Directors: Ruchir Arun, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, Anand Tiwari, Danish Aslam, Sachin Kundalkar and Jaydeep Sarkar
Written by: Monisha Thyagarajan; Gazal Dhaliwal; Saurabh Swamy and Aarsh Vora & Ritwiq Joshi; Sulagna Chatterjee; Arati Raval and Sachin Kundalkar; Jaydeep Sarkar and Shubhra Chatterjee
Starring: Radhika Madan and Amol Parashar; Kajol Chugh and Mihir Ahuja; Simran Jehani and Rohit Saraf; Saba Azad and Sanjeeta Bhattacharya; Zayn Marie Khan and Neeraj Madhav; Tanya Maniktala and Skand Thakur
Streaming on: Netflix
Feels Like Ishq is the title of the latest Netflix anthology – a collection of six films about young love. In each story, eyes meet and sparks fly. The protagonists vary from teenagers to young adults. The circumstances range from a protest to a marriage that almost falls apart to a job interview. The actors are a sprinkling of new and familiar faces, including Radhika Madan, Rohit Saraf and Tanya Maniktala. Most of the films are thirty minutes long but truthfully, little in the three hours feels like ishq. Much of it feels synthetic, simplistic, straining to be meaningful and, largely, insipid.
The first scene in the first film in the anthology, Save the Da(y)te, begins with an Instagram live. Radhika plays Avni, an influencer who has over 500,000 followers. Eighty-four thousand watch her talk about her best friend's impending wedding. Since these stories are about young people, cell phones, social media and hashtags play a pivotal role: in Star Host, a girl struggling with a controlling boyfriend embarks on a solo holiday and captures each epiphany with a photo and a hashtag; in Quaranteen Crush, a teenage boy in Chandigarh who doesn't yet own a phone borrows his mother's and texts the girl next door; in She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not – the one same-sex story in the anthology – a bisexual girl is thrilled to discover on social media that her crush is gay. Text messages and social media posts flash on screen. The word 'fuck' is used a lot. In some stories, music makes the heart grow fonder.
But this celebration of youth in the first flush of amour falters because the writing is so banal. Sample some of the dialogue. In Star Host, directed by Anand Tiwari and written by Saurabh Swamy with additional writing by Aarsh Vora and Ritwiq Joshi, a wise, elderly restaurant owner gives the following advice: "Life is too short to pass judgement on something like baingan that you've never tried." Later in the film, one character refers to another as a 'toxic tattoo'. In She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, directed by Danish Aslam and written by Sulagna Chatterjee, we are told, 'Never judge a lesbian by her cover,' or 'real life is this: traffic, pollution aur pyaar.' In Ishq Mastana, directed by Jaydeep Sarkar and co-written by Jaydeep and Shubhra Chatterji, a character says: 'Kuch nahi badlega. Duniya fucked thi aur shayad fucked hi rahegi.' Which made me wonder – is this true of anthologies also?
Rising above the dreck is The Interview, directed by Sachin Kundalkar, who you might remember from the intriguing Aiyyaa, in which a man's fragrance kindles an intense love story. The Interview is less flamboyant – two candidates arrive for a job interview at an electronics store. The girl, played by Zayn Marie Khan, is smarter, more ambitious and determined. The boy, played by Neeraj Madhav, is from Kerala. New to Mumbai, he is hesitant and conscious of his accent. But as they wait for their turn, she tutors him and they find a hint of a friendship. Sachin and co-writer Arati Raval layer in commentary about Mumbai's inherent cosmopolitan texture, the struggle to find a foothold in the city and the gaping distance between the lives of salespeople and the dreams they are selling. Unlike the other films, there is a sting in this story, which only makes it sweeter.
You might also find a lingering sweetness in Tahira Kashyap Khurrana's Quaranteen Crush. The title is a tad too cute but Mihir Ahuja as Maninder, a fumbling, bumbling, besotted boy, makes up for it. The story, by Gazal Dhaliwal, also makes room for a fun, overbearing mother who has her own aspirations to be a YouTube star – tadke ki maharani Manjeet. Incidentally the songs in the film have been composed by Ayushmann Khurrana and Sameer Kaushal.
If you are interested in a story about young love that will get under your skin, may I suggest Rani in an Amazon Prime anthology called Aanum Pennum (which means Man and Woman in Malayalam). Directed by Aashiq Abu, the film is about two college students who head to a scenic but remote spot with sex on their minds. What happens next is unexpected, wickedly funny and frightening. Aashiq gives the story Biblical underpinnings and the actors – Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran – are terrific.
Feels Like Ishq has little of this subversion, irreverence or messiness. You can watch the anthology on Netflix India.