Modern Love Mumbai: Not in the mood for love

Modern Love Mumbai fails to recreate that transcending magic of love. It doesn’t make you care enough for the characters, their dilemmas, and relationships. It is neither charming, nor engaging

Modern Love Mumbai
Modern Love Mumbai

Namrata Joshi

I’d like to believe that there are three kinds of films in this world. One set comprises of those that are so good that they inspire you to write. The second group is of those that are so bad that they inspire you to write. The rest, which happens to be the majority, incidentally, fall in the mediocre bracket. They inspire you not to write. Modern Love Mumbai makes for that kind of colourless and passable viewing.

The six-episode series that begins streaming on Prime Video May 13 onwards, like its American counterpart Modern Love, is adapted from the immensely popular weekly column of the same name published in The New York Times.

About love blooming in the humdrum urban existence, the two seasons of Modern Love have been as much about the city as its denizens and their webs of relationship. What worked for the column, even if the arcs and concerns may have remained predictable were the relatability and immediacy for the readers. It has been all about love that is rooted than belonging to the realm of fantasy. The thoughts, feelings, ideas, and impressions of the authors reached out. Those words, however, may not have always got translated easily on screen. Modern Love Mumbai is essentially about that: it fails to recreate that transcending magic of love. It doesn’t make you care enough for the characters, their dilemmas, and relationships. It is neither charming, nor engaging.

The series might claim to be about the many splendoured aspect of love but many of the stories are essentially centred on individuals finding their own self. Like the first episode, Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani about Lali who gets dumped by her husband Lutfi and learns to traverse life on her own strength with a bicycle defining the liberation. As expected, the episode depends a lot on the performance by its lead and Fatima Sana Shaikh tries to give her all to make the Kashmiriyat of her character feel real. Problem is that her awareness of this task reflects way too much in her self-conscious acting.

Similarly, Nupur Asthana’s Cutting Chai is about a woman in her 40s caught between being a wife and a mother, re-evaluating her life as she swings between reality and fantasy. What would it take for her to fulfill her dream of becoming a novelist? If Shaikh tries too hard in Raat Rani, Chitrangada Singh as Latika does too little. She is deadpan and impassive, as though sleepwalking through the episode. As her husband, Arshad Warsi tries sportingly to be his spontaneous self but there’s no significant vibe between the two to liven things up.

It’s the same lack of chemistry that makes Alankrita Srivastava’s My Beautiful Wrinkles very leaden. Desires, fantasies and passion of older women is a subject often given a short shrift. Srivastava carries on from one of the strands in Lipstick Under My Burkha. But it’s mechanically spelt out, with Sarika and Danish Rizvi unable to evoke any sense of connect in their characters, despite what the script might have us believe. The film also doesn’t go the whole hog with the woman on the backfoot, initially wondering if she led a young man on and later sealing it with chastity: anything more than just fantasies will ruin whatever is there between the two. Illicit passion can’t be simulated by a background score that doffs its hat to Yumeji’s Theme from In the Mood for Love. Love, at its best, can make a wonderful statement but statement making need not necessarily translate into love.

Hansal Mehta’s Baai falls in the trap of “interesting casting”. To have chef Ranveer Brar appear on screen in the pivotal role might seem ingenuous but having him opposite Pratik Gandhi (as Manzu) does nothing more than make the wide chasm between the two actors appear way too stark. However hard Gandhi might try, their relationship feels too worked at. Too many musical interludes and songs, food, politics, a nod to the matriarch of the family and her Lucky Manzil, communalism and rioting—Baai gets too stretched in trying to get into too many things, all at the same time and diverts from the central theme about a man struggling with his sexuality. A dialogue like “Aksar nafrat phailane wale bikau hote hain” might be true but hangs like a tokenism. A film that should have ideally been called and been only about Manzu.

Dhruv Sehgal’s I Love Thane is about spatial, intellectual and class divides. About a woman finding modern love in a man who is not modern, not quite her kind is a strangely nostalgic and regressive fantasy falling in the usual opposites attract zone. What makes it watchable is Masaba Gupta as the lead Saiba. There’s something extremely refreshing and easy going about her acting. May we see more of her.

Of all the stories then Vishal Bhardwaj’s Mumbai Dragon is the most fun (if not anything more, given his own filmography). I chuckled as it started with a woman of Indian Chinese community (Yeo Yann Yann) angrily shouting “Jab tak zinda hoon Hindi nahin bolungi”. There’s something even nicer about Naseeruddin Shah as a sardar calling her Sui puttar and talking to her and understanding Cantonese. Not to forget Bhardwai’s digs at veg-non veg which are delicious. There’s a mixture as well as clash of food, songs and cultures which makes the slight tale of a woman’s jealousy for her son’s girlfriend quite likeable. Though I do feel that given its cultural backdrop it’s a film that would have been better set in Kolkata, however much of a melting pot Mumbai might be. A shout out to Yeo Yann Yann though. She is sublime is evoking the mercurial on screen.

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