Modern Love Season 1 (8 episodes, Amazon Prime): Easily the best series I’ve seen on the OTT platform; Modern Love is an ambrosial anthology of eight episodes portraying love in all its splendour, sometimes slender, sometimes hard, but always tender and revealing. Each episode has the stand-alone emotional strength of being a full-length feature film. And the perk, if one may call it that, is the city of New York looming unobtrusively over the stories like a silent narrator, hovering gently over the fate of anxious characters who are so relatable (thanks to the exquisite performances) they rejuvenate the entire romantic genre of filmmaking.
How do I pick my favourite from this beautiful of bouquet of romance? Well, if you insist it would have to be the first story “When The Doorman Is Your Main Man” where a young single privileged girl (Cristin Milioti) in a posh high-rise of NY is parentally protected by the building’s doorman (brilliantly ‘played’ by Laurentiu Possa). This is the most epic story in the omnibus. It says so much about the intrinsically indefinable nature of human bonding while keeping the core relationship unconditionally free of innuendos. This is the story that moved me to tears.
The least moving of the stories, though no less articulate, is ‘So He Looked Like Dad , It Was Just Dinner, Right?’ Where Shia Wigham and Julia Garner does a Lolita-redux with less than satisfying results. Ms Garner’s own hormonal and emotional confusions do not help the plot to get to remain on its feet. Everything, from the exchanges between father-figure and Lolita-remixed to the final outcome of the sordid liaison, rings a little untrue. But then, maybe that’s in comparison with the supremely poised caliber of the series. No actor ‘plays’ a character. The word is an insult to what the actors do here. The stunning Anne Hathaway is exceptional as a bi-polar in “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I am”. This is a one-woman show and Hathaway gives a career-defining performing showing the character’s periodic descent into hell with heart-stopping tangibility. Hathaway is Oscar-worthy.
In “At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity" two young people who have just met end up spending the night together at the hospital after the guy is injured in a freak accident. The strength of this episode is not its performances (though Sofia Boutella, John Gallagher Jr are in full control of their characters) but in the conversation which shows how social media affects modern romantic relationships. This story opts for a dispassionate tone to reflect on the artificiality of ‘Instagram’ portraits of real relationships.
In "Hers Was a World of One" a gay couple (Andrew Scott, Brandon Kyle Goodman) deal with the wild nomadic mother of their child Olivia Kate Goodman). This episode is unconditionally charming. Stand-out performances by Scott and Goodman and a bedrock of unquestionable humanism that runs through all the stories, defines the excellence of the presentation. In comparison I found the episode “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive" dry and cold, perhaps consciously so, as a wife trapped (Tina Fey) trapped in a stagnant marriage to a wry entertainment executive (John Slatterly) de-freezes her cold marriage with some serious therapy(therapist Sarita Chowdhary is one of the two Indian actors in the series) and casual soul-searching. This story of a failing marriage offers no fresh insights as the narrative lumbered across repeated games of tennis. Some of the scenes in New York restaurants featuring intrusive characters seemed pointless.
Dev Patel as an entrepreneur who misses the love bus in “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist" is seen trying too hard to look love-stricken. The story has banal representations of scenes from a sterile marriage that look like out-takes from Steep-De Niro’s Falling In Love. What works here is that most of the story is shot on NY’s Central Park which serves as a stabilizing if not a motivating propulsive character.
Finally the story “The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap" about two autumnal strangers played wonderfully by Jane Alexander and James Saito, who rediscover love at a late age. The story fills the frames with sunshine and reminds us of how easy it is to find love if you look with an open heart. Sure, the stories have their flaws. Isn’t that how life is? There is nothing like the perfect relationship in today’s times. Modern Love serves up lessons in finding love during times of compromise and cynicism. Not to be missed. I can’t wait for Season 2.
Sufiyum Sujatayum (Malayalam, Amazon Prime Video): Imagine if Sanjay Leela Bhansali was all about just epic visuals. It would be wrong to say that Sufiyum Sujatayum has no soul. It strives hard to tap into a volatile and sensitive subject of forbidden love between a Sufi Mullah and a mute Hindu danseuse with eyes that melt each time she looks at her Sufi beloved.
Thank God for Aditi Rao, a stunning beauty and a joy forever. She gives her character Sujatha a stunning spin. The camera loves her beautiful face and well…she keeps on her toes throughout. Literally! A lot of the bonding between the Muslim cleric and the Hindu romantic happens over the Sufi dance form where the dancer balances on just one toe while twirling to the sound of a music that echoes the universe. In the latter half, the film becomes a replica of Sanjay Bhansali’s Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam with the kind compassionate husband (Jayasurya) escorting his wife back to her home town to see her lover one last time.
That look of unfathomable love in Aditi Rao’s eyes stays with you. I was completely taken up with her obsessive love. But the film, so beautifully shot feels empty at heart. There is a shot where the camera follows a gravedigger on his bicycle in the pitch-dark with just one light beam as a bunch of hopeful people watch him go. Very often one feels the director straining for visual resplendence at the cost of credibility. This is true specially of the climax where a corpse plays a pivotal part.
Love is a grave matter in Sufiyum Sujatayum. The characters die in love. Others choose to live saddened for a lifetime.
Image source: Amazon, Youtube/AmazonPrimeVideo
Image source: Amazon, Youtube/AmazonPrimeVideo