The Chennai edition of Prime Video’s Modern Love franchise comprises six episodes all directed by men. By way of compensation, Modern Love Chennai is brimming over with female perspectives on the lurchings of the heart.
Each of the episodes give equal, if not greater, weightage to the women who either seek partners or attempt to make the most of complicated relationships. Margazhi, directed by Akshay Sundher and written by Balaji Tharaneetharan, explores the sexual desires of an adolescent through Jazmine (Sanjula Sarathi) and Milton (Chu Khoy Sheng).
Milton’s pop star appearance surely helps. The story flips the gaze, with several shots of Jazmine fixing her eyes on her mark (Sanjula Sarathi is wonderful in her longing).
The music is by Ilaiyaraaja. The choice of this musical genius as the main composer is an important clue into just how modern the series is.
Ilaiyaraaja might have been eclipsed by newer talent, but he has never gone away. Ilaiyaraaja homage is a mini-industry, with his older songs serving as sonic mnemonics for an unhurried and less plasticky time filled with throbbing passion. More recent music made in the Ilaiyaraaja mould is an immediate blast-from-the-past reminder of his enduring impress on Tamil cinema – Kangal Irandal, composed by James Vasanthan for Subramaniapuram (2008) is just one instance.
Although much of Modern Love Chennai is set in the present, the show freely dips into fresh as well as classic Ilaiyaraaja tunes. Cine-nostalgia meshes with the yearning felt by characters for relationships that don’t work out, fantasies that remain unfulfilled, and fond memories.
The time-capsule element, while unevenly explored, gives the series a unifying framework, unlike its predecessors. If being in love can collapse time, which should the fiction inspired by it be any different?
Ilaiyaraaja’s Yen Iniya Pon Nilavae for the 1980 film Moodu Pani is heavily used in veteran director Bharathiraja’s Paravai Kootil Vaazhum Maangal. This episode explores the chimera of the perfect divorce.
Ravi (Kishore), who is married to Revathi (Ramya Nambeesan), has fallen for Rohini (Vijaylakshmi). Revathi has a ready solution to Ravi’s barely explored dilemma. The gobsmacked reaction of Ravi’s father (Delhi Ganesh) to the unorthodox decoupling best captures the limits of this fantasy.
The series follows Modern Love Mumbai and Modern Love Hyderabad. All three shows have been adapted from short stories published in the New York Times newspaper. Thiagaraja Kumararaja (Aranya Kaandam, Super Deluxe) serves as series creator as well as one of the episode directors.
Kumararaja’s contribution is set in a low-lit world in which the real collides with the illusory. This is also the longest episode, stretching to a little over an hour.
Sam (Wamiqa Gabbi) and K (PB) are having their Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind moment. PB has lost his memory and has therefore forgotten that he has broken up with Sam. Is the temporary amnesia an opportunity to make amends, or should Sam move on for good?
Bedroom behaviour, largely absent in all the other episodes, is present in full measure in the Sam-K dynamic.
The hyper-real milieu, rendered through gorgeous cinematography and production design, is far more evocative than the lovers’ ramblings. Songs rush in to fill whatever available silence – a malaise across the series – but the kooky performances, especially by KB, prove to be far more affecting.
Krishnakumar Ramakumar’s Kaadhal Enbadhu Kannula Heart Irukkura Emoji, written by Reshma Ghatala, proves that too much cinephilia isn’t always a good thing. Mallika (Ritu Varma) goes through school, college and adulthood in search of the perfect partner. Having watched Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey far too many times for her health, Mallika learns the hard way that life in Tweedom is vastly different from an existence on Earth (further explained by film critic Baradwaj Rangan in a winking cameo).
Balaji Sakthivel directs Imaigal, about Devi (TJ Bhanu), who has retinal degenerative disease, and her husband Nithiya (Ashok Selvan) who pledges to stick by her side no matter what. Imaigal’s highlights include its closing shot – a smart take on the “I have eyes only for you” sentiment, along with TJ Bhanu’s solid performance.
Rajumurugan’s Lalagunda Bommaigal easily overshadows its peers. Written and directed by Rajumurugan (Gypsy, Joker), the beautifully performed saga of the bakery owner’s daughter Shoba (Sri Gouri Priya), who falls for the North Indian chaat seller Nathuram (Vasudevan Murali), has wicked humour and the most detailed world-building.
Shoba’s neighbourhood has a cosmopolitan culture but “no mixing” is permitted, a community elder is fond of telling her. Shoba’s feisty friend Vaijayanthi (Vasundhara) has been looking for a match for her, even consulting a holy man.
What can go wrong? This fabulous episode, unlike others in the series, compels you to keep watching.
Modern Love Mumbai’ review: Look for the cycling woman and the Indian-Chinese dragon mom
Modern Love Hyderabad’ review: Flashes of charm in an anthology series set in Charminar City