Film: 'Dus Kahaniyaan'; Cast: Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Sanjay Dutt, Suniel Shetty, Amrita Singh; Directors: Sanjay Gupta, Hansal Mehta, Meghna Gulzar, Rohit Roy, Apoorva Lakhia, Jasmeet Dodhi; Ratings: ** 1/2
From the pretentious 'Strangers In The Night' to the murky 'High On The Highway' to the bewildering 'Zahir', the spooky 'Sex On The Beach' with Dino finding terror in a condom, the over cute 'Lovedale' and the utterly sublime 'Rice Plate' and 'Gubbare' - this bouquet of 10 stories harnessed from sources that constantly mock at conventional storytelling resources leaves you stranded at the brink of a cinematic breakthrough.
Here's a format that sneers at virtually every rule of filmmaking in India. The stories are modern and mordant, cutting and eclectic, emphatic yet vague, reverberant, refreshing and resonant. But also inconclusive and incomplete!
Like bits of music floating from a distance, these stories create a hum under the breath that never quite grows into a collective melody.
There are two stunning exceptions - 'Gubbare' written by the inimitable Gulzar. The story of an aging man's (Nana Patekar) journey into an anecdotal recreation of marital memories comes alive in Nana's sun-bathed performance. Another is 'Rice Plate'.
Add Meghna Gulzar's 'Pooranmashi' to 'Gubbare' and 'Rice Plate', and we've the three most desirable and tempting stories.
Trouble is, 'Dus Kahaniyaan' moves in and out of characters who are driven not by their environment but strictly by their inner desires. The stories therefore neither cohere nor connect together, but are interesting and often riveting in fragments.
Chalk up an outright winner in 'Gubbare', Sanjay Gupta's gentlest work to date. But the piece de resistance of the collection is debutant director Rohit Roy's 'Rice Plate'. A miniature masterpiece about a bigoted Tamilian woman's journey into communal tolerance it boasts of a majestic performance by Shabana Azmi.
The only story that moves away from the crippling claustrophobia of the pitiless city into the equally merciless rural hinterland in 'Pooranmashi' with a strong central performance by Amrita Singh holding up the stunning story by the spine.
All the stories bend the rules. No shot lasts more than a few seconds. Every character in the 10 stories is in a hurry to get somewhere, though often they don't seem sure of where they're heading.
A bored wife (Mandira Bedi) sneaks off for a tryst with a lover in 'Matrimony'. The twist in the pale tale is a given. You can't have story on infidelity without turning the screw.
'Dus Kahaniyaan' should've started with a bang - the Gupta-Hansal Mehta co-directed 'Rise & Fall', which shows us the shocking continuity in the world of crime. As Sanjay Dutt and Suniel Shetty go gun-happy at each other's throats two young migrant boys plot Sanjay's assassination.
A few stories begin to tell a promising tale, but sag in their progression.
'Zahir' about a newly-single man (Manoj Bajpai) discovering a few home-truths about his pretty neighbour (Diya Mirza) never seems sure about its intentions. And what was Apoorva Lakhia thinking while directing 'Sex On The Beach'?
Some stories verge on the vertiginous, with the characters caught in claustrophobic life-defying motions.
In 'Strangers In The Night' a wife (Neha Dhupia) tells her husband about an erotic encounter with a rioter on a railway station. This one, as well as the Jimmy Shergill-Masumeh Makhija cut-and-cried surreal drama 'High On The Highway', convey the suffocating numbness of urban life without providing any creative furtherance to the theme of city angst.
Economy of expression and an emphatically restless editing pattern are not in themselves the greatest of virtues.
What makes 'Dus Kahaniyaan' vibrant is it audacious format and styling, sometimes at the cost of substance.
But you can't come away unaffected by the sheer innovativeness of the presentation, the pungent and punchy packaging and the sheer romance with audacity that Gupta orchestrates like a music conductor on cocaine.