Web Review: Modern Love Mumbai is tepid, largely pseudo look at love

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Yeo Yann Yann and Wamiqa Gabbi in Mumbai Dragon. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

This six-film anthology (each ‘short’ is about 40 minutes long) is helmed by five different filmmakers who have a mid-stream sensibility and a debutant (Dhruv Sehgal) who also goes on the same track. The streaming platform claims that each of these stories has been “inspired by stories that appeared in a New York Times column” and we wonder how stories such as these could have been taken from NY.

Between the five makers here, we have had some decent outputs, like Hansal Mehta’s Chhal, Citylights and Aligarh, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Makdee (no, I have not forgotten his hyped Maqbool, Omkara, Kaminey and Haider!), Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw and The Sky Is Pink and Nupur Asthana’s Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and Season 2 of the series Four More Shots Please!. But except for the last web series, we can see that none connected with the people, through many got “critical acclaim” and even some awards.

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In the best tradition of such filmmakers, therefore, we see placid (not in the good sense of the word, of course!) narratives that remain tepidly “true to life” that suddenly alternate with some frenetic moments and pace. In I Love Thane, the script goes the abstract way, where we have to figure out what the director and his writing team really want to say about architect Saiba (Masaba Gupta) and the government man (Ritwik Bhowmik) in whom she develops an interest when they meet for a professional reason. It is opposites attract presented in pseudo fashion!

In the last film, Cutting Chai, Nupur Asthana goes the whole technical gimmickry hog to send a rather lukewarm message on gender equality and its acceptance. A husband (Arshad Warsi) really does not value his author-wife (Chitrangda Singh) until one event in their life involving a suburban train journey changes him. Thankfully, the story is rescued by a nice performance by Chitrangda and an assured turn by Arshad, and rounded off with a nice climactic song composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

Pointless in its climax is Alankrita Shrivastava’s My Beautiful Wrinkles, a good idea squandered yet again (after her Lipstick Under My Burka) by a sitting-on-the-fence end. It reiterates how Alankrita specializes in raising pertinent issues and then losing her nerve by showing a oh-so-conventionally-conventional end that does not show any progressive positivity. Here it is a middle-age lady, played by Sarika, battling guilt and complexes when faced with a young man’s ardor. Danesh Rezvi is the cute young man besotted by her.

Baai, as with all such pseudo stories and anthologies, brings in that compulsory ingredient of acceptance of—after resistance to—homosexuality. With Hansal Aligarh Mehta at the helm, we know he will treat it “sensitively” but in the end, all we learn from yet another gay saga is that perhaps our grandparents were more accepting and progressive than our parents’ generation. Tanuja here is Baai, the ailing grandma who must be told that her grandson (Pratik Gandhi) wants to marry, not a girl, but his chef boyfriend (Ranveer Brar). Will she die as feared when she hears the news?

The opening story, Raat Rani, is tantalizing, and at least suggests a definite, true optimism as the Kashmiri lass (Fatima Sana Shaikh) breaks out of the shackles of the callous man she loves (Bhupendra Jadawat). Director Shonali creates possibly the most fascinating character in this entire anthology with his hyper, emotionally mercurial, over-the-top girl lost in Mumbai, who has left her family and life in Kashmir to be with a man who couldn’t care less for her.

The most amusing tale of the lot, albeit with a dark tenor in narration, is Mumbai Dragon, in which a Chinese mother (Yeo Yann Yann) gets terribly insecure when her son (Meiyang Chang) falls in love with a Gujarati girl (Wamiqa Gabbi) who is a strict vegetarian and does not eat garlic. And non-vegetarian dishes and oodles of garlic are what she thinks her son may not be able to live without!

Director Vishal Bhardwaj brings in the same genre of humor we last saw in his masterful debut in Makdee 20 years ago, before he went off track and won his two-bits of acclaim for supposedly “hit” films (Maqbool, Omkara, Kaminey, Haider). This went on until his open confession at Mumbai’s MAMI film festival that none of his movies had made money. I mention this as a diversion only because of the Mumbai connection in the anthology title and my immense surprise that it is Vishal who has made the only truly watchable short here.

The omnipresent feature—great performances in such bland films—is present here as well. While Fatima leads the list for me, Pratik Gandhi is expertly nuanced, as are Yeo Yann Yann, Wamiqa Gabbi, Sarika and Danesh Rezvi. Masaba Gupta and Arshad Warsi also impress, as does Bhupendra Jadawat as Lutfi in Raat Rani.

A take-it-or-leave-it fare, this one—asked to watch again, I will go only for Mumbai Dragon and maybe Raat Rani.

Rating: **1/2

Amazon Prime Video presents Pritish Nandy Communications’ Modern Love Mumbai  Produced by: Pritish Nandy Directed by: Various Written by: Various Music: Various Starring: Fatima Sana Shaikh & Bhupendra Jadawat (Raat Rani / Director: Shonali Bose), Tanuja, Pratik Gandhi, Ranveer Brar, Rushad Rana, Kashmira Irani & Talat Aziz (Baai / Hansal Mehta), Meiyang Chang, Wamiqa Gabbi, Yeo Yann Yann, Naseeruddin Shah (Mumbai Dragon / Vishal Bhardwaj),Sarika & Danish Rezvi (My Beautiful Wrinkles / Alankrita Shrivastava), Masaba Gupta & Ritwik Bhowmik (I Love Thane / Dhruv Sehgal), Arshad Warsi & Chitrangda Singh (Cutting Chai / Nupur Asthana)

 

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