Modern Love: Mumbai, inspired from the New York Times’ Modern Love column and the American web series Modern Love, is currently streaming on Prime Video. The series is as much a documentation of a city in flux as it is a portrait of its inhabitants questioning their existence and trying to understand what part their various relationships play in their lives. The six segments in the anthology reflect on varied aspects of love experienced by characters living in India’s ‘Maximum City’.
Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani kicks off the anthology, introducing us to Lalzari (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Lutfi (Bhupendra Jadawat), a Kashmiri migrant couple. They have got married against the wishes of their parents and reside in a one-room tenement in Worli village. Lalzari works as a cook in the house of a lesbian couple while Lufti is employed as a security guard. One day, Lufti abandons Lalzari leaving behind his bicycle. The cycle becomes a tool for her in more ways than one to break free. Bose crafts a touching and uplifting tale of a woman from the lower rung of society, who decides to live life on her own terms. In order to strengthen her character, Bose contrasts Lalzari with the character of her lawyer employer, Rayman (Tannishtha Chatterjee). Whereas, Lalzari is seen to enjoy her newfound freedom, Rayman is unable to tide over the grief of getting separated from her husband. As Lalzari finally cycles across the Worli Sea Link, where two wheelers are prohibited, it serves as the perfect metaphor for her bidding adieu to the shackles of the society. The episode largely capitalizes on the acting skills of Fatima Sana and she delivers. If only the plot had more to it and the script more tightly structured, Raat Rani would have soared even higher.
The second segment, Hansal Mehta’s Baai, deals with a closeted gay man, Manzu (Pratik Gandhi) and his ailing grandmother, played by veteran actress, Tanuja, who is after him to get married to a girl. As a child Manzu was about to lose his life in a riot but was saved by the indomitable spirit of Baai. As Manzu’s homophobic father, Shabbir (singer Talat Aziz), gets to know about his son’s sexual orientation, their relationship becomes severely strained. Manzu, settled in Surat, meets a chef Rajveer (Ranveer Brar) in a restaurant in Goa, where he has gone to perform as a singer. Soon, a relationship blossoms between the two of them and they get married. Manzu is now caught in the horns of dilemma, wondering how to inform Baai about his homosexuality. Hansal Mehta and his co-writer, Ankur Pathak, by making Manzu gay and a Muslim have placed him on the fringes of a bigoted society where he has to struggle for both his religious and sexual identities. Mehta, whose earlier films Shahid (2013) and Aligarh (2015) had sensitively dealt with issues of communalism and homosexuality is unable to do justice to them this time. The romantic liaison between Manzu and Rajveer plays out more like a filmi rom-com rather than an affecting union of two lonely souls. The songs used in the backdrop doesn’t help much to boost the narrative either. Baai makes for one of Mehta’s weaker cinematic efforts.
Mumbai Dragon, directed by Vishal Bhradwaj is set amid a Chinese family consisting of Sui (Yeo Yann Yann) and her son Ming (Meiyang Chang). It begins with Sui taking a vow at the Kwan Kung Chinese temple. She swears she will only speak in Hindi when she frees Ming from the clutches of his vegetarian Gujarati girlfriend, Megha (Wamiqa Gabbi). What unfolds thereafter is a rather sweet tale of love, bonding, motherhood and the faith of believing in one’s dream. Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann’s immaculately controlled performance creates an aura of intimate reserve that irresistibly draws us to Sui. Wamiqa and Meiyang are in excellent form too and impress with their restrained performances. Naseerudin Shah in a supporting role as Sui’s Sikh friend, Pappi Singh, is delightful. What makes Mumbai Dragon the best segment of the anthology is the way Bharadwaj uses smaller metaphors to address global and local issues of a contemporary society. How food habits become a reason for discord between mother and son, how the Indian Chinese community has wounds that the rest of the country doesn’t care about, and how two individuals from different communities can bond with one another despite cultural differences.
Alankrita Shrivastava’s My Beautiful Wrinkles narrates the tale of Dilbar (Sarika), a woman in her sixties. She likes spending her life playing bridge with her friends while teaching interview etiquettes to a young man, Kunal (Danesh Rizvi). She has an old decaying fiat car parked outside her apartment, which represents some heavy baggage from her past. Things get complicated when Kunal expresses his desire for Dilbar, who has stayed single following the death of her husband decades ago… Though in familiar territory for Shrivastava, Sarika’s character fails to make an impact the way Ratna Pathak Shah did in the filmmaker’s earlier effort, Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016). Surprisingly, a reliably fine artist like Sarika disappoints with her performance this time around. Admittedly, the weak, cliché-ridden script plays its part in not giving her enough to work with. This segment is a big let down from a filmmaker known for creating strong and complex women characters with much nuance and subtlety.
Dhruv Sehgal’s I Love Thane is set in the city of Thane, which is technically outside Mumbai but is a part of the Mumbai Metropolitan region. Siaba (Masaba Gupta) is a landscape designer, who browses through dating sites in search of a soulmate. But nothing has worked for her yet. Working on one of her projects, she meets Parth (Ritwik Bhowmik), a Municipal Corporation auditor. Both Siaba and Parth are single and through their daily conversations, they develop a mutual attraction towards one another. Their conversations, spread over long walks, have a touch of authenticity about them as they create a resonant connection between two urban individuals. Both Masaba and Parth bring much sensitivity to their characters. The cinematographer, Aniruddha Patankar, admirably captures various shades of the couple’s relationship with charm. Maulik Sharma, the editor, maintains the languid pace of the story nicely while keeping the drama correctly subdued. To his credit, Sehgal creates a segment that has much going for it.
And lastly, we have Nupur Asthana’s Cutting Chai. Here,we meet a couple, Latika (Chitrangada Singh) and Danny (Arshad Warsi), who have been married for seventeen years. Latika is a mother of two and a struggling writer, yet to publish her first novel. Danny works as the manager of a posh hotel and is not concerned at all about his wife’s unfulfilled dream. One day, as Latika waits for Danny at Mumbai’s CST, formerly VT, she goes down memory lane and introspects about her decisions at key moments in her life. The narrative here is heavy and messy as Asthana mixes flashbacks, voice overs, and in a dream-like situation, commuters around Latika judging her choices. The performances by Chitrangda and Warsi are okay enough but are unable to rise above the lack of cohesiveness in the script. Cutting Chai brings the anthology to quite an unsatisfying end.
Overall, Modern Love: Mumbai works but partially. And as with any anthology, comparison is inherently inevitable. So, some segments work better than others. Raat Rani, Mumbai Dragon and I Love Thane are all worthy watches, each giving us enough to take away and process.
Hindi, Drama, Color