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Review: Modern Love Hyderabad can't transcend source material

Another uneven set of love stories based on the Modern Love column, this time set in Hyderabad

A still from 'Modern Love Hyderabad'
A still from 'Modern Love Hyderabad'

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So popular is the Modern Love column from the New York Times that after resulting in a New York-based anthology, it is now spawning local adaptations. A few months ago we saw the choppy Modern Love Mumbai, the first of three anthologies that Indianiszs these true life-based American love stories.

The spotlight is now on Hyderabad. Under the creative stewardship of Nagesh Kukunoor, the six Telugu films in Modern Love Hyderabad (Amazon Prime) explore varying shades of love. Kukunoor, who has written all the six stories along with co-writers Bahaish Kapoor and Shashi Sudigala, has directed three of the six films.

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The anthology opens with the best of the bunch. My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner is an intimate portrait of the fractured bond between mother and daughter rebuilt gradually during the lockdown over many delicious homemade meals. Revathy and Nithya Menen are just lovely and Kukunoor’s love for food reflects delightfully in this one, which is largely set in one apartment. There are little expressions that tenderly capture the story of a recently widowed woman, her estranged, recently separated daughter and long-held prejudices.

Fuzzy, Purple and Full of Thorns is somewhat unconventional, as the central couple is cohabiting but not married. All is well in their cosy home until Renu discovers a pair of feather-adorned purple high heels tucked into her boyfriend’s cupboard. A rather shallow story about the woman’s insecurities and jealousy, this one is held aloft by Ritu Varma’s animated performance, which compensates for co-actor Aadhi Pinisetty’s limited range. When both sets of parents come over for a meal, it makes for the funniest scene in this bite-sized story.

Why Did She Leave Me There…?, also directed by Kukunoor, is told from the perspective of an adult Rohan (Naresh Agastya), but the soul of the piece rests in the grandmother-grandson story. Child actor Advitej Reddy is the right mix of precocious and vulnerable as Ramulu, the orphan being raised by his ailing grandmother Gangamma, played sincerely and affectingly by Suhasini Maniratnam. This story tenderly captures the aging woman’s helplessness, heartbreak and the immense impact of her selflessness.

Uday Guralla, Venkatesh Maha and Devika Bahudhanam chip in with one directorial credit each. Gurrala takes on a much more modern courtship story. What Clown Wrote This Script! features Abijeet Duddala and Malavika Nair as a screenwriter/producer and stand-up comic respectively. Ashwin and Viniie’s romance unfolds as they team up to create an edgy concept centred around Vinnie’s take on The Telugu Man. But Ashwin soon learns that nothing good can come out of pairing business with pleasure. The script affectionately references Telugu screenwriter, actor and director Jandhyala, who was prolific in the 1980s.

Anthologies are often uneven. Modern Love Mumbai and Modern Love Hyderabad (next up is Modern Love Chennai) are no exceptions. About That Rustle in the Bushes is a father-daughter story about a protective parent who stalks his daughter (Ulka Gupta) as she embarks on a dating spree. Directed by Devika Bahudhanam, this is the anthology’s weakest link. In spite of a passionate performance by V.K. Naresh, it misses the emotional heart of the story.

The anthology is rounded off with the most experimental of the sextet, Finding Your Penguin, helmed by Venkatesh Maha. Komalee Prasad embraces Indu, a singleton who is navigating dating after a break-up. She invokes the rules of courtship from nature, studying the methods used by animals and birds to attract a mate. 

Interestingly, most of the stories are about women and their lives and loves. These twee stories, with largely feelgood endings, unfold between glimpses of the most photographed sites (Charminar, Hussain Sagar Lake, Durgam Cheruvu cable bridge) and flavours of Hyderabad (haleem, biryani, khubani ka meetha, ande ke lauz, etc). The stories aren’t particularly inspiring, memorable or unique. Although the writers have attempted to localise them and the directors have given the rendition some zest, there’s only so far you can go with intrinsically schmaltzy source material.

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