Six love stories. Six odes to Mumbai. Modern Love, the wildly popular NYT column that was filmed as a series set in New York, now has a Mumbai version, the city that is in many ways the soul sister of NYC—in its ability to absorb the millions that keep pouring in, adding to those already there, straining at the boom. Where do you go, except the ocean, for a little air, some flirting, a much-needed respite from the daily struggle? And to stories that offer hope.
Not for nothing, as the cliché goes, Mumbai is the most cosmopolitan of all Indian cities. Even as parochialism creeps in, it extends its generous arms to migrants from all over the country who submit to its chaotic embrace, because it gives them a chance to be something they are not, perhaps to dream, and a way to fulfill them.
A shy, just-off-boat guy goes for a morning run and fantasizes about an older woman (Sarika) during the day, even as he piles up rejection letters after rejection letters in search of that elusive job. Newsflash, so does she. Manzu (Pratik Gandhi) is in the closet to ward off marriage proposals from his concerned people: Will his ailing grandmother (Tanuja) set him free to enjoy his one true love? The unexpected connection between a content-to-be-in-Thane boy and a searching-for-the-right-town girl (Masaba Gupta) plays out in swirls of conversations (Richard Linklater much?) about caring for the environment and tasty missal: is it a curiosity, or will they be able to stick to it? A possessive mother (Yeo Yann Yann) of Chinese descent sticks to her traditions and her son (Meiyang Chang) while fending off a ‘vegetarian daayan’ (Wamiqa Gabbi). An articulate young woman from Cashmere (Fatima Sana Shaikh) learns the joy of being free as she navigates the insurmountable distance between Mumbai’s cavernous jhuggis and chic high-rises. And a many married couple (Arshad Warsi and Chitrangda Singh), he a permanent ‘late-late’, she a grumbling mother buried under the demands of ‘pati’ and ‘bachcha’, tries to find her writer’s mojo – the delightful Warsi giving off shades of an Amol Palekar character in a Basu Bhattacharya set-in-Bombay movie, that director who was making modern romantic classics at the time in a city that used to be.
I have a friend who laughs at me every time I tell her that Mumbai is the one and only ‘mahanagar’ (metropolis) that India has. In my head, I tell her to be quiet and let me enjoy the electric, salt-laden air of this city that never sleeps. Do these stories fit the city in which they are set? Mumbai is hard to follow. Did I fall into the same awe-inspiring affection while watching this series? Maybe not quite, no. Because in a few segments the tropics have not been refreshed enough, despite the attempt to give the plots new settings. And some stretch the central conceit a little too long, tagged by cozy philosophical endnotes with bumper stickers.
Yet every story has something unique to Mumbai: claiming the Sea Link in a modest vehicle that’s not allowed on it, a ride around town on a local train (if you haven’t done one, you’ve lived it, even if you crushed to the other side emerges), the inner workings of a Bollywood music studio, bellicose film directors accosted by hopeful singers displaying their wares in urinals (yes, a real urban legend). And a few 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 wants, despite a hiccup here and there. It gives us some characters that we come to like along the way: Fatima Sana Shaikh starts off ultra-enthusiastic and is so extravagant you’ll want to tell her to calm down, but then she settles in with her lively, physical performance. The real-life chef Ranveer Brar, who has long turned each of his YouTube cooking episodes into an act, is not yet an actor, but makes up for it by his on-screen presence, even though the most excellent Pratik Gandhi will have to. . learn how to really enjoy a meaty ‘nihari’ before we believe he can. Then there’s the artists we’re programmed to like: it’s great to see actors like Tanuja and Sarika getting something real to do.
And when you see that couple finally getting a moment to themselves on Marine Drive and creating their own privacy in most of the public areas, you will fall in love with Mumbai all over again.
Modern Love Mumbai Cast: Sarika, Tanuja, Pratok Gandhi, Masaba Gupta, Fatima Sana, Shaikh, Meiyang Chang, Arshad Warsi, Wamiqa Gabbi, Chitrangda Singh
Modern Love Mumbai Director: Six segments, directed by Alankrita Srivastava, Dhruv Sehgal, Shonali Bose, Hansal Mehta, Vishal Bhardwaj, Nupur Ashthana