I've planned and cancelled at least three getaways at various stages of the pandemic. So have many people I know. Almost as a reminder, the first film in Feels Like Ishq unfolds in Goa, the third in Mahabaleshwar. One jolly figure is even saving up for the Northern Lights (as opposed to, say, food and essentials in the third wave). Sure, travel and romcoms tend to go well together, but do they really need to rub it in our faces?
Romantic getaways, chance encounters…. these are the preoccupations of Feels Like Ishq, a collection of six love stories on Netflix. Save The Da(y)te, which opens the anthology, sends Amol Parashar and Radhika Madan on a car ride across Goa. He’s a wedding planner, she the (runaway) bride’s friend. It also sets up the rest of the series: light, frolicking stories that don’t try too much —more Instagram Reels than Modern Love.
At times, the films look so similar they could’ve stitched this up as a feature. Star Host and Ishq Mastana essentially riff on the same idea, in different settings. The visuals have that bright, candy floss sheen of OTT romances.
Danish Aslam’s film, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, has a nice setup, but loses itself in production design excess (do advertising agencies really look this glitzy?). Still, it’s one of the smarter ones in the series, with a genuinely relaxed take on queer love in urban India.
Most of the films are in Hinglish (or some combination thereof). Characters don’t talk so much as spill out their life philosophies. “Happily ever after is a myth,” says one. “Life is too short to pass judgment,” quips another.
Only Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, directing the goofy Quaranteen Crush, has fun with Ghazal Dhaliwal’s script. It’s mostly in Punjabi, about a boy looking out for his quarantined neighbour. But pandemic films aren’t a novelty anymore, and Dhaliwal’s observations on space and intimacy barely scratch the surface.
Which brings us to Interview, a bittersweet story directed by Sachin Kundalkar and starring Neeraj Madhav and Zayn Marie Khan. It’s the obvious outlier in the series, following two strugglers at a job interview in Mumbai. The change in texture might impress some; others would see it as a way to accommodate the wider world. As for me, I feel heavily divided about the film, with its on-the-nose commentary and a jarring moment of sentimental overreach.
The show is frequently lifted by its cast. Radhika Madan turns in a lithe, enjoyable performance (“I was so hungover dude…” she drawls, sliding to the front of an Impala convertible). Neeraj Madav embodies his nervy interviewee with a lot of heart. Most impressive is Simran Jehani as the lonely tourist in Star Host. “You’re obsessed,” she tells Rohit Saraf’s amateur host, looking up at a ceiling done up like the Northern Skies.
Taken at a go, the films make an odd bunch. Some meander within the 30-minute mark, others seem to race by on rollerblades. Revisit your favourite romcoms and you’ll find artists really taking their time. Intricacies, not speed, decide a love story’s fate.