Six love stories. Six Odes to Mumbai. Modern Love, the wildly popular NYT column shot as a series in New York, now has one Mumbai version, the city that is in many ways NYC’s soul sister – in its ability to absorb the millions that keep pouring in and add to those already there and struggling. Where do you go other than the sea for some air, some dawdling, a much-needed break from the daily hassle? And stories that give hope.
Not for nothing, according to the cliché, is Mumbai the most cosmopolitan of all Indian cities. Even when narrow-mindedness creeps in, it extends its generous arms to migrants from across the country who submit to its chaotic embrace because it gives them a chance to be something they are not, maybe to dream, and a way to fulfill them.
A shy newbie goes for a morning jog and fantasizes about an older woman (Sarika) during the day while piling on rejection letters in search of that elusive job. Newsflash, she does too. Manzu (Pratik Gandhi) is in the closet, fending off marriage proposals from his worried relatives: will his ailing grandma (Tanuja) free him so he can indulge his one true love? The unexpected connection between a contented Thane boy and a town girl on the hunt (Masaba Gupta) plays out in a flurry of conversations (Richard Linklater much?) about environmental concerns and taste Missal: Is It an oddity or will they be able to stick to it? A possessive Chinese mother (Yeo Yann Yann) clings to her traditions and her son (Meiyang Chang) while fighting off a “vegetarian Daayan” (Wamiqa Gabbi). A talkative Kashmiri young woman (Fatima Sana Shaikh) learns the joys of freedom while navigating the impassable distance between Mumbai’s ramshackle jhuggis and chic skyscrapers. And a much married couple (Arshad Warsi and Chitrangda Singh), he a constant ‘latecomer’, she a grumbling mother buried under the demands of ‘pati’ and ‘bachcha’, trying to find her writing mojo – the lovely Warsi, the shades of a Amol Palekar stars as character in Bombay film directed by Basu Bhattacharya, the director who created modern romantic classics in a city that once existed.
I have a friend who laughs at me every time I tell her that Mumbai is the only true “Mahanagar” (metropolis) of India. In my head, I’m telling her to shut up and let me immerse myself in the electric, salty air of this city that never sleeps. Do these stories fit the city they are set in? Mumbai is difficult to follow. Have I fallen into the same awe-inspiring affection while watching this series? Maybe not quite, no. Because in some sections the tropes are not sufficiently refreshed despite the attempt to give the plots new locations. And some stretch the central conceit a bit too long, marked by leisurely philosophical final notes.
Still, each story has something unique to Mumbai — claiming the Sea Link in a humble vehicle that’s not allowed on it, a jaunt around the city on a commuter train (if you haven’t done this, you haven’t) lived , even if you turn up shattered on the other side), the inner workings of a Bollywood music studio, cantankerous film directors being accosted by hopeful singers smashing their wares into urinals (yes, a true urban legend). And some have elements we may not have encountered before: a Sardar (Naseeruddin Shah) who understands Chinese (Cantonese?) and universal human emotions, for example.
And overall, “Modern Love Mumbai”, produced by Pritish Nandy Communications, does what it says on the tin, despite a few niggles here and there. It gives us a few characters that we like over time: Fatima Sana Shaikh starts out extremely excited and is so extravagant that you long to tell her to calm down, but then she calms down with her feisty, physical Perfomance. Real-life chef Ranveer Brar, who has long since turned every one of his YouTube cooking episodes into an act, isn’t an actor, at least not yet, but he makes up for that with his screen presence, even if the very best Pratik Gandhi has to learn how to really enjoys a meaty ‘nihari’ before we believe he can. Then there are the performers we’re programmed to please: it’s wonderful to see actors like Tanuja and Sarika get something right to do.
And when you see this couple on Marine Drive finally have a moment to themselves and create their own privacy in the most public of places, you’ll fall in love with Mumbai all over again.
Cast of Modern Love Mumbai: Sarika, Tanuja, Pratok Gandhi, Masaba Gupta, Fatima Sana, Shaikh, Meiyang Chang, Arshad Warsi, Wamiqa Gabbi, Chitrangda Singh
Director of Modern Love Mumbai: Six segments directed by Alankrita Srivastava, Dhruv Sehgal, Shonali Bose, Hansal Mehta, Vishal Bhardwaj, Nupur Ashthana