How will you capture the city in a caption?” Asks a character in Modern Love: Mumbai’s last episode. Indeed, how can one capture ‘love’ in Mumbai in six episodes? Six directors—Alankrita Shrivastava, Hansal Mehta, Dhruv Sehgal, Vishal Bhardwaj, Shonali Bose, and Nupur Asthana—make an effort, and bring out the many sides to love, longing and loss in the city of dreams. The series, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video is adapted from The New York Times bestselling column and the Amazon series Modern Love.
There are many ‘Mumbais’ after all, depending on what you can afford—Malad, Thane, Vashi, Bandra and Andheri. But there are places rooted in the landscape that connect the ‘maximum city’—the Mumbai local and Sea Link. Matters of the heart, after all, have never been thwarted by distance.
The six episodes—My Beautiful Wrinkles, Baai, I Love Thane, Raat Rani, Mumbai Dragon and Cutting Chai show that there are divides along caste, class, age, language, ethnicity, gender, and ‘what is allowed’. But love ultimately defies everything, even in a country like ours, where the cost of transgression is usually high.
Self-love has no age, no class
When we think of ‘pyaar, ishq and mohabbat’, self-love is usually not what we first think about. But two episodes, My Beautiful Wrinkles, directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and Raat Rani by Shonali Bose turn the focus inwards, into the depths of ourselves that are waiting to be rediscovered. And the most important bit? Self-love is a continuous journey, and there is no one way of loving yourself, much like there is no one way of loving someone else.
Sarika delivers a powerful performance as Dilbar Sondhi in My Beautiful Wrinkles as the woman who ups and leaves her husband when she is 45 because she does not feel appreciated, while Lali is left by her husband because ‘mazaa nahi aya’. Both women learn to live alone and create a life that is best for them.
The wins may be small, and there are moments of grief and longing, but eventually one learns to choose oneself, over and over again.
Vocabulary of love
Online dating has truly brought in a lot of words that probably did not exist in our everyday lives until a few years ago. ‘Ghosting’ to ‘love bombing’, online dating makes people more lonely, even if the premise is supposed to be ‘love is a swipe away’. But sometimes, love is hundreds of kilometres away, and one has to get out of their comfort zone, literally and metaphorically, to find it, as I Love Thane shows.
Love is also about choosing the ‘wrong’ person because they might not quite fit into the expectations our families have for us. In both Mumbai Dragon and Baai, forbidden love and the dilemma of choosing oneself over family or heritage are explored with nuance.
Language can be a barrier but can also be a way of learning to expand one’s horizons. Even better, food can become the language of love. Whatever vocabulary one decides on, it just has to be understood by the ‘chosen’ one, even if no one else does.
Nupur Asthana’s Cutting Chai has Arshad Warsi and Chitrangada Singh as the couple that is struggling to maintain love. It misses the cut when compared to the other five stories. As a standalone, it is sweet, but otherwise lacks a gut punch or Cupid’s arrow.
Absence of Covid’s impact on dating
What the show lacks is the absolute absence of the pandemic and its impact, especially in the story on online dating. With Maharashtra being the state that had the maximum number of cases as well as restrictions imposed for the longest time, it is strange that none of the stories delves into it. Dating did effectively move online during the pandemic, and a lot could have been explored in that aspect. The second season of the United States version of Modern Love and the UK one, deal with the pandemic. What Modern Love: Mumbai lacks is a reference to India’s Covid crisis. While creative liberty is a given, what makes Modern Love an enduring success, both as a column and a series, is its contemporary nature, and its adherence to the now.
In the world of online dating, in particular, Covid played a big role. From virtual dates to sexting, the pandemic ultimately tested the limits and definition of love for an entire generation, and a take on ‘modern’ love not choosing to comment on it that is too big a miss.
Even the idea of racism is left in Mumbai Dragons, when India reported multiple instances of people being targeted for their Mongoloid features. With an impressive lineup of directors and writers, this feels like too big a slip on the part of creators.
All said and done, Modern Love: Mumbai will renew hope, in both the city and love. It is a well-made desi version and deserves to be viewed as such. Here’s hoping the Chennai and Hyderabad instalments too create their own brands.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)