Let us leave aside the link in the film’s title Tryst With Destiny to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s iconic speech on the midnight of India’s first Independence Day delivered 75 years ago. As a critic, I always like to read a film as an independent entity and do not like to link it to something else not directly related to the film.

Tryst with Destiny, an Indo-French production, is an anthology of four stories. The anthology as a relatively new genre in cinema is enjoying solid streaming space and popularity on OTT platforms. May be some anthologies are not up to the mark, perhaps because some filmmakers are still testing the waters.

Tryst With Destiny was presented first as a triptych, three of the four stories at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2020, where it won the award for best screenplay. Prashant Nair has directed all four films that make up the anthology, stressing on brief but intense storylines that play around with ‘destiny’ or more appropriately, with the fact that human life sometimes faces twists and turns that no logic or reason can explain. Nair earlier directed Delhi in a Day, Umrika and two episodes of the web series Made In Heaven.

The stories are named ‘Fair and Fine’, ‘The River’, ‘One BHK’ and ‘A Beast Within’, each exploring different emotions and mindsets, incredibly varied and colourful in terms of reflecting the diversity that is India, a diversity that has multiplied manifold in the 75 years since we became “independent.”

Fair and Fine explores the success, arrogance, viciousness and dictatorial attitude of the protagonist, Mudiraj (Ashish Vidyarthy) who finds that all his billions put together along with his fame and triumph are scarred by a reality he simply cannot change – the dark colour of his skin – for which he is often insulted and humiliated by people who do not know who he is.

He uses his arrogance and domination in his family by forcibly getting his elder daughter – neither good looking nor fair skinned – married off to another industrialist’s fair skinned son, whose father owes Mudiraj Rs.180 crores.

An outstanding performance by Vidyarthy complemented by Suhasini Mani Ratnam as his confused, forced-to-submit wife, Victor Banerjee as the threatened industrialist and Lillette Dubey as his very angry but helpless wife offer a brilliant satire on the erratic and irrational feature of life where the colour of your skin can strip you of all dignity or invest you with it.

The director builds the ambience with just the right combo of cameo actors, the lifestyle and décor and the music. This is the most lavishly mounted story in the anthology because that is what the script demands.

The River takes us to a village along a river focusing on a lowered-caste daily wager with wife and kids who is so desperately poor that he can do nothing to prevent his wife from being sexually abused. He takes up any job he can get while his young wife tries her best to keep the homestead happy and the children well cared for, given the circumstances.

Harassed, insulted and constantly teased about his caste, the man decides to leave for the city. He sets fire to their hut and flees to the city in the pitch darkness.

Vineet Kumar as the daily wager does not have a single line of dialogue in the film but expresses his desperate condition solely with facial expressions, gestures and body language. He is forced to live in complete silence that extends to his interactions even with his own family.

Kani Kusruti as his young wife exudes an infectious charm with her beautiful smile, without any makeup or buildup, explaining how their love has bound them despite the poverty and the casteism of others.

The river offers a counterpoint of the free and natural beauty of Nature opposite the trappings of an impoverished, lowered-caste family caught by the no-exit situation of social ostracism. The river also offers a ray of hope in the darkness of their lives, which the man tries to do away with by setting fire to their shanty, leaving no proof of their existence there in the thereafter.

One BHK is about the aspirations of a traffic signal cop (Jaydeep Ahlawat) who uses his uniform to extract money by every short cut he possibly can. His greed is based on his desire to fulfill his live-in girlfriend’s (Palomi Ghosh) dream of a one-bedroom flat. This gradually motivates him to loot a jewellery shop with his known mafia men after blackmailing the same shop owner with video clips of his underhand dealings.

A scene where his girlfriend points out in a posh restaurant how uncultured he is and how unclassy is touched with just the right hint of satire. His dream crashes around him teaching him the limits of his life – and his greed.

Both Ahalawat and Ghosh hold on to their performances like it is their last one, adding credibility to their characters and the story. The last scene with a crowd gathered around three beautiful peacocks prancing around in the middle of a busy street invests the story with a feeling of poetry, underscoring the absurdities of everyday life which can sometimes become poetry.

A Beast Within is the weakest link in the anthology: the cinematography is much too dark, the script keeps rushing to reach the finish and the story is weakly narrated. It unfolds the trip of a woman forest officer (Geetanjali Thapa) who arrives in a forest area somewhere in Maharashtra to rescue a tigress held captive in a huge, coffin-like box targeted for the kill by a group of local militants headed by a dangerous man (Amit Sial) determined to avenge the death of his daughter killed by the tigress.

“Who is the beast?” is the piquant question raised by the story. Is it the militant who loses his daughter, or the tigress whose only way of saving herself from mindless human brutality is through attack, and who cannot distinguish a killing human from an innocent one?

The tailenders that reveal a ‘twist’ in each story in the end come across more as spoilers than as roundings up. The anthology stands out as one of a kind principally because of the actors, who are the pillars of each story and therefore the entire film.

Whether it is Ashish Vidyarthy as Mudiraj, or Vineet Kumar forced into complete silence, or Jaideep Ahalawat trying to live beyond his means by resorting to crime, or Amit Sial pitted in a battle between a captive four-legged animal and himself, each portrayal comes alive on screen.

The cinematography is enriched by imaginative lighting in every episode, the music, the editing takes the anthology forward minus jerks or shocks though there are shocks structured into each story.

Arrogance, surrender, greed and revenge are the four emotions running like strong undercurrents in each story.

Nehru’s historic midnight speech or no speech, Tryst with Destiny stands on its own, head held high.