Screen Time: Love and Longing in Maximum City
Modern Love Mumbai (Hindi)
Mumbai meri jaan! For a native like me who hasn’t been back to the city for a visit since the pandemic hit, Modern Love Mumbai on Amazon Prime was a lovefest. The sweeping Arabian Sea dotted with little boats, the Bandra-Worli sea link awash in night lights, the bustling CST station (Victoria Terminus for those who grew up in the ’80s), and quaint suburban apartments alongside run-down jhuggis—there’s just simply so much to love. “The idea of Mumbai—it brings together people from everywhere, all classes and creeds, the lines blur,” says writer Nilesh Maniyar, who wrote the first story in the series, Raat Rani. “At the same time, the lines remain. So the city is a contradiction in itself. And yet, it is the same city where you know you can just walk down the street and talk to a stranger.”
The Mumbai chapter of the widely loved U.S. original anthology series, helmed by John Carney, explores six diverse yet universal stories of different facets of love. Inspired by the famous Modern Love column in The New York Times, Modern Love Mumbai includes six of the most prolific minds of Hindi cinema: Vishal Bhardwaj, Hansal Mehta, Shonali Bose, Dhruv Sehgal, Alankrita Shrivastava, and Nupur Asthana.
Mumbai looms large and bright, but the star of this anthology are the people and their stories of connection, longing, and relationships—with others and with themselves. Raat Rani kicks off the series with a spirited performance by Fatima Sana Shaikh (Dangal). She plays Lalzari, who works as a cook and has moved from Kashmir to Mumbai with her husband Lutfi. All she wants is to share mawa ice-cream with her man, but he dumps her. Shonali Bose (The Sky Is Pink, Netflix) directs with tenderness while Shaikh plays her character with vulnerability and grit. Bose, who also directed the much-loved Amu and Margarita with a Straw, mentions that this is her most feminist film yet and gives the credit to writer Maniyar, her collaborator in the past.
“He came up with the title. Raat rani or jasmine blooms in the darkness of the night without any sunlight,” said Bose, speaking via Zoom. “It thrives in the toughest of conditions, it’s such a sturdy, courageous flower which serves as a metaphor for Lalzari. When she's facing the toughest conditions of life, she is able to turn inward, find her own self, be empowered and be independent.”
The series is packed with standout performances by both seasoned actors and new talent. Veteran actress Tanuja plays a doting grandmother in Hansal Mehta’s Baai. Watch her wistful expression as she tells her grandson (Pratik Gandhi), “Mera ticket gaya hai” (she’s ailing and on her deathbed). That cheeky twinkle in her eyes is still intact. Meanwhile, Gandhi plays Manzu, in love with a chef, played by—surprise—celebrity chef Ranveer Brar. In Alankrita Srivastava’s My Beautiful Wrinkles, the luminous Sarika plays Dilbar, a 60-year-old woman who is the object of a young man’s desire. Then there are some moments that will make your toes curl. In Dhruv Sehgal’s (Little Things) I Love Thane, Masaba Gupta (Masaba, Masaba), the city girl, falls for the sweet and seedha Thanekar, played by Ritwik Bhowmik (Bandish Bandits). Their chemistry is sweet and will take you back to your first love in college. “Can I kiss you?” she says, but he hesitates because they are in a public place. “Jaldi se?” she quips. Cutting Chai by Nupur Asthana has an adorable Arshad Warsi, who plays a habitually late husband (Danny) with easy humor.
[Top] A still from My Beautiful Wrinkles.
My favorite of the six is Mumbai Dragon, directed by master storyteller Vishal Bhardwaj. Set in the Indian Chinese community, this one’s about Sui (played brilliantly by the Emmynominated Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann), who dotes on her son (Meiyang Chang) but now has to compete for his attention with his girlfriend, Megha, played by Wamiqa Gabbi (Grahan). She fears she will lose her son to the garlic-averse Megha, a Jain, whom she calls a “vegetarian witch.” Naseeruddin Shah plays a Sikh gentleman who Sui calls “Paaji” and shares a drink with her. It helps that he can banter with her in Cantonese.
All these people and their stories collectively make Mumbai come alive. Watch it and smile.
ALSO WATCH (Amazon Prime):
In this gritty feature directed by Anshai Lal, a docile middle-class mother Sheel (Sakshi Tanwar) witnesses the hit-and-run of her daughter, Supriya (Wamiqa Gabbi), and sets off to uncover the truth behind her grisly murder, which happens to be part of an elaborate crime. Watch it for the absolutely riveting performance by Tanwar, whose depiction of the avenging mother is a far cry from her adarsh bahu (ideal wife) role in Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki.
If you relish courtroom dramas, you will love the adventures of Kashaf Quaze (Shriya Pilgaonkar), Deepak Rana (Varun Mitra), and Vandana Kathpalia (Sugandha Garg)—three law school friends who battle it out in the court of law. While Deepak is part of a high-profile law firm, Kashaf and Vandana fight for the underprivileged. Each episode in the series revolves around cases such as rape, gaming addiction, water shortage. There are strong female leads, a female showrunner (Shefali Bhushan), and engaging storylines—and it tackles timely issues like the effect of gaming on youngsters, land and water shortage, medical malpractice, cheating, and sexual assault.
Baisakhi Roy is a culture writer and journalist based in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Chatelaine, Broadview and CBC. Formerly a reporter with The Indian Express in India, Roy is an avid Bollywood fan and co-hosts the Hindi language podcast KhabardaarPodcast.com. Email: email@example.com
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