Netflix's latest anthology Ankahi Kahaniya, set against the backdrop of an overarching Mumbai, deals with the themes of love, loneliness, and complex human emotion in three different interpretations.
Saket Chaudhary's short in the series is an unconventional love story, dealing with the subject of infidelity between two couples. The quartet includes characters played by Kunal Kapoor, Zoya Hussain, Nikhil Dwivedi, and Palomi Ghosh. Written by Chaudhary and Zeenat Lakhani, Kapoor plays Manav, the cuckolded husband in one marriage, and Hussain as Tanu, the betrayed wife from another.
When Tanu learns that Arjun (Dwivedi) is cheating on her with Natasha (Palomi), she reaches out to Natasha's husband Manav. The two attempt to reconstruct the beginning of the affair and strategise on its fallout. In their pondering and reimaging the events that could have led to the affair, the two develop an unlikely friendship, a better understanding of themselves and their respective relationship with their spouses.
Perhaps a subtle invocation of cult classic In the Mood for Love, or perhaps the open-ended final twist as a genuine surprise, the short left me feeling for more. What happened to Tanu? Did she or did she not walk out of the marriage? Chaudhary, in an interview with Firstpost, says he believes some answers are better left unsaid.
"Maybe because the encounter between these two characters is so short. I think they have met a total of four times in their lives, and this is the story of how they managed to live a whole life between that those brief, intimate meetings. However, it is a great achievement for a story to feel so immersive that you want to know more about them, but this is as much as I would like to tell about them and let you can imagine what their lives would have been," the filmmaker adds.
Hussain's Tanu is a stirring portrayal of an everyday woman, feeling trapped and lonely in a marriage. On her detective hunt with Manav, she admits to being aware of Arjun's past extramarital relations, and yet accepting him time and again. Manav, bewildered to his wits, throws a fit. Tanu, in an emotional turn, breaks down, "If I am not Mrs Arjun Mathur, then who am I?" slowly revealing her fears of losing her identity.
Hussain plays the character with a great emotional depth, depicting the plight of many women. However, she assures though it was not really emotionally taxing to play the role, it was indeed quite a feat to empty herself into it.
"The credit of the emotional arc of the character goes entirely to Saket. Tanu is definitely a person to whom a lot of women will relate because of how often they have been conditioned to do most things, even if they like it or not. I think you are very lucky and in a place of immense privilege if you can do exactly what you want and be on your own, live how you want. You think you are being very noble, gracious, but it takes a toll on you in the long run because you can't be perfect all the time, and Tanu is someone who has adhered to everyone else's demands and wishes and standards, but it only now that she has learnt to speak for herself," says Hussain.
"But she doesn't want to lash out or behave badly. It is like 'Oh man! I did that and it still wasn't enough?' and that's what was interesting. She doesn't wake up one day and be like 'Now, I am gonna be a horrible person.' She just realised her worth and learns that it is not her fault, and that is what makes the film special. So that is what Saket has explored that yes it is all fairytale and wonderful but then what?," the actress adds.
Kapoor's Manav was an important factor in Tanu's rediscovery journey. Manav, who is struggling with his past career failures, is certainly the embodiment of maturity. He is someone who is carrying defeat. His whole struggle is to accept his failure. He not only partakes in Tanu's investigation operative, but also forgives his wife and agrees to return home. The story could have taken a different turn, become a revenge saga too, but Kapoor says he liked the way it ended.
"Most relationships are flawed, most people are flawed. And nothing is perfect. We have films that celebrate success, maybe of people, of relationships, but very rarely do we have films that explore failure, failure of people and relationships. That is the most interesting part of our story. We must understand that everyone makes mistakes. And it is important to look through the other person's point of view as well. And allow them to make mistakes, because it is very humane."
Backing Kunal's perspective, Chaudhary too shares his insight on the ending of the short. He adds, "Men are often judged on what they accomplish in life. And with Manav's character, Tanu reminds him that he is a wonderful father, husband, and why is not that enough for him. For he is grown up in a world where men are constantly evaluated by their professional success, in a way suggesting there can be no other identity to them. But then, when he discovers he could, he chooses to return home and be the man Natasha always saw within him."
"Meanwhile, for women, despite everything they accomplish today in terms of education, career, ultimately they are scrutinised according to the nature of their relationships. And Tanu is somebody who has sacrificed everything for her marriage, even where her identity is linked to it. So for Tanu, it was important for her to walk away, find herself, and then maybe find a relationship later in her life."
On believing in second chances in life
While the short strongly deals with infidelity, the underlying theme also suggests second chances, acceptance, and letting go. The trio firmly believes in the institution of second chances.
Hussain: I do believe in second chances, in general, and especially in matters of the heart.
Kapoor: Yes, absolutely. Second chances to yourself on a personal level, and second chances to your partner or in any relationship you are in.
Chaudhary: I think a relationship is a process of forgiving the other person and yourself nearly every other day. It's something you have to learn. So it may be second, fourth, or fifty chance, learn to ask for forgiveness, learn to give when needed, and try making it work.
On what makes a great love story
Kapoor: Background music!
Hussain: Drama and details
Chaudhary: The meeting, the separation, and the reunion. In our case, things may seem opposite, but I think these three events and how one develops them, is what makes a great love story.
Ankahi Kahaniya is streaming on Netflix India.