'Save the Da(y)te', one of six stories in 'Feels Like Ishq' (screen grab).
Netflix is trying hard to please the Indian audiences. And some of its Indian Originals have been good. Yet Netflix has also shown some really ghastly, forced ‘cultural’ local shows. Now, Netflix is famously data-driven. Data may tell you that young people binge-watch shows, they may even analyse psychographics and demographics to suggest to content creators that we need such and such show for such and such audience. But marketing must never forget that content is king. And just because someone is young does not mean they’ll love anything you dish out in the name of content for urban, cosmopolitan 18-23-year-olds.
We spend hours watching K-dramas that are sappy romances and movies like Before Sunrise and movies made from the ageless Jane Austen tales (all watched a hundred times over). So when Feels Like Ishq shows up on ‘My List’, I eagerly watch, ready to relive the days when we first felt the pangs left by the cupid’s arrows.
There are six stories in this cutesy anthology wrapped in pink ribbons and glitter. Some stories will make you want to tell the young people off, and the others will make you run to your loved one and kiss them senseless. As someone who will watch everything on OTT platforms, I am saddened by the extreme swing of the pendulum. Why can’t we have consistently good stories? Did the stories look good on page and fail to translate on film? Let us see…
The first story is a story about a runaway bride and how the best friend and the wedding planner track her down. The banter about whether weddings are all that necessary and if love really exists and what happens to it when the reality of domesticity kicks in is great. Amol Parashar plays the earnest realistic man Jay who knows marriage is all about compromises and irritation from unfulfilled dreams. And he’s pretty good too. But the character of the best friend of the bride - Avni Kalra - played by Radhika Madan is truly, infinitely annoying. Her spoiled rich kid act is so over the top, you wonder if the director of the episode just gave her a brief (be ‘bindas’!) and let her do her thing. And no one, no matter how pretty or rich they are, should be allowed to throw another person’s phone away. Not cute.
The second story is called "Quarantine Crush", and this story makes up for the flaws of every other story in the series. All the characters in the story are - as the young are wont to say - totes adorbs.
The mum who makes tinda (apple gourd) and pumpkin for lunch and dinner and makes YouTube videos because she’s Tadka Queen is one of the best characters written. And when she insisted her son get good grades before he is allowed to have a cell phone made me wonder if the writer had peeked into my childhood where a watch was the prize carrot. Take a bow Kavita Pais who plays mum.
But the tender, luminous love story between the young Sardar boy Maninder and his new young attractive neighbour from ‘Kaneda’ is the best thing I have seen in an Indian Original (and I watch practically everything!). Her dental braces don’t get in the way of what he feels for her! Their trysts from their respective terraces are so wonderful and natural, you feel guilty for peeking. The two bond over guitar, and I practically swooned when they sang. Lyrics by Gurpreet S. Saini and Sameer Kaushal the singer deserve all our praise. Superbly done.
The gentle intimacy, the naturalness in their interaction, how his crush materialises and how innocent his reactions are is everything you’d want from a first love story. I wish all other stories were of this calibre. Well done Mihir Ahuja (who plays Maninder) and Kajol Chugh (the pretty Canadian neighbour!)
The third story "Star Host" tries hard to get a young lad to help a young girl find her place in life when she rents his BNB. The story has a big heart - a girl who has taken this trip because her ex cheated on her and wants to prove this and that - but the execution is hesitant. Rohit Saraf and Simrat Jehani try hard, the setting is stunning, but somewhere the story is not convincing.
The biggest beef I have with these Netflix Originals for India is when they tell gay and lesbian stories. They are most awkwardly told, and the kisses seem to be there more for effect than natural. Movies like The Half Of It and shows like I’m Not Okay With It and Sex Education explore lesbian love in such a wonderful manner, the fourth story She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not/Lot seems childish.
Also the incessant dialogue with self (because Muskan is analysing her feelings for Tarasha) is annoying after a point. Both Sanjeeta Bhattacharya and Saba Azad are natural actors and very sweet, but does an anthology on first love have to have a gay story? It’s force-fitted, and it shows.
In contrast, the next story comes across as refreshing. "Interview", it’s titled. And it has the most heart. Two strangers, waiting to be interviewed, both need the job, but they manage to involve us, the audience, so beautifully, that you wish both of them success at the interview. Zayne Marie Khan has eyes that speak, and her determination is what most of us grew up with: you must come first, you must be the best, you must always try harder. In contrast, the young lad from Kerala, played by Neeraj Madhav (take a bow!) is hesitant, has baggage about his accent and is nervous… What a wonderful combination. Their encounter truly captures the essence of what this series set out to do. Tell us stories of what feels like love.
Even though the sixth story stars the beautiful Tanya Maniktala (you saw her as Lata in A Suitable Boy), the story of a date gone wrong seems rather forced. So a young lad Kabir (Skand Thakur) gets out on a revenge date with Mehr (Tanya Maniktala). But the date is not at a coffee shop or a diner. It’s at a protest. He’s a perfect idiot and she feels awful but she’s too forgiving. Plus, the poetry written by saint Kabir used in the story feels like a crutch, rather than a background to a realisation. (And everyone says Kabir sings well and I’m just happy that Ishq Mastana is over to rewind and check if he really did!)
This seems like a spoiler filled review, but I’m just playing Colonel Jessop from A Few Good Men
protecting you from pathetic viewing… I hope Netflix will go through the content rather than green light an algorithm supported idea.