Modern Love Mumbai (anthology)
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Directors: Alankrita Shrivastava, Hansal Mehta, Vishal Bhardwaj, Dhruv Sehgal, Shonali Bose, Nupur Asthana
Cast: Fatima Sana Shaikh, Pratik Gandhi, Sarika, Masaba Gupta, Ritwik Bhowmik, Wamiqa Gabbi, Arshad Warsi, Chitrangda Singh, and others.
At the risk of sounding too informal or even cheesy, Fatima Sana Shaikh’s performance in Modern Love Mumbai is one of the most ‘Chumma’ performances I’ve ever seen. She plays Lalzari in Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani film in the Modern Love Mumbai anthology. It is a story of self-discovery and self-love when someone you love leaves you. Fatima plays a house help. The disparity between her small room in a slum in Bandra and the high-rises in Worli is starkly visible. The Bandra-Worli Sea Link serves as a literal and metaphorical bridge for Lalzari’s transformation. Fatima speaks, behaves, dances, cries, struggles to ride a bicycle, and eventually breathes freely in this ‘big on metaphors & signs’ film. Raat Rani is a flower that blooms at night. Its fragrance can be smelt no matter what other trees surround her. The character of Lalzari and the performance of the actor playing it stands out precisely like that in this anthology.
Another absolute delight of a film in this anthology is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Mumbai Dragon. It’s about probably the most universal phenomenon in the world – a mother’s love and insecurity towards her child. Bhardwaj who is a master of worldbuilding weaves in the discrimination faced by the Chinese origin people living in India for ages. They have made India their home, but we still look at them as mere Chinese or Nepali. Such is true for the Indians hailing from the North-East states of the country. Yeo Yann Yann as the mother is absolute fire. Meiyang Chang as her son Ming and Wamiqa Gabbi as his Gujarati girlfriend Meghna do their sincerest best.
Dhruv Sehgal’s I Love Thane comes like a breath of fresh air. Masaba Gupta was a revelation as an actor in her debut Masaba Masaba. She turns in a confident performance as Saiba, a landscape designer (I hope I have got that right) who’s also navigating her love life by meeting guys she ‘matched’ on the dating apps. But on her assignments, she meets a man (Ritwik Bhowmik) who she would have never swiped right on a dating app. There’s an unlikely romance blossoming as easy and breezy as it could. OTT has saved such conversational films from dying.
Alankrita Shrivastava’s My Beautiful Wrinkles explores the complicated attraction between an old woman and a man of her granddaughter’s age. The flashbacks of Sid and Tara’s track from Dil Chahta Hai were inevitable. But this film is told more from the woman’s perspective. Sarika as Dilbar is grace personified. She is dealing with a traumatic past and its remains. In today’s times when any crying on screen is considered melodrama, Dilbar breaking down in the car is aching as well as liberating. The intimacy between the man and woman is dealt with dignity. There’s no judgment on either’s part. It is essentially a story about two lonely people in a city from different walks of life.
Cutting Chai by Nupur Asthana has its moments. The narrative tools used in the film could have taken the film to a higher level but the writing has nothing new to offer. Have seen a character like Latika (Chitrangda Singh), a writer who gave up on her dream of becoming an author previously. And as far as the conflict between a woman like that and her carefree/irresponsible husband is concerned, nothing seems to top the drama and skillful writing of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s fight scene on the same topic in the hotel in Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013). Arshad Warsi has his charm and there are a couple of nice moments between him and Chitrangda. But that’s that.
Also read: Thar Review: Impressive but tedious to watch
Hansal Mehta’s Baai is the weakest film in the anthology. Although titled Baai, which is played with poise by the veteran Tanuja, the film explores the homosexual relationship between Manzu (Pratik Gandhi) and Rajveer (Chef Ranveer Brar). There’s nothing new that we’re seeing here. A gay person struggles with his identity, there’s a supportive and braver partner, the family’s ridiculous suggestions, and their conditioning before the protagonist comes out. Something always looks missing. It lacks the nuances and brevity of Mehta’s feature Aligarh which had an impeccable performance by Manoj Bajpayee.
All the films in this anthology try to press the point that we must look beyond the race, skin color, gender, status, and age of a person. However cliched or hopeless romantic it may sound, love happens when you least expect it to happen. On this note and to conclude this review, I feel like quoting dialogue from Anurag Basu’s Life… In a Metro (2007), “Dil Ki Khidki Humesha Khuli Rakhni Chahiye ”.