They have pulled it off. Ten stories, each self-sufficient and completely diverse, yet almost always with a twist in the tale, are woven into one 100-minute film. Obviously in such a case, all stories cannot be bad, and all cannot be great either. But Gupta scores high in almost all of them, and in any case every one of them has at least one or two aspects to recommend.
Ram Gopal Varma tried something like this in Darna Mana Hai in 2003 and Darna Zaroori Hai in 2006, but all the stories there were about either crime or the supernatural. Here the sequence does not matter for the subjects range from intrigue, horror, the supernatural in another sense, crime and even social and rural sagas. There are messages in some sagas, pure entertainment in others and one episode is also a shade melodramatic.
Gupta dresses up every film with state-of-the-art camerawork, simple and lucid storytelling and exotic production values. Each of the ten films have separate but sometimes overlapping teams in writing, cinematography, production design and background music, but Bunty Nagi's sharp scissors keep things uniformly crisp.
Since the stories and plots are best left undisclosed to maintain the audience's curiosity quotient, this review will just spotlight the key points of each saga. The 10-film movie begins with Matrimony, a subtle satire on today's high-society marriages of convenience. A terrific beginning to the series, it boasts of a fabulous script and a fine performance from Mandira Bedi.
The next is the darkest of the lot, and is about the ironies of life. High On The Highway aptly casts Jimmy Sheirgill and Masumeh, whose forte has always been esoteric cinema. Hansal Mehta's almost noir narration also underscores the insecurity and bohemian lifestyles of today's urban aspirants.
Pooranmashi, a truly literary work from Punjab, has a humdinger of a climax, and Amrita Singh outdoes herself as the star-crossed woman who has tried being an ideal wife and mother to a daughter who loves her - as it turns out - too much. Director Meghna Gulzar gets into the Punjabi ethos perfectly.
Sanjay Gupta's Strangers In The Night and Zahir are undeniably the finest in this pack and prove the 'dark' director's sheer versatility. While the former comes across as dark but proves the most heart-tugging in the list, the latter affects you deep somewhere due to the second of its two twists in the last few minutes. Brilliantly written, they both also boast of sterling performances from Mahesh Manjrekar and Neha Dhupia and Dia Mirza and Manoj Bajpai respectively. e two beauty queens especially are really evolving as actors.
The post-intermission stories have bigger stars but on the whole lesser substance. Jasmeet Dhodi makes a good directorial debut in Lovedale and joins her background music composer, cameraman and art director in creating a super atmosphere. Despite the average performances, it is the sweetest story among the lot - correction, it is the only sweet saga here.
The weakest saga is Sex On The Beach (directed by Apoorva Lakhia) which not only has a RGV hangover but is completely predictable: another story should have come in instead. Rice Plate (director: Rohit Roy) has the seasoned Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah in amazing performances but comes across as preachy and didactic.
The remaining two films are helmed by Sanjay Gupta. Gubbare is actually maudlin and has an element of triteness again. Nana Patekar is sincere but gives away the game. The predictable story