Directed by: Adeeb Rais
Writer: Adeeb Rais
Cast: Soni Razdan, Vinay Pathak, Sayoni Gupta, Priyanshu Painyuli, Maanvi Gagroo, Husain Dalal, Gauhar Khan, Rajit Kapur, Sharib Hashmi, Tanmay Dhanania
Cinematography: Dhruv Datta, Niteesh Jangid, Prajwal Shivanna
Edited by: Rajat Kashyap, Sumit Lalwani
Streaming on: Amazon Mini TV
In Muzaffar Ali's 1978 film Gaman, a taxi driver played by Farooq Shaikh asks about Mumbai: Seene mein jalan aakhon mein toofan sa kyun hai, iss shehar mein har shaksh pareshan sa kyun hai?
Kaali Peeli Tales examines some of this jalan and pareshani. But unlike Gaman, the anthology of six films isn't interested in the grittier aspects of the maximum city – the heat, grime, loneliness and the migrants' struggle to survive. These stories are about mostly affluent people grappling with affairs of the heart – divorce, infidelity, the idea of an open marriage, coming out of the closet, one-night stands and love in the time of social media. The stories end with the characters in a Mumbai taxi, hence the title Kaali Peeli Tales.
Anthologies usually consist of films made by different directors. One of the pleasures is to see how each one interprets the particular theme and how varied visions play against each other. But in Kaali Peeli Tales, all six films have been written and directed by Adeeb Rais. And the quality ranges from flat-out awful to middling.
Adeeb assembles a roster of fine actors – among them Soni Razdan, Vinay Pathak, Sayani Gupta, Priyanshu Painyuli, Maanvi Gagroo, Hussain Dalal, Gauahar Khan, Rajit Kapur and Sharib Hashmi. The stand-out is Tanmay Dhanania as a timid teacher attempting to acknowledge his homosexuality and revealing the truth to his wife. He nails the sadness, confusion and insecurity of the character.
But the actors are hobbled by Adeeb's inept writing. He has created a slew of forgettable men and women. Case in point, an arrogant, commitment-phobic Instagram influencer Ankit and a blogger Rhea, who find that opposites attract in a film called Love in Tadoba. Tadoba has a resort where the two are invited for a free holiday to help market the place. I'm assuming the film is set there because the freebies extended to the shoot crew also. But the writing and performances are so amateurish that it's hard to appreciate the beauty of Tadoba. In one scene, Ankit is trying to reveal his feelings to Rhea. He says, 'Symptoms love jaise hain,' to which she replies, 'But you don't do love.' In another, the two are sharing the things they like and don't like. Each revelation is followed by: Don't judge. Like this – freshly turned vegan, don't judge. Hardcore non-vegetarian, don't judge. Sadly, we have no option but to judge them harshly.
In Marriage 2.0, Maanvi and Hussain play a married couple attempting to be honest with each other about their crushes and flirting with the idea of an open marriage. Here the dialogue veers into unintentionally comical. At one point, a woman tells a man over drinks: Muhje lagta hai tum bahut cute ho aur main kab se soch rahi hoon that you should invite me to your house – just to look at your abs. Really? Is this what hookups sound like these days?
In the first story Harra Bharra, a divorced couple hosts a dinner party for their daughter's would-be in-laws. It's an interesting set-up and Soni and Vinay summon the lived-in warmth of a relationship that has been through highs and lows. So you can get past the fact that in the first few minutes, he compliments her with – You are still very well maintained. But Adeeb doesn't take the premise further. And again, the dialogue sounds like a cross between a comic book and a greeting card. At one point, their daughter exclaims – This in-laws stuff is so scary. Later, the family bonds over Monopoly and wine, with the father teaching them how to pronounce Merlot. He also tells the ladies – Jis family mein pyaar hota hai woh kabhi broken nahi hoti.
In Single Jhumka, a woman declares: After so long, I felt so liberated. This tedious story, in which a earring becomes a metaphor for the state of a relationship, is somewhat lifted by Sayani. Mostly, however, Adeeb is content to trade in banalities. None of the films give us any insight into how the pressure-cooker life in Mumbai impacts relationships. The city and its cabs are merely a backdrop – Kaali Peeli best uses them in the title sequence created by Madmidaas Films. Marine Drive has a role in Single Jhumka but again, it's a cliched representation of Mumbai's landmark. By contrast, watch how Hardik Mehta uses Marine Drive in his lovely short The Affair – in six minutes, that film says more about love and longing in Mumbai than these six films put together.