Modern Love Mumbai cast on boundaries, bickerings and Bombay: Love wins all battles across the world
Arshad Warsi, Chitrangada Singh, Pratik Gandhi, Ranveer Brar, Meiyang Chang and Wamiqa Gabbi on their segments in Modern Love Mumbai, premiering this week on Amazon Prime Video
The only strange thing about an Indian Modern Love announcement was the original source of the stories. The famous anthology series, which has completed two seasons in the US, is based on the long-running New York Times column of the same name—weekly personal essays on love and relationships with the city as character. And the same column—written by and for Americans—is now the source of Modern Love Mumbai. Will it make sense?
"Our writers have done a phenomenal job adapting these stories," assures Pratik Gandhi, star of the Hansal Mehta-directed segment Baai. In the film, set between 90s and present-day Mumbai, a gay Muslim boy falls for a US-returned chef, and hides it from his family. In a charming casting choice, Ranveer Brar, one of our best US-returned chefs around, plays the love interest. Ranveer has been offered acting gigs before, though exclusively for "horrendous villains in movies from the south." Naturally, he needed reassuring when Hansal rung him up for a part in Baai.
"Being a chef, this is a role I've prepped for all my life," Ranveer says. "Hansal told me we'll do a lot of cooking on set. We made nihari, kimami sewai, yakhni pulao. I was obviously playing a character but also adding everything from my life into it."
Pratik spotlights Hansal's 'human' approach in exploring queerness in a conservative urban setting. "It's not like (the family) is reacting out of negligence of the whole concept. It's more from fear of how they will be perceived. Everyone is afraid how Baai, my character's ailing grandmother played by Tanuja ji, will react."
The actors sound hopeful on the future of LGBTQ+ rights in India (Gay marriages, despite the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018, don't have legal recognition in India.)
"The legislation will take its due course," Ranveer says. "But I think as a society we have come a long way in terms of acceptance." "Love wins all battles across the world," Pratik adds.
Family and food is also at the centre of Mumbai Dragon, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. Meiyang Chang plays an Indian-Chinese boy in love with a vegetarian North Indian (Wamiqa Gabbi). Expectedly, the boy's fastidious mother, played by Malaysian-Singaporean actor Yeo Yann Yann, raises hell.
"It's a classic story told through the perspective and cultural nuances of an Indian-Chinese family," Meiyang says. Growing up in Dhanbad, in Jharkhand, Meiyang had a multi-cultural upbringing, his understanding of chinese cooking perennially coloured by local pallettes and interpretations. "My father is from Patna, my mother is from Mumbai; my grandmother is from Ahmednagar who's lived in Kolkata for many years. Food at home was always a mix of these influences."
In the trailer, Wamiqa is referred to as a 'vegetarian dayan (witch)', a funny diss she doesn't fully denied, having turned vegan some years ago. The actor says she had fun clashing onscreen with Yann, who's making her Hindi debut in Mumbai Dragon (she also helped source rare Chinese ingredients from Singapore). "I didn't know she is just five years elder to Meiyang," Wamiqa shares. "She is terrific in the film."
Chai for your soul
Away from knotty family dynamics, Nupur Asthana's Cutting Chai homes in on a married couple in South Bombay. Latika (Chitrangada Singh) regrets not fulfilling her writing ambitions; her husband, Danny (Arshad Warsi), shimmies in an Elvis outfit and doesn't seem to care. A detour to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly VT station) provides them with an epiphany.
"Love stories are always universal," Chitrangada says. "We brought in the texture of the city into our tale, from the local trains to cutting chai. I play a real, relatable, slightly unhappy woman, which we all are (laughs)." Arshad is offended we even asked him about acing his Elvis moves. "I'm a dancer, man!" he retorts.
We end by asking the actors about their most romantic memory of Mumbai. Pratik recalls performing his first play at Prithvi theatre; Meiyang and Wamiqa invoke the rains. Arshad talks of 'nightclubs open till 6am' and a freedom to 'get whatever you want'. It's Ranveer, though, who supplies the most striking anecdote.
"In 2012, I had just return from the US. My cab driver, a Muslim gentleman, told me it's a blessed time to come to Mumbai, since it was the day of Ganpati Visarjan. He said 'yeh seher apko jamega' (this city will suit you). The moment is forever etched in my memory."