Nagesh Kukunoor’s love story with the city of his birth began with his debut feature film Hyderabad Blues. Twenty-four years later, Kukunoor has another ode to Hyderabad in the form of Modern Love Hyderabad. The Amazon Prime Video anthology, which is out on July 8, is the second Indianised series following Modern Love Mumbai to be based on the New York Times column Modern Love.
After Mumbai, love and its many shades are explored in six stories set in Hyderabad. Kukunoor has written all the episodes and directed three of them. Vankatesh Maha, Uday Gurrala and Devika Bahudhanam helm the other three. In a video interview from Arizona, USA, the writer-director talks about the adaptation process and the new series.
How is love different in New York, Mumbai or Hyderabad?
I feel I need to say something cliched like love is a universal emotion, which it is. But the truth is, once you take the crux of the story, the adaptation is more about the physical details rather than the emotional content. Love is the same everywhere but it’s not because you want it to relate to an Indian audience.
This was different because I had to constantly ask myself: will the Telugu audience relate to it? That was the key thing for me. For the last how many ever years I have only been working with the Hindi audience, and I have a reasonable understanding of what the Hindi urban audience will like. But then again, I have been wrong many times, so who knows.
How did you choose the six stories?
It was a nightmare because every article is wonderful. So then the question was how do you make it retable to Hyderabad and to the Telugu audience at large. We had a fairly large team looking through the stories, so it worked as a democratic process, until it didn’t.
How did you adapt them to make them ‘Hyderabad’?
The first thing was to keep working in Hyderabad and bring in the local flavor. That was paramount. With respect to the ones I directed, even though I co-wrote all six stories with Bahaish Kapoor and Shashi Sudigala, I picked the three stories that for me would give me a different visual palette of Hyderabad. So one is set in the slums, one in urban Modern Hyderabad and one is set in the old city of Charminar.
In addition, one of the key things was to try and have different kinds of love. While one of three stories centres on a traditional heterosexual couple, another is about a mother and daughter, and is about a grandmother and grandson.
I was not interested in making a show about just couples-couples-couples, which is why I almost didn’t do it in the first place. Without seeing the original Modern Love, I thought this is going to be an anthology of love stories and I thought, no thank you. But once I saw the original I was sold with the first episode itself.
You have a very interesting cast that includes Aadhi Pinisetty, Nithya Menen, Revathi and Suhasini Maniratnam. Were you involved in casting all the episodes?
I almost always shoot stuff with new actors, and I went from that to working with Revathy, Nithya, Suhasini. It was wonderful. Elahe Hiptoola, the producer, and I decided with this one we would throw it out to well-known Telugu actors. And the response was terrific.
I got to work with two of my absolute favourites – Revathi and Suhasini – crushes from my yesteryears, and it was joyous to work with both of them. Working with new actors is accompanied by a certain energy on set. I tend to be extremely impatient and shoot long hours. Elahe warned me to play nice and, interestingly, these actors came with so much wonderful discipline that I didn’t have to compromise much. I could still shoot like a mad man and everyone was on board.
For the other films, the directors ran their shortlist by me. My only point to them was, if you are confident you will be able to direct them then run with it.
Hyderabad Blues was a modern love story at that time. You have not made many love stories in between. So what was it like returning to Hyderabad for a love story after all these years?
It was unbelievable. The last time I was actively shooting in Hyderabad was in 2012 when I made Lakshmi. It’s been a decade since then. This gave me a chance to see sides of Hyderabad I had not explored. I used these stories as a means to discover parts of the city I had no idea about.
I have a great fondness for the city, so it was just lovely to be there. The only scary thing was that I was getting into the Telugu language. Once July 8 rolls around, all bets are off. Either I get a kick on my behind or they will say I did a reasonable job.
Your last two projects have been the Hindi series City of Dreams and the Telugu film Good Luck Sakhi. Any plans to direct another feature film?
More than likely I will direct a feature film next year. Right now I am busy with season 3 of City of Dreams. It’s been a year since season two dropped, which did extremely well, so there is tremendous pressure to deliver that.