Writers: John Belanger, Devika Bhagat, Vishal Bhardwaj, Jyotsna Hariharan, Raghav Raj Kakker, Kashyap Kapoor, Nilesh Maniyar, Hansal Mehta, Nupur Pai, Ankur Pathak, Dhruv Sehgal and Alankrita Shrivastava
Directors: Shonali Bose, Hansal Mehta, Alankrita Shrivastava, Vishal Bhardwaj, Dhruv Sehgal and Nupur Asthana
There are all kinds of love, lovers and those who lose love in Amazon Prime’s new collaboration with the New York Times. Modern Love Mumbai, released this week, is a six-part anthology series adapted from the American newspaper column that looks at the many facets of contemporary relationships. From long married couples who bicker about neglected needs to age-defying romance, cross-cultural pairings and divorce, each 40-minute episode takes a very different perspective.
The series is linked together through a consistent cinematic and musical theme, prioritising soft, wistful pop songs that provide an easy listening soundtrack. The style across the episodes, all written and directed by different creatives, is perhaps a little sappy but they quickly establish chemistry between the couples along with an emotional investment in the lead characters and their quandaries that keeps you watching.
Occasionally an episode will depart from this simpler style to create different kinds of visual impact. In I Love Thane (episode three), director Dhruv Sehgal uses lots of lighting effects to bring strong colours into the story of landscape gardener Saiba (Masaba Gupta) and her dating disasters. Against a backdrop of trendy restaurants and art galleries Sehgal uses extended montage before moving the action outside when, tribulations aside, the lead finally meets the man she will ultimately connect with
Other stories look for different kinds of endings or explore unequal partnerships where a formal relationship is not the outcome such as My Beautiful Wrinkles (episode one) in which a young man falls for his tutor who is over 60. Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, while there is some mileage in the will they / won’t they driver, this story predominantly focuses on Dilbar’s feelings of unworthiness in her widowhood and a notion of reawakening that results in a better understanding of herself.
One of the lighter episodes is a largely comic affair as the Mumbai Dragon of the title is revealed as a strict mother who reacts badly to the seriousness of her son’s relationship with a woman from a different racial group. Set in the Chinese community in Mumbai, Sui (Yeo Yann Yann) tries to push her son towards another girl, using her cooking skills to lure him away from Megha. Director Vishal Bhardwaj finds lots of humour in the scenario, telling the story largely from Sui’s point of view without agreeing with her attitudes.
The final three episodes are considerably more sentimental; Episode two, Baai, has Manzu concealing his sexuality from his family and particularly his beloved but unwell grandmother who he thinks will reject him. When he eventually finds a committed relationship, the outcomes are rather predictable. The least effective is Shonali Bose’s episode Raat Ranni in which wife Lali is dumped by her husband after ten years of marriage. Sadly, with most of the episode dedicated to her crying and pleading, it’s hard to sympathise or invest in her new-found liberation later on.
Modern Love Mumbai concludes with a final episode about marital neglect becoming harmony while the creators return to each of the characters in the last few minutes. Its all very innocent and often shy in its presentation of love – there is certainly no lust and only the faintest suggestion of sex – but as a collective of very different perspectives on love and its consequences it establishes an emotional connection.
Modern Love Mumbai is available from Amazon Prime on the 13 May.