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‘Modern Love: Mumbai’ review: A slam-dunk of an anthology if ever there was one

With compelling performances that accompany these poetic yet truthful representations of modern-day love, the shorts arrive like a breath of fresh air and leave us with a guileless smile

With compelling performances that accompany these poetic yet truthful representations of modern-day love, the shorts arrive like a breath of fresh air and leave us with a guileless smile

After a long wait, we have a string of six shorts on a streaming platform, where all the segments shine with almost equal intensity. Inspired by stories that appeared in a New York Times column, the heartfelt series uses the open-minded Mumbai as the backdrop but the tales of love are not bound by the geography of the metropolis. The series is like a whiff of fresh air that crosses over and envelops you, unannounced. It caresses the skin, touches the heart, and leaves us with a guileless smile.

More importantly, unlike bitter experiences in the past, here a sense of artificiality doesn’t test you after a point. Nor do the contributing filmmakers underline the message with a bleeding pen.

It is not that the anthology express something that has not been said before. But by tweaking the same ingredients and garnishing them with riveting performances and relatable dialogues, the chefs, some of whom are masters, have served a flavourful dish that soothes the senses and leaves a sweet aftertaste.

In Alankrita Shrivastava’s  My Beautiful Wrinkles, Dilbar (Sarika) is grappling with guilt when a young man starts to stride into her heart, breaking her carefully-crafted defence. It is an interesting conversation between a seemingly-confident older woman and a boy unsure of how to sell himself to the world. We could feel the flame that is lit between them, get anxious when it threatens to become ablaze, but eventually feel good when it extinguishes the silent inferno that is raging inside Dilbar.

Alankrita loves to create strong female characters. At times, her characters threaten to become activists with placards, but here she puts her point across without making a show of it. The graceful Sarika effortlessly flows into the character of a modern-day grandmother who speaks the language of today, but perhaps struggles with emotions and values that have crossed the expiry date.

In one of the most poetic yet truthful representations of homo-erotic love, Hansal Mehta crafts the beautiful  Baai that explores the challenges of coming out in a seemingly-modern society that often keeps its real views on same-sex love in the closet.

Hailing from a traditional household, Manzu (Prateek Gandhi) is struggling to explain his sexuality to his family. His doting grandmother (Tanuja) doesn’t know about his preferences. Should he tell him? Like good food, are there no recipes to relationships as long as they are cooked in love? Mehta has carefully woven communal flare-ups, familiar concerns, and the anguish of not being understood into the narrative. However, the best part is the rhythm that he has achieved in the relationship between the singer Manzu and the chef (Ranveer Brar). Their passionate bonding over music and food is truly infectious.

Similarly, Vishal Bhardwaj’s atmospheric  Mumbai Dragon reflects the insecurity of a mother when a girl walks into her son’s life in an endearing fashion. Set in the little-known Indian-Chinese corner of Mumbai, it follows the lives of Sui (Yeo Mann Mann), keen to save her son Ming (Meyiang Chang) from the influence of his Gujarati girlfriend (Wamiqa Gabbi). It is a universal tale of immigrants concerned about saving their roots, but served with the Cantonese flavour, Vishal’s treatment keeps us on the tenterhooks. Is there a dark turn ahead? His musical interventions give us a lyrical insight into modern-day love where  hijra (separation) and e-mail are part of the same song.

Yeo puts in a compelling performance, while Wamiqa and Chang effortlessly fit into their parts. Naseeruddin Shah chips in as Cantonese-speaking Saradarji, adding zing to this dim sum of a short.

When it is about finding freshness in the minutiae of everyday existence, call Dhruv Sehgal.  In Love Thane, he quietly juxtaposes the digital and analogue modes to arrive at meaningful relationships. It starts in rather inert fashion, but then Masaba Gupta takes over with her natural flair.

As an architect, Saiba is keen on keeping the natural greenery relevant, but when it comes to love, the 30-something is fixated on a plastic pragmatic approach, until she meets Parth (Ritwick Bhowmik), a government official. While Saiba carries the world in her palm, Parth is happy to be cocooned in his suburbia. The gentle skirmishes between their approaches to life and love make it an interesting watch leading to a satisfying climax. There are moments where the Dhruv of  Little Things keeps peeping through his characters, but the segment gets over before it becomes a burden.

Director Shonali Bose also lights up the mood with  Raat Rani, the most stirring of the lot. She follows a Kashmiri housemaid Lali (Fatima Sana Sheikh), a free bird, caged by circumstances and centuries of patriarchy. She has married a boy of her choice, who happens to belong to a lower caste. But when Lutfi (Bhupendra Jadawat) leaves her because he is not getting fun out of the relationship anymore, Lali has no clue what to do. She begs, shouts, and takes her anger out on a rickety bicycle. It is the two-wheeler that eventually becomes her vehicle to tide over the shackles in the busy metropolis. Lutfi is not a bad soul; he simply doesn’t have the tools to understand the spirited Lali.

More than the storyline, it is Fatima’s performance that makes this segment fly. Under Shonali’s watch, she is both flower and fire at the same time. Her diction, body language, and facial expression come together so well that it is hard not to root for Lali.

However, Nupur Ashtana’s  Cutting Chai, the last segment, fails to match the standard set by the other five. It is about an ambitious writer who loses some of her mojo after marriage and children, and how she rediscovers her drive on a day spent at the landmark CST station. It is hard to take your eyes off Chitrangada Singh, who has been entrusted with a fabulous part after a long time. Arshad Warsi is not bad either, but Asthana doesn’t have the material to keep us invested. There is a dialogue where Arshad suggests that what’s inside is more important (than the cover). Ironically, Asthana didn’t listen to his advice as much as the other five did.

Modern Love: Mumbai is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

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