(This review contains spoilers!)
Netflix’s anthology Feels Like Ishq was positioned as a slice-of-life experience and it is. It doesn’t attempt to do much and as a result, some shorts come up…short; a little juvenile.
All six episodes are stories in their own right but that leaves them vulnerable to individual judgement, and comparison. Bollywood, for decades, has been using the thematic simplicity of “love” as a crucial element in its formulaic films. If anything, Feels Like Ishq exposes how glaringly limited Bollywood’s idea of love has been, and it does that with an apparent Bollywood twist.
The anthology has been helmed by Anand Tiwari, Ruchir Arun, Tahira Kashyap, Sachin Kundalkar, Jaydeep Sarkar, and Danish Aslam.
Perhaps the anthology’s greatest achievement is its casting— Radhika Madan, while a little cliched (think: Geet from Jab We Met) is convincing as a self-obsessed influencer, Mihir Ahuja plays the role of a star-struck teenager to perfection, and Sanjeeta Bhattacharya’s innocent exploration of her feelings make you root for her character the most.
Save the Da(y)te
Ruchir Arun’s directorial Save the Da(y)te opens with Radhika Madan (Avi) hosting a live about her best friends' Sunaina Dev and Pranav Chopra’s wedding. Right off the bat, this chapter is as Bollywood as it gets. Avi is ridiculously, but believably, self-obsessed and must find Sunaina who ran away hours before the wedding courtesy “cold-feet”.
The film almost drags a bit in the beginning, and you might find yourself wanting to skip ahead which wouldn’t make much of a difference because for the first half it makes little progress. The ‘bubbly’ romantic girl on a road trip with a cynical man (Amol Parashar) is overdone by Bollywood but this OTT Jab We Met retains the charm and comic bits (riddled with dad jokes).
Monisha Thyagrajan writes an interesting tale of a relationship and a blossoming friendship. The debate around the futility of marriage has been done and redone multiple times, but you still find yourself rooting for this wedding to work, and then not, and then…maybe? Also, is anybody going to answer Sunaina’s (very valid) questions about the future?
Quaranteen Crush has a clever title, but doesn’t do much else. It is the only story based in the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic but is also unrealistic; read: live singing from a balcony which sounds produced. The episode’s highlights are Kavita Pais and Jaipreet Singh as Maninder’s (Mihir Ahuja) parents. Both characters have been written with such recognisable quirks.
The story, written by Ghazal Dhaliwal, seems open-shut and rather predictable from the start. A gorgeous NRI neighbour, Nimmi (Kajol Chugh), moves in and the wide-eyed teenager is instantly smitten.
Quaranteen Crush shows potential and flies through its most interesting bit, way too soon. Director Tahira Kashyap Khurrana brings a teenage crush to life but it’s rather clunky, and such lovable characters deserved a better climax.
It is commendable that the episode discusses the nuances of an act like ‘stalking’ but the resolution is too easy for it to seem meaningful. The potential, in question, is to be credited to the actors’ infallible ability to play the characters they’ve been cast in. Regardless, the story must be appreciated for its portrayal of a family stuck in lockdown—the paranoia, the comical resentment, and the casual missteps.
Serendipity and accidents. Anand Tiwari weaves magic on screen, taking the viewer deep into the nooks and crannies of nature. Star Host is a nature documentary come to life around the story of two unexpecting adults who meet by chance. Saurabh George Swamy has written a story about love being an adventure, which doesn’t always have to end in the stereotypical ‘happily ever after’.
Rohit Saraf is Aditya, the charming youngster who dreams of his wild adventure, and Simran Jehani (Tara) is already on hers. Saraf is brilliant as the enthusiastic ‘star host’ who must impress his guest—the demure but determined Tara. Mehr Acharia Dar as Shernaz Aunty can be described as Oogway meets Miss Cleo, who essentially guides Tara.
As Tara explores the new city she’s in, she finds herself at a crossroads between the path that leads her back to her familiar life, and one that is absolutely unpredictable. Aditya, on the other hand, has an iron-clad plan which he spends every second working towards, but what is he missing out on?
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, directed by Danish Aslam, is on the opposite spectrum of its thematic predecessor Geeli Pucchi (in the Netflix anthology Ajeeb Daastaans) but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant.
Queer stories so often stick out like a sore thumb in anthologies, almost as if burdened with the responsibility of ‘social change’. This chapter is just another love story and therein lies its brilliance.
Sanjeeta Bhattacharya (Muskaan) is endearing and relatable in her star-struck crush on new colleague Saba Azad (Tarasha). The story, written by Sulagna Chatterjee, has the innocence of a love story while also dealing with the complications that come with a LGBTQI+ romance.
Muskaan’s Instagram deep-dive, the ‘Love is Love’ posters, the sly glances, and of course, the ‘gay gay gay’ dance are all quintessentially queer without making it a novelty.
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not deals, not only, with Muskan and Tarasha, but also touches upon the themes of anxiety, and abuse in queer relationships which is rarely discussed. It teeters on the line of doing too much with too little time but narrowly manages to reign itself in.
A man from Kerala, Rajeev (Neeraj Madhav), comes to Mumbai in search for a job and meets the clearly more qualified Shahana (Zayn Marie Khan) at the office. This story is not what you would expect but it keeps the pace up, switching seamlessly between the two intertwined tales of love. One tale of love ties the ends of another set in the past. The Interview steps out of line the most in this anthology which is predominantly about two people coming together.
Neeraj Madhav’s character is such a leap in the opposite direction from his role as Moosa in The Family Man 2 and yet, it works.
Arati Raval has written a story that is unexpectedly complex in such a limited space. Not that it hasn’t been done before—12 Angry Men was shot in a room. But director Sachin Kundalkar takes the viewer into Shahana’s memories in an almost pensive state. Even though, we are outsiders looking in, the story is so personal that Shahana’s closure feels like our own.
After the sombre warmth of Interview, the transition to Ishq Mastana is jarring. The premise is simple— after a recent break-up, a rather brash Kabir (Skand Thakur) meets a girl for ‘rebound sex’. Unbeknownst to him, the girl, Mehr (Tanya Maniktala) has brought him to a protest, which soon gets out of hand.
The name takes inspiration from the legendary poet; the episode has the spirit of Kabir’s works but its not nearly as refined.
The story’s catalyst is the police violence, clearly based on real-life stories, which was at the forefront all of last year. It’s a serious issue but the comic music score undercuts the tone a little. However, at the end of the day, this is a story about heart and the short’s heart lies in its backdrop of student protests.
The previously unlikeable Aditya becomes palatable during a well-structured discussion with Mehr about privilege. But how does this unlikely team of teenagers escape the situation they’re stuck in?
Jaydeep Sarkar paces the story perfectly and it keeps you hooked till the end. Shubhra Chatterji and Jaydeep have written a story that seems like it could do more but towards the end, it falls into place solely because it chooses to focus on human relationships over the socio-political context. Maybe that was outside the scope of this anthology.
Kabir’s ‘Haman Hai Ishq Mastana’ resonates throughout; love and a detachment from the world, all while trying to change it bit-by-bit. And you will definitely be humming the rendition after you’re done watching.
Feels Like Ishq is a sputtering journey in the first three episodes but it magnificently picks up in the shorts that follow. She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not and The Interview are arguably the best of the lot. At the risk of sounding corny, they are the ones that feel the most like ishq.
While it begins with a Bollywood-esque idea of romance, each story pushes the envelope a little. Each story (kudos to the writers) makes love more than a feeling; even the ones that could’ve done better. Ishq is a memory, a new beginning, a revolution, closure, and even just plain simple love; and in all its shades this Netflix anthology is an inconsistent chicken soup for the soul.
Feels Like Ishq will be available on Netflix from 23 July.