As part of the Cities in Film series, we put Mumbai in the spotlight. In a city of dreams and inequality, love is the only real thing.
Books, movies, and TV have given us many wonderful quotes about love and friendship over the years. One of my personal favorites is the Sex and the City series. “In a city full of possibilities, sometimes there’s no better feeling than knowing you only have one,” Carrie Bradshaw said in a voiceover as she stood with Mr Big in the park at 2am.
In a show that many consider frivolous, it’s a deceptively simple line, but it perfectly expresses the human need to be wanted exclusively and unconditionally. Like Manhattan, Mumbai can be both fascinating and intimidating at almost the same time. Mumbai, like love, is “colorful”. This is a city where people come to work, realize their dreams, improve their financial fortunes and try their luck in the great Indian dream.
But while it’s a city that makes you dream, Mumbai is a strict discipline. We were pushed around on trains and crowded streets. Dirt, noise, pollution and tiny houses often make you feel claustrophobic. Excessive physical intimacy between people is often offset by a lack of emotional intimacy. If there’s one thing that helps us escape the hustle and bustle and monotony of everyday life, it’s having that special someone in your life. Know that you have someone to come home to, talk about your day, or just grab a coffee on the bandstand or Marine Drive.
Bollywood films also show the redeeming, soothing and transformative power of love in cities like Mumbai, where millions of strangers live, travel and work side by side every day. Mumbai has been the location for many movie love stories over the decades. Some sweet, some anachronistic, some tragic, and more than a few happy endings. In gangster movies and crime dramas like The Company, Satya, and Shore in the City, love is what humanizes anyone with a criminal agenda or problems. Like Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall telling waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) “You make me want to be a better person” in “Do Your Best.”
Mumbai, a city associated with organised crime and a notorious underworld, has been the backdrop for many crime dramas. So it’s no surprise that films like Company, Satya and Shootout at Lokhandwala feature the city as a backdrop. But while poverty, lack of education, greed, or sectarian violence in cities force people to live criminal lives, love often humanizes them. In the seminal film Satya that became a benchmark for Indian gangster cinema, Satya’s relationship with Vidya was more than a respite in a violent movie. Vidya and her life are Satya’s only chance to escape the criminal world into which he was drawn. When their love story ends tragically, the theme of love as a chance for redemption for an individual wronged by fate and society becomes a narrative trope used by many such films in Mumbai.
Many times, in Bollywood movies in Mumbai, love also has the power to ennoble. In a city where food, income, and opportunities for true happiness are scarce, only true love can inspire you to put the happiness of others first. In Citylights, Deepak (Rajkummar Rao) risks his life to ensure the safe return of his wife Rakhi (Patralekha) and their daughter Mahi to their village. In Tarash, love not only redeems Suri (Aamir Khan), but also the supporting cast. The poignant love story between Taimur (Nawazzudin Siddiqui) and Nirmala (Sheeba Chaddha), and his sacrifice to help her escape her miserable life in a brothel, adds a wonderful layer of emotional complexity to the story. In Mani Ratnam’s cult film Bombay, love for each other and for children forces Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala’s characters to fight rioters and become spokesmen for the city’s hope and religious unity.
While love can be a solace or a means of nobility for a wounded soul, in Mumbai it can also be a bond between two strangers who might otherwise never meet. In Bollywood movies we often see the city itself or some aspect of the city playing Cupid between two people.
In the lunch box, Mumbai Dabbawara accidentally hands Ira (Nimrit Kaul) husband’s lunch box to Sajijan Fernandez (Irfan). Sajjan is a widower living alone, and Ila feels alone in her failed marriage. She wrote a note to Sajjan after noticing the mistake and unknowingly started a communication that was vital to both of them. While they never meet on film, their unlikely bond proves that miracles happen amid Mumbai’s madness.
Life in a Metro was another wonderful film that encapsulated just how hard it was to find true love in a city like Mumbai. The film’s ensemble cast included many fine actors like Dharmendra, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kangana Ranaut, Kaykay Menon, Sharman Joshi and of course the wonderful Irrfan. The film used the motif of local trains and railways platforms that are Mumbai’s lifeline to depict the human journey. While life here maybe like the Virar fast, crowded and often unbearable, it’s also filled with the hope of finding a co-passenger for life.
Wake up Sid, though told from a more privileged point of view, is also a heartfelt tale of two strangers who meet at a party and forge an unlikely bond. In a coming-of-age tale where two lost and seemingly disconnected individuals find love and purpose in Mumbai, Sid and Ayesha become friends, roommates and co- workers before they fall deeply in love. The two realise that as much as they enjoy adulting and being independent, having someone to share the journey with is what makes life truly special.
Even in “Gulch Boys,” where the love story isn’t the conflict at the center of the film, when Murad (Ranveer Singh) takes a big step toward his dream, he decides to start with Safina (Alia Bhatt). ornament) who shared the news because he saw the happiness in your loved one’s eyes only magnifies it.
Love can move the world, but it makes life in Mumbai bearable. In a city that forces you to live in the fast lane, love forces you to slow down and have short-lived pleasures with people who want to be with you. Mumbai may be a city that never sleeps, but the prospect of finding someone who shares your dreams will make it all worth it.