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A still from Modern Love Hyderabad trailer. (courtesy: Amazon Prime Video India)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.Rating: 2 and a half stars (out of 5)Working with a limited spectrum of themes, Modern Love Hyderabad, an adaptation of essays published in the weekly New York Times column that also recently formed the basis of Modern Love Mumbai, offers workaday tales of behavioural variables in romantic and familial relationships.Uncertainties plague the characters who people the six stories that are part of the Telugu-language Amazon Prime Video anthology, but the glib treatment of these ingrained imponderables obviates the possibility of the contrasts and complexities to fully emerge and imbue these passable vignettes of ruptures, revelations, reconciliations and rediscoveries.A few fine performances, some catchy flashes of lucidity and generally solid technical qualities add up to mildly and intermittently diverting fare. Four of the stories use levity as a narrative tool but manage to deliver only fleeting moments of mirth.Showrunner Nagesh Kukunoor, who has also directed three of the segments and co-written all six, contributes the best of the lot by a fair distance – a story titled My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner. Set in an Old Hyderabad Muslim milieu, it is about a recently widowed woman who visits her estranged daughter and whips up the most delicious dishes to mend a relationship gone sour.Revathy and Nithya Menen give the two-hander its traction with flawless performances as the mother and daughter duo confined in the latter’s home because of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.Noorie (Menen) is recuperating from a major knee surgery. She hasn’t seen her mother Mehrunnisa (Revathy) since she defied her family and married a six years ago. Still hurting, the two women reconnect as the mother’s culinary skills and the daughter’s childhood memories begin to erase the distance between them.Kukunoor and Bahaish Kapoor’s script foregrounds Hyderabad’s famed Muslim cuisine as Mehrunnisa whips up mouth-watering biryanis, kebabs, ande ka lauz and haleem. For the mother, marriage is for keeps. For the daughter, drifting apart in a relationship is normal. But can food and maternal/filial instincts demolish the fences that time has built?Revathy, outstanding as ever, conveys a range of emotions with mere glances and gestures. Nithya Menen is luminous as the young woman rediscovering reconnecting with a past that she has turned her back on. And Kukunoor livens up the tale with delectable directorial sleights.If only the other stories in the anthology been half as good as this story of food and family, Modern Love Hyderabad would have been an unqualified success. Alas, that isn’t the case.The other two stories helmed by Kukunoor waver between the overly conventional and the somewhat whimsical. Why Did She Leave Me There? adopts a conventional approach to a melodrama about a corporate super-achiever and self-help guru Rohan Dhruvraj (Naresh Agastya) who revisits the orphanage from he was adopted as a child. In fragmentary flashbacks that follow, we learn of the days the motherless boy spent in a slum with his ageing granny Gangamma (Suhasini Maniratnam) and of the reason behind her giving him up for adoption. The emotions are way too pat to be able to rise above the sappy.In Fuzzy Purple and Full of Thorns…, adapted by Kukunoor and Shashi Sudigala, a veterinary doctor Uday Bhaskar (Aadhi Pinnisetty) meets Renu (Ritu Varma) whose slippers have been stolen from outside a temple. The chance encounter leads to a steady and they become live-in partners.Jealousy disrupts their world when the woman finds a pair of purple stilettoes in the guy’s cupboard. The lady is a cartoonist but she is unable to see the funny side of the man’s fetish. Animated passages are thrown in to capture the highs and lows of Renu and Uday’s relationship. Fuzzy Purple… is enlivened by Ritu Varma’s performance but the segment leaves you a tad underwhelmed because its sprinkling of humour does not possess a consistent sparkle.That, incidentally, is also the bane of the other three shorts, all of which centre on young women looking 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 interfering parents. In Venkatesh Maha’s Finding Your Penguin (also written by Kukunoor and Kapoor), Indu (Komalee Prasad), coming off a messy break-up, obsessively searches for a steady date to pull herself out of the trough that she has sunk into.A nature enthusiast who consumes documentaries on the dating and mating patterns of animals and birds, Indu looks for avian traits to understand the men she zeroes in on. But is that a natural thing to do? Is she looking for just a boyfriend or a soulmate for life? The answer lies in the nature of her search itself.The credit for parts of the breezy Finding Your Penguin that work accrues to a combination of the writing and the acting, both of which are well above average.About That Rustle in the Bushes, directed by Devika Bahudhanam, a dad (Naresh) spies on her daughter (Ulka Gupta) and the boys she dates. That, needless to say, is quite a distasteful act – the girl says as much to her father. There is, however, a story behind this father’s constant stalking of his daughter and the segment is hard-pressed to lend it a convincing underpinning.Telugu screenwriter and filmmaker Jandhyala looms large over What Clown Wrote This Script!, directed by Uday Gurrala. A jaded sitcom producer Ashwin (Abijeet Duddala) decides to rustle up something new with a stand-up comic Vandana ‘Vinnie’ Bharadwaj (Malavika Nair).We first see the latter in the middle of an act in which she fires salvos at the world at large for not taking female comedians seriously and at Telugu men in particular for their idiosyncrasies. The latter strand catches Ashwin’s fancy. He offers Vinnie the opportunity to star in her own television show. The plans, and their nascent relationship, do not go according to the script the guy has in mind.How much of Hyderabad does this chapter of Modern Love showcase in terms of cultural specifics? Not much beyond the fabled Charminar, the food of that part of the city and a smattering of Deccani Urdu/Hindi mixed with Telugu and English that friends of the heroine – Ayesha (Pavam Karanam) in Finding Your Penguin and Nazneen (Zee Aly) in Fuzzy Purple… – occasionally break into.In What Clown Wrote This Script!, Ashwin tells Vinnie that Jandhyala introduced Telugu audiences to “a new kind of comedy”. A few years down the line, will anybody be saying something similar about Modern Love Hyderabad? Highly unlikely.



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