Modern Love Mumbai review: Dhruv Sehgal, Hansal Mehta's beautiful stories are worth going through anything

May 13, 2022 02:52 PM IST

Modern Love Mumbai review: Amazon Prime Video has given India an anthology populated with more hits than misses.

Modern Love Mumbai is one of the better things that Amazon Prime Video has churned out lately. It is also an anthology with a far better good: bad entries ratio. With two great episodes, two pretty good ones, an honest attempt and also a bland one, Modern Love's first desi adaptation still makes for six hours well spent (let's just count them as four for now). (Also read: Modern Love 2 review: Amazon series returns with fewer bad eggs, more sugar; Kit Harington deserves rom-com franchise)

Modern Love Mumbai: Masaba Gupta and Ritwik Bhowmick in I Love Thane.
Modern Love Mumbai: Masaba Gupta and Ritwik Bhowmick in I Love Thane.

Faith in the show can dwindle as early as the opening 'disclaimer' itself. The original Modern Love, which streamed in 2018 on Amazon Prime Video, was created by John Carney, based on the very popular New York Times column by the same name. It told stories about finding love (platonic, romantic, self or otherwise) in modern day New York--be it in a stranger at the shopping mart or in the valet of your apartment building--starring some of the most-loved Hollywood actors such as Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Dev Patel. Of course, New York, its streets, its park benches and its people formed the soul of the show. So when the opening card for Modern Love Mumbai lets you know that the next six stories will also be based (though liberally fictionalised) on the same NYT column, it is fair to feel concerned. How well can tales from the Big Apple translate to Bombay Pavs?

However, some of the country's best filmmakers put your heart at ease. Hansal Mehta (Shahid, Scam 1992), Dhruv Sehgal (Little Things), Vishal Bharadwaj (Maqbool, Omkara) deliver three of the best entries in this anthology. Of course, Alankrita Shrivastava's episode (the badly titled My Beautiful Wrinkles) about an older woman (Sarika) becoming the centre of an unconfident young man's sexual fantasies, might not leave the best impression. Not only are the performances rather weak, there is very little Mumbai to be found in it overall. The chemistry between the leads is damp and nothing feels real about either her heartache or his feelings for her. Thankfully, this was the worst bump of it all.

Another entry is directed by Hansal Mehta and stars Pratik Gandhi as a gay man whose truth is known to everyone except the one person that matters the most to him, his grandmother, played by the understated, warm Tanuja in a brilliant return to acting. Though I wish Hansal applied her ‘understated’ tone to some of his dramatic scenes, his was also the story that best captured life in Mumbai. He revisits the Bombay riots in an impactful opening scene (may or may not be inspired by that Children of Men car scene) and the true star of his story are the dialogues, allotted mostly to the women of his story. He gets to once again drill in the beauty of love and the shallow foundations of hate, even if things do get a little too preachy at times. Of course, nothing ruins the vibe like Ranveer Brar (who is rather impressive at acting btw) and Pratik trying to pass off smooshing their chins together as a passionate kiss. I let out a big laugh at how silly it looked. Even cutting to roses in a garden would have looked less embarrassing.

The best episode came from someone much newer to the writing-directing job than all the veterans he's in company of on this show, Dhruv Sehgal. His episode, I Love Thane, stars the perfectly-cast Masaba Gupta as a 34-year-old Mumbaikar without a boyfriend or husband but knows she'd 'like all that'. So she chases disappointments on dating apps until she finds something so real, it doesn't even exist on Instagram. I Love Thane is perhaps smallest in scale and in ideas among all six stories but makes great use of the short film format: it kicks off, builds and ends the story with not a frame to waste. Dhruv Sehgal, who wrote some of the best episodes of Little Things, brings his Linklater-ish ‘walk and talk through the night’ style of warm conversations, that can seem silly but do more to endear you to his characters than any heavy proclamations of love or justice might. At one point, Ritwik Bhowmick, who is instantly loveable as the soft, sweet Thane boy, casually mentions the perks of accepting bribes. It's hilarious and authentic all at once. Which can be said for the episode in its entirety.

Vishal Bharadwaj's Mumbai Dragon (again, the titles could have really used some more creativity) is about an Indo-Chinese smothering mother who'd do anything to keep her full grown adult son in the cradle. There is a lot to love in this episode when seen in bits and pieces. Yeo Yann Yann as Su Mei is the best thing to watch on the whole show, second, perhaps, only to Fatima Sana Shaikh's Lali in the episode that followed it. Naseeruddin Shah delivers his best Punjabi uncle performance with a fake paunch and the sets are bathed the usual deep blacks and reds of Vishal Bharadwaj school of aesthetic. It also offers a great pitch for getting Vishal to make a food documentary. However, overall, the conflicts can seem forced and the resolutions too sudden and lazily arrived at as well. But we can forgive anything for a plate of that eggplant stir-fry.

Who's up for some eggplant stir-fry?
Who's up for some eggplant stir-fry?

The first episode in the series, Raat Rani, is directed by Shonali Bose and stars Fatima as a Kashmiri woman who arrived in Mumbai with her husband a few years ago. It's a Queen-esque story about a woman left heartbroken and on her own by a man she loves. While Rani and Lali might follow the same arch, Fatima does have a tonne of fun with her Kashmiri accent, her cycle and the room she gets to go crazy with it. She is a delight to watch, even in an episode that may not have been the best of the lot.

The show closes with an earnest attempt at paying a tribute to Mumbai. Directed by Nupur Asthana, Cutting Chai, is about a writer struggling to write, daydreaming about an ex and still finding a way to stick with her husband. Chitrangada Singh and Arshad Warsi do what they are supposed to but this Cutting Chai is lukewarm at best. The homage to Mumbai reads like a quote from any Instagram travel page and not really lived or experienced. Not the best end to what had been a rather well populated series.

However, I can recommend shaving off the beginning and the end for a crisper, more excellent viewing experience. Modern Love Mumbai has been a successful experiment by all means. These are well-written, well-adapted, well-performed episodes full of warmth and of course, love.

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    Soumya Srivastava is Entertainment Editor at Hindustan Times. She writes about movies and TV because what else is there to life anyway.

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