know it is ultimately wrong. A little kid, no idea.

      It does make logical sense that social pressure would be even stronger in a minority sexuality couple, but it’s something that I had never even thought of before. I suppose I was thinking more of the “if the relationship already breaks a big rule, all the other rules can be added on without problems” situation. But that would be if both people in the couple were like Konkona, already rejected by her family and society and living a lonely life outside the rules. Aditi would need to make many leaps were she to risk being with Konkona, not just one. Oh, but I also loved that the movie seemed to land on what I have often thought! Surely it is slightly better to live lonely and free than in a family and trapped? The movie doesn’t shy away from Konkona’s unhappiness relying only on herself. But in the end, she sure seemed more content within herself than poor Aditi in 2 rooms with 11 relatives and a baby hanging off her.

      On Sun, Apr 25, 2021 at 7:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Story 1: I think I just reacted to the way the employee seemed so irrationally devoted to the boss, even over his own dad. He managed to not look at the wife directly, and his sideways glances could have been (well, and actually were) merely appraising. The timeline could have worked out, too. The lovers being almost discovered, the boss sends the employee away to study to keep him safe, then his parents force him into the marriage. The lover returns, hides behind the “bhaiya” that almost seems to be a title and tries to ingratiate himself with the husband again. That theory got a hit when the lover actually started sleeping with the wife, but he could have resolved that with the very same photoshopping trick he pulled in the actual movie and gotten her executed. Then in the last scene he could have been comforting the widower.

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        • Ooooo, that would have worked GREAT!!!! Alternatively, he wasn’t the lover, he was just a young man on the make. But he figured out that the boss was gay and set all of this in motion so he could slide in to the “lady of the house” role.

          On Sun, Apr 25, 2021 at 11:56 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Story 3: Definitely a lot of leaps for Aditi. And to me, she seemed to be still kind of dithering in the closet door. I guess it comes back to having a word for it, and she was still sticking with the weak “having fun on a scooter”. So even at the turning point, I wasn’t 100% sure whether she was drawing back from “live your truth” or from “by the way, I lied to you and am actually considered untouchable”. Interesting how Konkona’s reaction seems more or less selfish depending on what she thinks she saw.
        The whole film was so great with all those intersections of social issues. Even just the ladies’ bathroom: Was Konkona just not important enough to warrant one? Or did she present so much as one of the guys that people seriously didn’t consider it? And all the subtle differences in the women’s clothing, eating, way of carrying themselves: more an expression of class/caste or of relative nonconformity to gender roles? At all related to self-security as a lesbian?

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        • I loved seeing Konkona at the end in her office wear! It was appropriate for working in the office and distinctly nicer, but she was still wearing no make-up and men’s shirts. I was thinking part of the issue was presentation, Konkona wasn’t getting the office job because she wore overalls and seemed so out of place in the office area. But once she got it, she found a way to be herself and be appropriate. Like, it was kind of a message to the audience too, don’t limit yourself in what you think this woman can do just because she is stuck working on the floor of the factory and won’t wear make-up. She can find her own way to adjust to where she wants to be.

          On Mon, Apr 26, 2021 at 1:51 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • She was so very literally blue-collared in the beginning, it’s kind of on-the-nose in retrospect. But yes, her office wear later on seemed so very true to who she was, so REAL. I guess that just is the one word to describe everything in this film.

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          • I suppose the flipside of that is Aditi seemed truly comfortable in her pretty pretty bride look. That’s who she is, that’s where she is comfortable. Is she really going to make over everything about herself and break from society to such an extent? Or is she not going to be able to give up her traditional vibe just for love?

            That’s one thing I am so glad is changing in a lot of societies. If you are a Queer person who also wants a traditional sort of marriage and life, you can have it now. You can have kids, you can go to PTA meetings, you can be just boring and regular. Someday maybe Aditi could have left her husband and married Konkona and still dressed like a bride and been quiet and proper and traditional and no one would think twice about it. But not yet.

            I mean, look at Rekha. By golly she dresses like the married woman she is, but she can only get away with it by pretending that she is longing for Amitabh, not married to Farzana. And never inviting people over to their house and generally cutting her private life away from public life.

            On Mon, Apr 26, 2021 at 7:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Or even dress kind of masculine and still go to PTA meetings and consider myself kind of boring, yes. But even if Indian society was at that point, I’m still not sure Konkona would ultimately have been right for Aditi. Maybe once she’s actually ready, she’ll still find a nice woman she has more in common with and who’ll adopt the kid.

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          • I feel a little bad for her husband though. Maybe once she leaves him for a nice woman, they can share custody and he can find a nice woman too.

            On Mon, Apr 26, 2021 at 9:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Oh Margaret, you’re really too nice. Next you’ll say you want his parents to be happy, too.

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    • We could still make that movie! All 3 are still acting. Let’s do a remake! Saif is middle-aged and twice divorced, Akshay is straight up old and no on ever wanted to marry him because he is so fussy, Kajol is the driver’s spinster daughter, old and overlooked, and then she goes to the city and gets discovered as a model and returns as an exotic beautiful stranger. Yes?

      On Sun, Apr 25, 2021 at 8:35 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I realized the underlying theme in all the stories, except the second one, is that being powerless, overlooked, oppressed or discriminated against doesn’t stop you from badly treating others in the same position as you. That realization was the ‘twist’ for me in those stories. In that sense, being an ‘educated’ viewer is a disadvantage, I’m used to the underdogs finding each other and standing up together against the oppressor, not destroying each other, which I guess is more true to life (ugh, depressing!).

    Majnu: Jaideep’s reveal comes as a shock because there weren’t any hints, but the story would have worked the same even without that reveal. I watched it again to see how he acts with the employee, and there’s nothing specific, except maybe the punching was supposed to be playful? Initially I thought Fatima and Jaideep were scheming together to lure and punish the guys hitting on her, because she wasn’t surprised when the first guy was caught.

    Khilauna: This is just dark! I had read your spoiler about this, but forgotten all about it while watching so it came as a shock! I’m not sure it is that kids have no moral center, I think they have more of a black-and-white sense of morality, that’s what they are taught at home and school. For this kid, she has been made to think of the baby as a toy and not a human, so she treats it like that.

    Geeli Puchhi: Heartbreaking, but right after Aditi’s reaction to Konkona’s caste reveal I was rooting for Konkona to take Aditi’s job and not end up with her (does that make me a bad person?). It’s just so infuriating to see this ingrained caste prejudice, especially because the hurt is so palpable from Konkona! Right till the end where you see that she still expected better from Aditi.

    Ankahi: Shefali was as good as expected but Manav Kaul was a revelation! I need him as a romantic lead now!

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    • Majnu: what I found really interesting thinking about Jaideep is that we accepted he was so in love and devoted that even after 3 years he wouldn’t even touch his wife. Being gay makes more logical sense than being SO in love, but films have trained us to believe in that kind of love, the kind that makes all other women uninteresting.

      Khilauna: I suppose the deeper question is, who all was involved in thinking of this baby as a toy? The father certainly wasn’t much interested in the baby, the mother seemed more tired and going through the motions, and Nushrat resented caring for him. In comparison to how Nushrat cared for her sister, this baby wasn’t really loved or seen as a person.

      Geeli Pucchi: yeah. I still felt bad for Aditi, I could believe she was legitimately ready to make a leap with Konkona, just needed time adn encouragement. But then that gets into the question of, is it Konkona’s job to encourage her to do the right thing? And I have to wonder, if she had already left her marriage and moved in with Konkona when she learned she was untouchable, would she have cared so much? Would it have been better to wait to tell her until she had made that first leap?

      Ankahi: They were so great together! So sweet together!!! And I love that his deafness and her not model perfect looks/age were never even brought up. These are two beautiful people inside and out, of course they would fall in love.

      On Mon, Apr 26, 2021 at 6:31 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Majnu: Agree, I realized that’s supposed to be the biggest hint to him being gay!

        Geeli Pucchi: It’s better that the revelation came early. I don’t think it would have gone better if they were together, it would be worse with Aditi blaming her for trapping her by lying. That moment could have been the beginning of a longer story of someone like Aditi slowly learning to overcome her caste prejudices, but that was not to be.

        Ankahi: I wondered what age they were supposed to be playing. Manav knows Shefali is at least late 30s/early 40s, normally he’d assume she was married. I guess she never said anything, so he assumed she was unattached.

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        • Ankahi: he was also assuming she was deaf. Maybe thought she was probably like him? Not able to find love because she was different from othre people?

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  6. I loooved the first one. It was like a Merchant Ivory movie, except they would have drawn it out into a delicious full length movie.

    Was not enthusiastic about the third one. Between this and White Tiger, I think there is an official predatory dalit trend I am not here for. If you give them an inch they will take your place, middle classes. Keep them down at all costs. It also had a real Windows vibe (do not watch Windows).

    Thinking about it, I guess both are also regressive about LGBT stuff, with a predatory bisexual and a predatory lesbian. And an overcompensating gay man which I guess is also a minor trope? Of those, the predatory bisexual is more acceptable because at least he is a true revolutionary. I do love a revolutionary schemer.

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    • So glad you liked the first one!

      The whole “revenge of the Dalits” theory hadn’t occurred to me, and now I feel dumb, because the second story was the most extreme version and you didn’t even watch that one. The third story is super sweet but has no connection to caste/class at all, so it doesn’t really fit.

      I found the 3rd story not exactly “predatory Lesbian” because the power kept shifting in such an interesting way between them. Aditi took the lead in the romance, for sure, she went after Konkona in her own sweet subtle way. But then Konkona took charge of the friendship once they “broke up”.

      On Tue, May 4, 2021 at 3:23 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • It wouldn’t bother me as much if the dalit characters went after the characters who really mistreat them or just went after everyone (like the first one), but in all these recent stories they ONLY mess up people who at least try to be nice to them, I hate it.

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