Modern Love Hyderabad: Stories That Could Have Been Set Anywhere in India

Hyderabad's diversity seems lost on a series that, ironically, was made to put these stories in focus
Modern Love Hyderabad: Stories That Could Have Been Set Anywhere in India

Growing up in Hyderabad, my mom would never cook on the day of Eid. Thanks to our generous neighbours who would send us heaps of biryani and sheer korma, our 'ghar ki murgi' would literally get sidelined as we dived into the food excitedly — it's still one of the happiest memories of my childhood. Our neighbours and we have lost touch since, but I still make sheer korma at home because no Eid feels complete without it.

This is perhaps the most authentic depiction of Hyderabad in the newly released anthology Modern Love Hyderabad. Meherunnisa in the episode 'My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner' reminded me of all the neighbouring aunties who forged uncommon yet strong bonds with the people around them in the best way they knew how. Both the characters and the mentions of traditionally Hyderabadi food were heartening to watch, despite the fact that the Muslim-Hyderabadi characters conversed in Telugu instead of Dakhni in the episode.

The IMDb description of Modern Love Hyderabad reads, "Explores six diverse yet universal stories of different facets, shades and moods of love, all set in the city's many unique milieus."

Are the milieus all that different, though?

Aside from the episodes 'My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner' and 'Why Did She Leave Me There?' the stories seem to share similar backgrounds set in the newer parts of town, featuring the now bustling cafe culture and nightlife in Hyderabad. The protagonists are all middle-class/upper-middle-class cis-het people, possibly in their twenties or thirties. The stories lack a stronger cultural context to the city aside from the linguistic commonality of Telugu.

It's also surprising how Dakhni, a language so central to Hyderabad gets next to no mention aside from Hussain, the auto driver in 'My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner' and Nazneen in 'Fuzzy, Purple and Full of Thorns' peppering it amid predominantly Telugu exchanges. 'Finding Your Penguin' features a Hijab-wearing woman ending her Telugu lines with a customary 'miyan' and 'astagfirullah', making it the only remotely Hyderabadi thing in the story. The reductionist treatment of Dakhni-speaking characters feels like a trope we've seen all too many times in mainstream Telugu cinema. To that degree, Qubool Hai, a web series streaming on Aha that's also set in Hyderabad pays a terrific homage to the language.

While the stories themselves are pretty watchable, thanks to terrific leads like Ritu Verma, Malavika Nair and Komalee Prasad accurately depicting what women go through in the big bad jungle of dating, these stories could have been set anywhere in India. It seems like a stark contrast and almost a disservice to the Modern Love franchise, where the city in focus is treated like a character in every story.

Take Modern Love Mumbai, for example — stories like 'I Love Thane' and 'Veg-Non Veg' focus on a Mumbai that's uniquely different from the South Bombay visuals we're used to watching routinely. I didn't know of the existence of a thriving Chinese culture in India or that there are liveable parts of Mumbai like Thane prior to watching the series.

This is clearly not to say that Hyderabad lacks diversity. We've been a proudly cosmopolitan city with communities of various religions and backgrounds living here for centuries. This diversity seems lost on a series that, ironically, was made to put these stories in focus.

The stories in Modern Love Hyderabad aren't too different from the newer web series you can watch on platforms like Aha or YouTube currently, featuring young Telugu-speaking characters with similar backgrounds.

At a time when we're now able to watch content from anywhere in the world, I've come to realise that one of the main reasons I stick to watching content from certain regions like Korean dramas and movies or Pakistani shows is because they grant me a window into their culture. Sure, stories will always remain central to why something works universally, but perhaps, showcasing one's culture proudly could also be a binding force for viewers to keep coming back for more?

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