Modern Love Hyderabad: Mostly too contrived and insipid to make an impact but Nagesh Kukunoor steals the show
I was struck by how the anthology, even while exploring romantic love, can’t shake off the parental presence and role
If one were to offer an example of how good actors and charismatic stars can transform a very basic, elementary piece of writing into something compelling on screen then Nagesh Kukunoor’s short film, My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner, starring Revathy and Nithya Menen, could be a perfect case study. It’s one of the six in the new Amazon Prime Video anthology Modern Love Hyderabad, a “localised, fictionalised version” of the original Modern Love, based on the popular New York Times column. And the only one of the lot that came together well and truly worked for me.
Revathy and Nithya play Mehrunissa and Noorie, an estranged pair of mother and daughter, who are forced into each other’s company after six years due to the sudden declaration of lockdown and end up having to reboot their almost lost relationship. The two had fallen apart when the mother had put her foot down on the daughter marrying a Shia. Both have diametrically opposite takes on life, love and relationship—40 years of marriage of the mother as opposed to “friendly breakups” and “gradually drifting apart” of the daughter—that have come in the way of the essential intimacy.
Revathy and Nithya make it real and relatable with their spontaneous, seemingly unrehearsed and well-attuned acts. From remonstrations to reconciliations, they have you invested in the journey and offer the hope that a heart continues to beat inside the toughest of hardliners.
The film has a sense of Hyderabad like no other in the anthology, be it the incredible food (which had even a vegetarian like yours truly drooling), the distinct lingo, the magical Charminar or the city’s sizeable Muslim population.
Kukunoor, who is the show runner of the series, directs two other shorts in the anthology. He tries to do something out of the box in Fuzzy Purple And Full of Thorns about Uday (Aadhi Pinishetty) and Renu (Ritu Varma) coming together and nearly falling apart due to, of all things, footwear. However, the humour eventually gets way too belaboured despite the promise of something light and charming at the start of the film.
Kukunoor’s Why Did She Leave Me There, about a granny, her grandson and an orphanage is perched at the other end of the spectrum. It’s all sentiments, but the highly cloying kinds. Despite Suhasini Maniratnam’s gravitas, the film gets too maudlin, afflicted with a sappiness and piety that gets over sincere.
I was struck by how the anthology, even while exploring romantic love, couldn't shake off the parental presence and role. Love is a generational thing, be it the 'Father of the Bride' kind of possessive and protective dads in Venkatesh Maha’s Finding Your Penguin or Devika Bahudhanam’s About The Rustle In The Bushes. Both of these shorts have young women at the centre who are unresolved when it comes to finding love and men.
However, even in her confusions, the protagonist has an understanding (or something like that) of the Telugu Man in Uday Gurrala’s What Clown Wrote This Script. However, all the three are too contrived and conscious, slight and insipid to make an impact.