In Modern Love Season 2 on Amazon Prime, Lucy Boynton encounters Kit Harington on a Dublin train. For a generation not familiar with love, hook, line, and sinker, at first glance—others may remember how Rahul met Simran in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995—Modern Love with all its quaintness makes you smile. This, yet another romance anthology on a streaming platform—and there’s been a bunch of those lately—isn’t a collage. Done correctly, it can hold viewers in a sustained emotional space, like a music album or a book of stories.
Not long ago, the romantic anthology went dead for a while. One would remember the close cousin of the ‘anthology’—the ‘hyperlink film’. In 2007, two Hindi films—Life in a… Metro and Salaam-e-Ishq—combined multiple love stories on a large canvas. In the same year, came Dus Kahaniyaan, a truer anthology of 10 films. While Life in a… Metro became a semi-hit, with Pritam’s soundtrack drawing a cult, the other two failed. With the arrival of OTT came a chance to club multiple directors with minimum risks. Lust Stories (2018) offered a quartet of knotty relationship tales. It had edge and cheek (Karan Johar, one of the four directors, had his heroine orgasm to the Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham tune). Suddenly, a market grew. Also, the pandemic with its endless gloom, meant lighter titles. There was Feels Like Ishq in July, Kaali Peeli Tales in August, and more.
“Anthologies let you tell a story in your own idiosyncratic way,” explains Abhishek Chaubey, who’s directed a segment in Netflix’s Ankahi Kahaniya. Set in 80s’ Mumbai, Chaubey’s film is based on a story by Kannada author Jayanth Kaikini. It follows, for the most part, two lovers inside a single-screen theatre. “The two-and-a-half-hour format has too many demands,” he rues, adding, “In 30 or 40 minutes, you are better off.” Anthology directors don’t often know what other films are about. Even if they do, the packaging and playing order is not decided by them. An exception is Adeeb Rais, who wrote and directed all six episodes in Kaali Peeli Tales (on Amazon miniTV). Beyond the connecting device of each film ending in a cab ride, Rais wanted to create “six different worlds syncing together”.
Often there are cross-currents, which director Saket Chaudhary discovered when he, Chaubey and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari saw their films together for Ankahi Kahaniya. “All our films are about loss,” Chaudhary observes. “They are about not getting the love you aspire for.” Today, Hindi audiences have “lost patience” for a full-length romance, fears producer Ashi Dua. In Bollywood, the only love stories that get made into feature films are romantic comedies (sans the occasional Photograph or Love Aaj Kal). For anything deeper, stronger, or weirder, there’s the anthology. Dua’s own films—including Lust Stories, Paava Kadhaigal and Pitta Kathalu—have strongly ridden that wave. What fascinates her is how different filmmakers interpret love. “Johar’s take will always be different from an Anurag Kashyap’s—one is dal makhani and the other, Chinese.”
A topic of interest is infidelity, and how it relates to marriage. Older couples are appearing more frequently on screen. Queer romances have become relaxed and less caricaturish. The biggest upshot of the anthology has been the return of the working-class love story. In 2020’s Unpaused, the most poignant entry was Vishaanu, about a migrant couple in lockdown. The film’s themes of trust, aspiration and urban survivalism were reflected in Interview (2021); while Sachin Kuldankar’s short in Feels Like Ishq is about two strugglers in Mumbai. “At some point we stopped making films about the working-class. But with OTTs coming in, things are changing.”
Never a slouch, Netflix has already announced IRL: In Real Love, their first dating reality show in India. Meanwhile, smaller platforms such as Hungama Play and ALTBalaji have caught on to the game. The latter is single-handedly responsible for bringing erotica back to the fold. It’s a dizzying time. The world is downsizing, and so is love.