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 NYC’s soulmate in many ways – in its ability to absorb the millions of people who keep pouring in, adding to those who are already there, by dint of effort. Where do you go, apart from the seafront, for a little air, a little banter, a well-deserved break from the daily conflicts? And stories of hope.
It is not for nothing, as the cliché goes, that Mumbai is the most cosmopolitan of all Indian cities. Even with the parochialism taking hold, he reaches out his munificent arms to migrants across the country who submit to his chaotic embrace, for it gives them a chance to be what they are not, perhaps being to dream, and a way to achieve them.
A shy guy fresh off the boat goes for a morning run and fantasizes about an older woman (Sarika) during the day, even as he racks up one rejection letter after another in search of that elusive job. Flash news, too. Manzu (Pratik Gandhi) is in the closet, fending off marriage proposals from his worried parents: will his ailing grandmother (Tanuja) set him free to revel in his one true love? The unexpected bond between a boy happy to be in Thane and a city girl looking for someone (Masaba Gupta) unfolds in whirlwinds of conversation (Richard Linklater a lot?) 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 clings to her traditions and her son (Meiyang Chang) while conjuring up a “vegetarian daayan” (Wamiqa Gabbi). A talkative young Kashmiri woman (Fatima Sana Shaikh) learns the joys of freedom by traversing the insurmountable distance between Mumbai’s holey jhuggis and whimsical skyscrapers. And one very married couple (Arshad Warsi and Chitrangda Singh), he a permanent ‘late’, she a grumpy mum buried under demands for ‘pati’ and ‘bachcha’, tries to find her writer’s mojo – the delightful Warsi giving off shades of a Amol Palekar character in a film by Basu Bhattacharya set in Bombay, this director who was creating modern romantic classics at the time in a city that once was.
I have a friend who laughs at me every time I tell her that Mumbai is India’s only real “mahanagar” (metropolis). In my head, I tell him to shut up and let me soak in the electric, salty air of this city that never sleeps. Do these stories correspond to the city in which they take place? Mumbai is a tough act to follow. Did I fall into the same wondering affection while watching this series? Maybe not all the way, no. Because in a few segments, the tropes aren’t refreshed enough, despite trying to give the plots new parameters. And some stretch the central conceit a little too long, tagged with cozy philosophical endnotes.
Yet each story has something unique to Mumbai – claiming the Sea Link in a humble vehicle that isn’t allowed there, crossing town on a local train (if you haven’t done one, you’ve got ‘ t lived, even if you come out, crushed, on the other side), the cogs of a Bollywood music studio, belligerent filmmakers accosted by hopeful singers shouting their wares at urinals (yes , a true 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, despite a few hiccups here and there, “Modern Love Mumbai,” produced by Pritish Nandy Communications, does what it wants. It gives us characters that we start to like as we go along: Fatima Sana Shaikh starts out ultra-excitable and is so extra you want to tell her to calm down, but then she settles into her lively physical performance. Real chef Ranveer Brar, who has long since turned every one of his YouTube cooking episodes into an act, isn’t an actor, not yet at least, but is catching up with his screen presence, even though the most excellent Pratik Gandhi will have to learn to really savor a meaty ‘nihari’ before he thinks he can. Then there are the performers we are programmed to love: it’s wonderful to see actors like Tanuja and Sarika having something real to do.
And when you see this couple finally have a moment to themselves at Marine Drive, creating their own intimacy in this most public space, you 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