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Modern Love works because of its powerful ensemble

  • Helmed by Nagesh Kukunoor, the show delivers plenty of screwball comedy and sentimentality, though not always with the desired level of conviction or consistency.

    Two months ago, we had the Mumbai edition of Modern Love that while working within the parameters of warm, feel-good stories around love and coming-of-age made a few unorthodox choices in its themes. Modern Love Hyderabad, on the other hand, seems relatively far more relaxed and limited in its aspirations - which turns out to be both its strength and undoing, depending on the segment we are seeing unfold.

    The good thing about Modern Love Hyderabad, written by Nagesh Kukunoor, Bahaish Kapoor, and Shashi Sudigala, is how not all of it necessarily conforms to our traditional ideas of ‘love stories,’ and attempts to explore other forms of relationships as well. The sad part is how very little of it seems integral to Hyderabad - the writers, besides keeping the lingo culturally rooted, make very little attempt to locate their narratives in the city that is known for its old-world charm. While three of the stories are overtly focused on navigating the complexities of modern-day relationships of the young and are more exuberant in their crafting, the remaining three are a little more generic and old-fashioned in nature.

    Interestingly, these younger stories work better when they are attempting to have a harmless laugh at their protagonists’ antics and conundrums. In ‘Fuzzy, Purple and Full of Thorns,’ Renu (Ritu Verma) finds herself fixating on a souvenir of her partner Uday’s (Aadi) ex, and makes some desperate attempts to deal with the obsession. It’s a story about how your insecurities sometimes can get the better of you, and delivers some good laughs, especially in a non-sequitur built around an unspoken battle of wits between Renu-Uday and their parents who seem to be equally obsessed about the one thing they want, no matter how polite their tone is. However, it also struggles with its tone as we find ourselves oscillating between laughing at Renu’s dilemma and not caring much for her troubles. This episode works in its limited capacity because of Ritu Verma who captures Renu’s anxiousness very well, and because of its climactic resolution which is sweet and smoothly links to where it began - sometimes, we have to leave it in the hands of fate.

    ‘What Clown wrote this script?’ on the other hand stumbles and staggers through its 40-minute runtime. It’s hard to dismiss a story that references Seinfeld and gives us a female stand-up protagonist who shares her biting insights about a stereotypical Telugu boy. Malavika Nair playing Vinnie has a certain spark, and she almost sells us on this weakly-hinged script, but ‘What Clown..’ largely feels all over the place, never capturing the messy repercussions of a situation where two young, driven creative people decide to take their professional relationship to a personal zone. In the midst of all, Ashwin (Abhijeet Duddala) goes on these meditative sessions that make for quirky, fun visuals but don’t seem to add anything. And that pretty much sums up what this episode is about - an assortment of interesting tidbits that is much lesser than the sum of its parts.

    The most interesting of these three ‘young’ stories comes in the final episode of the series, “Finding your penguin.” Everyone wants to find their soulmate, but the methodology chosen by our protagonist Indu (Komalee Prasad) here is sure to keep me amused through its fast-paced, breezy narrative. I shall not explain the plot details, for the gradual revelation is totally worth it.

    The narrative overall is funny, imaginative, and consistent in its zany tonality. Here, the makers are not going after a heavy-handed treatment or life lesson of any kind - they want to have fun with the medium, and it shows. This story also gives us some warm moments of female bonding where the conversations ring true and the equations feel real. Again, Komalee Prasad infuses her part with a lot of zeal and warmth and effortlessly carries the narrative, ably supported by the peripheral cast (Priyanka Kolluru, Pavani Karanam & Bhavana Sagi, who play Indu’s friends)

    The rest of the six episodes coincidentally revolve around the changing equations between a child and parent figure(s), where the focus is more on sentimentality than screwball humor.

    In ‘Why did she leave me there,’ we are introduced to Rohan (Naresh Agastya), a successful corporate figure who motivates his subordinates towards having a ‘go-getter’ attitude, but struggles himself to make peace with wounds from his childhood. The episode is driven by flashbacks of Rohan’s younger days (where he was called Ramulu), which show us a different side of him altogether. This story hits all the traditional notes of its genre, (including the cliche somber piano notes that accompany the silent reaction shots, guiding us towards its heaviness, instead of letting us figure out the melancholy for ourselves) - so it mostly feels familiar, and not necessarily in a good way. The resolution too is pretty predictable, and yet it tugs at our heartstrings for how overwhelmingly these moments are performed, especially by Suhasini who excels as Ramulu’s ailing grandmother. (Advitej Reddy, playing Ramulu deserves a special mention.)

    In the series’ penultimate episode ‘About that rustle in the bushes,’ we actually find ourselves questioning whether there exists something like well-intentioned stalking - courtesy of a sitcom-ish father-daughter tale, where the daughter Sneha (Ulka Gupta) is trying to come out of her shell, while the father attempts to look out for her daughter in his own sincere, albeit problematic ways. It’s an amusing narrative where the side-bits smartly complement the central plot, and it all comes together rather neatly. It knows what it’s going for - the conflicts are kept basic, and the director treats it with a light hand. It is also the only episode of the series that plays equally on humor and warmth, in a way the writers were probably briefed by the ‘Modern Love’ team. It is also mawkish in that stereotypical way where we choose to let go of our judgments, forgive someone for their mistakes, and decide to remember them for their love, for what they would do for us - and it works.

    However, for better or for worse, the show delivers its best in the very first episode. Set in the first lockdown, “My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner” might feel like it's coming a little late in the day - We have had plenty of reel takes on our lockdown lives. And yet, this short, featuring Nithya Menen and Revathi in the lead parts is the most evocative and heart-warming of the lot.

    Again, in a narrative that’s more about its people than the plot progression, Noorie (Menen) and his mother Mehrunissa (Revathi) find themselves sharing a common space after several years - and the bittersweetness of their equation becomes apparent without necessarily any big moments of conflict or confrontations. The moments of them gradually finding comfort around each other too are played out with great tenderness.

    This is also the episode that, despite being set in lockdown, captures its geography in ways other episodes don’t manage to. Be it the Hyderabadi lingo, the heartening interactions of the mother-daughter with their well-meaning though hypochondriac neighbor, or the exquisitely shot scenes of Mehrunissa cooking delicacies for Noorie, Hyderabad remains vibrantly alive. Nagesh Kukunoor is at his most effective here both as a writer (sharing credits with Bahaish Kapoor) and director, displaying his trademark flair for feel-good without overdoing the sentimentality.

    ‘My unlikely pandemic dream partner’ stands out from the rest because of how consistent it remains in its warmth, and a lot of the credit here goes to Menen and Revathi who share brilliant chemistry and bring great affection to their parts. The last scene of this segment is as gooey as it gets, but it is the disarming conviction of the two actors here that makes it work.

    Modern Love Hyderabad doesn’t always carry a similar conviction, but it has plenty of moments where we too decide to ignore the missteps and savor the warmth.


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1 comment
  • Hilary Ouse It's a good selection of movies. I've seen two of them already and I liked them.