Modern Love - Hyderabad Web series Review: A heartfelt hat-tip to the old-world charm of the city

The Modern Love bandwagon makes its next pitstop in the city of Hyderabad and brings with it six stories that deal with the various shades of Pyaar, Prema and Kaadhal
Modern Love: Hyderabad
Modern Love: Hyderabad

There is something about Hyderabad that is inexplicably alluring for an outsider like me. Is it the moments of shared silences between the din of a bustling metropolitan city? Is it the waft of fragrances of the various kinds of food that are rather very unique to the city of pearls? Is it that fascinating lingo that is mostly Telugu but with a fair smattering of Hindi and Urdu? Or is it in the awkward warm embrace from a city that is both welcoming and distant at the same time? After successful stints in New York and Mumbai, the Modern Love bandwagon makes its next pitstop in the city of Hyderabad and brings with it six stories that deal with the various shades of Pyaar, Prema and Kaadhal.

To establish the series in Hyderabad, it is impressive how the makers didn't want to go with the regular shots of Charminar but decided to explore the city a bit further. We see the Buddha statue of Hussain Sagar lake. There is a Jandhyala film festival becoming an important plot point, and so is the standup comedy scene in the city. There are Muslim characters who are involved in the narrative without being relegated to tokenist roles. We are made aware of the city's rich food heritage and implores us to look past the Biriyani. However, barring a few scenes in the 'Why did you leave me here?' (directed by Nagesh Kukunoor) and 'My unlikely pandemic dream partner'  (directed by Nagesh Kukunoor) shorts, Modern Love: Hyderabad is set in a largely upmarket part of the city that almost screams Jubilee Hills and Banjara Hills from every frame onscreen. While it isn't wrong to just portray the posh side of the city, the lack of diversity in the setting of these stories paints a rather one-note picture of the romance in Hyderabad. It doesn't help that the stories aren't locally sourced, and the titles too are... well, too English for a Telugu series.

Directors: Nagesh Kukunoor, Uday Gurrala, Devika Bahudhanam, Venkatesh Maha

Cast: Revathy, Nithya Menen, Ritu Varma, Aadhi Pinisetty, Malavika Nair, Suhasini Maniratnam, Komalee Prasad, Naresh Babu

The series starts off with its strongest chapter, 'My unlikely pandemic dream partner' and unlike its convoluted title, the short is rather straightforward. An estranged mother Mehrunnisa (Revathy) and daughter Noori (Nithya Menen) find solace in each other's company after they are forced to spend time with each other during the lockdown. In fact, this female solidarity is a recurring theme in Modern Love: Hyderabad, and it is a refreshing change to see the female protagonists turn to their girlfriends to talk about their lives, and find ways to get out of sticky situations. We see it happen between Renu (Ritu Varma) and her friend Nazneen in 'Fuzzy, Purple, and full of thorns' (directed by Nagesh Kukunoor). It is even more pronounced in the shorts — About that rustle in the bushes (Devika Bahudhanam) and Finding your Penguin (Venkatesh Maha) — where the largely male bonding tropes of chugging down a drink and sharing their problems are done by strong and independent women who have each other's backs. Such asides don't feel forced and are some of the best scenes of the series, especially the sequences between the group of friends in the quirky 'Finding your Penguin' short. 

It is impressive how the mother-daughter equation in My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner never gets into the saccharine zone despite giving us unending shots of Qubani ka Meetha and Ande ke Lauz. It deals with cliches, but the strong performances of Revathy and Nithya rein it all in to keep the engagement factor pretty high. Take, for instance, the scene where Revathy asks Nithya to leave the kitchen because she wants to spend time in the memory of her dead husband while making his favourite Haleem. It is a warm but necessary reference to show that her character is as much a wife as she is a mother and an individual with ego. Such nifty touches are peppered throughout the series, and it adds a lot of layers to rather wafer-thin plots.

Honestly, most of these shorts are simplistic, and it is the narrative choices that separate the wheat from chuff. Both 'Finding my Penguin' and 'About the Rustle in the Bushes' is about a girl, with a past, sifting through men to find a soulmate of sorts even while wading past an overbearing father with a heart of gold. However, while the former scores high on its zany nature, the latter relegates itself to a rather conventional and boring path. The same holds good for Suhasini's grandmother role in 'Why did she leave me there?' (directed by Nagesh Kukunoor), which has the actor deliver an engaging performance but is stuck in a short that never really tries hard enough. But across the shorts, the presence of levity is unmistakable, and it ensures Modern Love: Hyderabad stands apart from some of the other entrants in the Telugu series space. Komalee Prasad and Ritu Varma are the showstealers of Modern Love: Hyderabad with their comedic turns in 'Finding Your Penguin' and 'Fuzzy, Purple, and full of thorns', which have them play around with the fourth wall and imaginary worlds.

The men in the series largely play second fiddle to some exceptional women, who deal with their ideas of romance on their own accord. The actions of some of these men are largely questionable, but it isn't too out of character for their roles, and this is where the writing scores big. Even when Aadhi Pinisetty's Uday fails to do a simple task that Ritu's Renu asks of him, we might want to enter the screen to imbibe some sense into him. However, in his head, he is right, and that is something that can be said of all the characters in the series, including Abhijeet Duddala's role as a show producer from 'What Clown wrote this Script' (directed by Uday Gurrala). There is a neat scene where he is chided by an in-form Malavika Nair as Fleabag-ish standup comic and writer Vandana for his superficial understanding of the MeToo movement. This had the potential to be a 'sermon' scene but points to the writers for avoiding such easy pickings. In fact, none of the characters are labelled in binary, and each of them are treated with the respect to their myriad nature.  While the roles of Naresh Babu (About the Rustle in the Bushes) and Naresh Agastya (Why did you leave me here?) are largely one-note, both these actors deliver compelling performances that iron out some of the kinks in their stories. Incidentally, the shorts inhabited by these two actors are the slightly weaker additions to the series, mainly because both of them do the cardinal sin of sticking far out in an anthology. It is interesting how both these stories don't deal with romance but are more about familial bonding between a grandmother-grandson, and a father-daughter. But the fact that of the six shorts, only two of them used the freedom offered by the OTT medium and tried anything new with its format and narrative styles.

Through these six shorts, creator Nagesh Kukunoor who shares writing credits with Shashi Udugala and Bahaish Kapoor seems to ask a simple question... What is love?

Is it about letting go? Is it about being at the right place at the right time to find the right person? Is it about the spoken apologies and the untold thank yous? Is love all about repetition and patience?  Is it about second chances? Is it about trusting one's instinct? The answers lie amidst the pillars of the Charminar, the stillness of the Hussain Sagar lake, the punch of Hyderabadi biriyani, the fragrance of freshly ground coffee, the flavours of a simple dosa and chutney, and most importantly, within each of us whose heart seems to find time to beat for someone else.

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