Some great performances add up to a slightly hijacked 2.5-star rate
Cast: Nithya Menen, Revathi, Aadhi Pinisetty, Ritu Varma, Suhasini Maniratnam, Abijeet Duddala, Malvika Nair, Naresh, Ulka Gupta, Komalee Prasad and Rag Mayur.
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor, Venkatesh Maha, Uday Gurrala and Devika Bahudhanam.
Evaluation: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Work with a limited range of themes, Modern Love Hyderabadan adaptation of essays published in the New York Times weekly column which also recently served as the basis for Modern Love Bombayoffers everyday accounts of behavioral variables in romantic and family relationships.
Uncertainties plague the characters that populate the six stories that form part of the Amazon Prime Video anthology in the Telugu language, but the casual treatment of these ingrained imponderables avoids the possibility that the contrasts and complexities fully emerge and imbue these passable vignettes with ruptures. , revelations , reconciliations and rediscoveries.
A few fine performances, a few eye-catching flashes of lucidity, and generally solid technical qualities add up to a slightly and intermittently entertaining fare. Four of the stories use levity as a narrative tool but only manage to offer fleeting moments of cheerfulness.
Showrunner Nagesh Kukunoor, who also directed three of the segments and co-wrote all six, contributes by far the best of the lot – a story called My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner. Set in a Muslim milieu of old Hyderabad, it’s about a recently widowed woman who visits her estranged daughter and cooks the most delicious dishes to mend a relationship gone wrong.
Revathy and Nithya Menen give both hands their traction with flawless performances as the mother and daughter duo are confined to the latter’s home due to the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
Noorie (Menen) is recovering from major knee surgery. She hasn’t seen her mother Mehrunnisa (Revathy) since she defied her family and got married six years ago. Still hurt, the two women reconnect as the mother’s cooking skills and the daughter’s childhood memories begin to blur the distance between them.
Kukunoor and Bahaish Kapoor’s screenplay showcases Hyderabad’s famous Muslim cuisine as Mehrunnisa prepares mouth-watering biryanis, kebabs, ande ka lauz and haleem. For the mother, marriage is forever. For the girl, parting in a relationship is normal. But can food and maternal/filial instincts break down the barriers that time has erected?
Revathy, remarkable as ever, conveys a range of emotions with simple looks and gestures. Nithya Menen is luminous like the young woman who rediscovers reconnecting with a past that she has turned her back on. And Kukunoor enlivens the tale with delicious sleights of hand.
If only the other stories in the anthology had been half as good as this tale of food and family, Modern Love Hyderabad would have been an unqualified success. Alas, this is not the case.
The other two stories crossed out by Kukunoor oscillate between the overly conventional and the somewhat whimsical. Why did she leave me there? takes a conventional approach to a melodrama about corporate super-achiever and self-help guru Rohan Dhruvraj (Naresh Agastya) who revisits the orphanage from when he was adopted as a child. In the fragmentary flashbacks that follow, we learn of the days the motherless boy spent in a slum with his aging grandmother Gangamma (Suhasini Maniratnam) and why she gave him up for adoption. Emotions are far too dull to be able to rise above the sap.
In Fuzzy Purple and Full of Thorns…, adapted by Kukunoor and Shashi Sudigala, veterinary doctor Uday Bhaskar (Aadhi Pinnisetty) meets Renu (Ritu Varma) whose slippers were stolen outside a temple. The chance meeting leads to stability and they become living partners.
Jealousy disrupts their world when the woman finds a pair of purple stilettos in the guy’s closet. The lady is a caricaturist but she is unable to see the funny side of the man’s fetishism. Animated passages are added to capture the ups and downs of Renu and Uday’s relationship. Fuzzy Purple… is driven by Ritu Varma’s performance but the segment leaves you feeling a bit disappointed as its dash of humor lacks a consistent shine.
This is indeed the bane of the other three shorts, all of which center on young women searching for the right life partner in the face of serious challenges posed by their own confusions and the pressures exerted on them by cautious and troublesome. In Venkatesh Maha’s Finding Your Penguin (also written by Kukunoor and Kapoor), Indu (Komalee Prasad), emerging from a messy breakup, obsessively searches for a stable date to pull herself out of the hollow she’s sunk into. .
A nature enthusiast who consumes documentaries about animal and bird encounter and mating patterns, Indu researches avian traits to understand the humans she focuses on. But is it a natural thing to do? Is she just looking for a boyfriend or a soul mate for life? The answer lies in the very nature of his research.
Credit for parts of the windy Finding Your Penguin goes to a combination of the writing and acting, both of which are well above average.
About That Rustle in the Bushes, directed by Devika Bahudhanam, a father (Naresh) spies on his daughter (Ulka Gupta) and the boys she dates. Needless to say, this is quite an unpleasant act – the daughter says as much to her father. There is a story behind this father’s constant bullying of his daughter, however, and the segment struggles to give it a convincing foundation.
Telugu screenwriter and filmmaker Jandhyala features prominently in What Clown Write This Script!, directed by Uday Gurrala. A jaded sitcom producer Ashwin (Abijeet Duddala) decides to create something new with a stand-up comic Vandana ‘Vinnie’ Bharadwaj (Malavika Nair).
We first see the latter in the middle of a number in which she fires volleys on the whole world for not taking actresses seriously and on Telugu men in particular for their idiosyncrasies. This last part catches Ashwin’s attention. He offers Vinnie the opportunity to star in his own television show. The plans and their budding relationship don’t go according to the scenario the guy has in mind.
What part of Hyderabad does this chapter of Modern Love present in terms of cultural specificities? Not much beyond legendary Charminar, food from that part of town and a bit of Deccani Urdu/Hindi mixed with Telugu and English that the heroine’s friends – Ayesha (Pavam Karanam) in Finding Your Penguin and Nazneen (Zee Aly) in Fuzzy Purple… – sneaks in from time to time.
In What clown wrote this script!, Ashwin tells Vinnie that Jandhyala introduced Telugu audiences to “a new kind of comedy”. In a few years, will someone say something similar about Modern Love Hyderabad? Highly unlikely.