‘The secret ingredient is love’ isn’t just a cliché, it’s an embarrassment. It says a lot that two unconnected stories in Modern Love Mumbai, a six-episode series based on the popular New York Times column, have a variation on this line. At least one of them—the otherwise delightful Mumbai Dragon—uses it in passing, possibly in jest. Baai has it right at the end, capping a heavy scene. “The secret ingredient is… coriander” may not be poetic, but it’s better than making the viewer groan as someone’s dying.
Let’s start at the top. Mumbai Dragon is perfectly pitched, engaging with history and identity and prejudice without seeming laboured. Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj and co-written with Jyotsna Hariharan, it’s the story of Sui (Yeo Yann Yann), a third-generation Mumbaikar. Her grandfather came here from China and, if a flashback is to be believed, invented sweet corn soup. Food has helped them build bridges ever since; Sui used to sell dim sums at Nariman Point. But it becomes a comic barrier when Sui’s son, aspiring singer Ming (Meiyang Chang), brings home his chatty girlfriend, Megha (Wamiqa Gabbi). She doesn’t eat meat or even garlic, which makes Sui defensive and tetchy. She takes a vow not to speak Hindi anymore until Ming agrees to marry someone from their community.
Bhardwaj draws a lovely sardonic performance from Yann, whom some might know from the Singaporean films Ilo Ilo and Wet Season. Ming resists Sui’s emotional blackmail, but we can also see he’s unable to disappoint her (Megha’s fridge is overflowing with Sui’s lunch boxes for her son), and realise that eventually she’ll have to come around herself. Tassaduq Hussain makes masterful use of cramped spaces. The cultural exchange in the languages—an Indian Chinese woman speaking Hindi, a Punjabi man speaking Cantonese—is very Bhardwaj and also very Mumbai.