By Sneha Jaiswal (Twitter | Instagram)

The always buzzing streets of Mumbai have been witness to millions of love stories and maybe even more heartbreak. So could there be a better canvass for an Indian take on the famous New York Based anthology ‘Modern Love’? Six different directors bring to us the 2022 Amazon Prime series ‘Modern Love: Mumbai’, starring a lot of familiar faces. However, not very unfamiliar tales.

Raat Raani – Directed by Shonali Bose, ‘Raat Raani’ follows the tale of Laali – a Kashmiri living in Mumbai, who wakes up one day to find her husband Lufti missing, leaving behind only a rusty cycle and a crumbling house. For those expecting a romantic start, ‘Raat Raani’ might come as a disappointment, since it delves into heartbreak and the importance of ‘self love’. Fatima Sana Sheikh is quite endearing as Laali, the lively protagonist who likes to have the same flavor of ice-cream every day, but her husband gets tired of marital monotony.

It’s the landscape of Mumbai that’s been captured with a lot of love, even as Laali often dreams of the home she left behind in Kashmir. Slightly slow in its pace, the film celebrates the spirit of working class women, of those who carry on despite devastating losses in their personal lives, but do stop to celebrate every little victory that comes their way.

Baai – Directed by Hansal Mehta, Baai is a coming-out-story of a young gay man. Pratik Gandhi plays Manzu, who is out to everyone in the family, except to his grandmother (baai). When he falls in love with a chef (Ranvir Brar), he is emotionally torn about whether he should disclose the truth to the ailing matriarch. For some reason, this film felt stuck in some time warp, and while it’s unfair to make comparisons, I couldn’t help recall how great Rajkummar Rao and Gulshan Devaiah were in the film ‘Badhaai Do’ as middle-aged gay men…. because there is zero chemistry between the male leads in this short. The pace is painstakingly slow and there’s an unnecessary flashback/sub-plot about Manzu’s baai dealing with a mob during a riot like situation. Ranvir Brar plays pretty much himself, a chef, who delights in talking and serving food. Overall it’s a mundane tale and the makers could have gone for something either more bold or more fun.

Mumbai Dragon – This was easily the BEST of the lot! Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, the short focuses on familial love. Sui (Yann Yann Yeo) is a Indian-Chinese living in Mumbai, who is fiercely protective about her only son Ming (Meiyang Chan), an aspiring singer who abandoned dental studies to pursue music. Things get chaotic when Sui finds out Ming probably has a Gujarati girlfriend and has no interest in marrying someone within their community. Despite a typical plot, Yann Yann Yeo breathes fire into ‘Mumbai Dragon’ with her performance, holding her own against veteran actor Naseerudin Shah, who plays her friend. And Meiyang Chan is absolutely convincing as a young man caught between his mother’s love and his own aspirations. Food plays a significant role in this story and will make you want to order your own plate of dimsums from Sui’s kitchen. Bhardwaj and team get all the ingredients just right for this flick. Makes you wonder why we don’t see more of the talented Meiyang Chan in Bollywood.

My Beautiful Wrinkles – This one stars veteran actor Sarika as Dilbar Sodhi, a grandmother carrying emotional baggage, who coaches a young man (Danesh Razvi) for interviews in her free-time. Dilbar is left shocked and embarrassed when he expresses a more than platonic interest in her. At that point, it’s hard not to suffer second-hand embarrassment as a viewer too, and wonder with worry where the makers are going to take the plot. However, we get a level-headed climax, even though Dilbar is forced to process too many things in too short a period. This short captures the theme of ‘modern love’ quite well, where the protagonists are honest about their feelings, discomfort, desires and fears. There are no dramatic flourishes or overtly sentimental preaching, just a calm closure to things.

I Love Thane – I’ll make this quicker than the others, because it was super slow, pretentious and felt preachy, even though it doesn’t really lecture viewers on anything. Masaba Gupta plays a landscape designer in her late 30s, who is pretty active on the online-dating scene, but finds it pretty hard to land a decent guy her age. Interestingly, she meets an audit officer while on a project, and even though he isn’t the kind of guy she would’ve swapped right on an app, sparks fly between the two. This would’ve been a lot more entertaining as a 15 minute film than the draggy stuff we get.

Cutting Chai – It’s ironic that this short is both directed by (Nupur Asthana) and written by (Devika Bhagat) women, because it seems to applaud men for just showing up. Chitrangda Singh plays Latika, an aspiring writer in her 40s, who claims to have had no time to finish her first novel, thanks to two kids and a not very supportive husband, or at least that’s her excuse. So she gets upset when her husband Daniel (Arshad Warsi) comments “if you wanted to write a book, you’d have written one by now”. The same evening, as she waits for her husband to go to a movie together, she reviews her life and romantic partners.

“Cutting Chai” is a good example in how women are gaslit into believing that just having a faithful male partner is more than enough. “At least he doesn’t beat you”/”At least he is not cheating”/”At least he comes back at the end of the night”… the bar for men in a relationship is set pretty low. Have a great actor like Arshad Warsi, who perfectly portrays the jovial Daniel, who is never on time for anything, you’d forgive his trespasses too. So “Cutting Chai” feels like a “feel-good” film on the surface, but is too superficial and maybe even problematic in its portrayal of marital life.

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