Cast: Rohit Saraf, Radhika Madan, Tanya Maniktala, Amol Parashar, Neeraj Madhav, Simran Jehani, Kajol Chugh, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, Skand Thakur, Zayn Marie Khan, Saba Azad, Mihir Ahuja
Director: Anand Tiwari, Ruchir Arun, Tahira Kashyap, Sachin Kundalkar, Jaydeep Sarkar, Danish Aslam
Rating: 3 stars
A Netflix Original series of six short fiction films, Feels Like Ishq tells stories of the first rumblings of romantic love, not of the mesmerizing, fluttery, all-enveloping kind but the sort that, in an infinitely quieter way, hastens self-awareness.
Produced by Seher Aly Latif (to whose memory the series is dedicated) and Shivani Saran, the films dwell on tentative, tremulous probing rather than on passion-filled plunges into the unknown. Like the characters they portray, the films feel their way around in search of the sweet spot. They hit the target only occasionally but the misses do no permanent damage.
The formula is familiar. Mismatched pairs are thrown into situations in which words begin to fail them and they are compelled to bank on pure instinct. In the process, two people who share little in common stumble upon life-altering connections and realizations. Not all of the incipient relationships in Feels Like Ishq are sealed with a kiss. But every one of them culminates in a minor epiphany.
All the six episodes of Feels Like Ishq tap the quaint and explore the unexpressed. They have something on offer by way of understated drama. The series has one creative director (Devrath Sagar), but each story is written and directed by a separate duo. So, every short film has a distinct flavour and inevitably differs from the others in terms of impact and accomplishment.
Save the Da(y)te
The opening short, written by Monisha Thyagrajan and directed by Ruchir Arun, is a lively tale that revolves around a spirited bridesmaid (Radhika Madan) and an on-duty wedding planner (Amol Parashar) who banter over their contrasting ideas of love and marriage as they look for a runaway bride who develops cold feet just ahead of her nuptials in Goa and takes to her heels.
In next to no time, the equations between the two incompatible people begin to change as the reluctant bride - who does not exactly send the pursuers on a wild goose chase - and her would-be husband negotiate terms with each other before they take the plunge.
Radhika Madan is suitably sprightly as the tequila-guzzling Avani and Parashar just the right blend of detachment and involvement in the role of the 'wedding project manager' who is pulled into a deal he hadn't signed up for. Breezy enough to pass muster.
The second short in the series, directed by Tahira Kashyap Khurrana with a screenplay by Gazal Dhaliwal, centres on a teenage boy smitten by a girl from Canada who quarantines in the house across the street. The boy discovers that they both have a passion for music but he looks for other excuses, too, to chat up the girl.
It is a quick transition from boyish awkwardness to a mellow understanding of where he stands when a sobering thought enters the young lad's head and completely changes his attitude towards the girl. Quaranteen Crush, buoyed by endearing turns by Mihir Ahuja and Kajol Chugh, is a disarmingly simple riff on the coming-of-age genre placed in a pandemic-hit world where solitude can feel much worse than it actually is.
The paths of a teenager who, in order to fund his dream trip to see the Northern Lights, does something he has never done before and a girl on her first solo trip ever cross in Star Host, written by Saurabh George Swamy and directed by Anand Tiwari. The boy rents out his family's Mahabaleshwar holiday home to a couple on a bed-and-breakfast basis. Turns out that the guest who checks in has no companion.
The girl has just broken up with her control freak-boyfriend. But she herself is a bundle of phobias that stops her from letting her guard down and living it up. The couple of days she spends with the stranger is the lap of nature promises to change her forever. Will she grab the opportunity?
Playing the two leads, Rohit Saraf and Simraj Jahani lend freshness and relatability to the encounter of two unlike souls.
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not
Amid five other stories of straight love, this tale, helmed by Danish Aslam and scripted by Sulagna Chatterjee, is about a same-sex relationship. She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not is about a girl who meets a girl in an office setting. They are markedly different but are drawn to each other. One hasn't yet come out of the closet; the other is coming off a painful breakup.
Tarasha (Saba Azad), a respected copywriter, joins an ad agency where 23-year-old Muskaan (Sanjeeta Bhattacharya) is a design professional. Although the latter introduces herself as bisexual, she is tentative about the moves she makes. The more experienced Tarasha helps her work her way through her doubts even as she herself looks for ways to tide over the rough patch that she is in the middle of.
The one line to take away from this short has no bearing on the lesbian relationship. One of the two women says: "Eggless cake and veg biryani (are) two things that prove God is dead." Couldn't agree more!
The best of the six, and by a fair distance at that, Interview probes an encounter between two job seekers that goes well beyond the realms of ambition and competition. The short, scripted by Aarti Rawal and directed by Sachin Kundalkar, draws strength as much from the sensitive writing as from the delicately modulated performances by Zayn Marie Khan and Neeraj Madhav.
The former plays a Muslim girl who is finicky to a fault. The latter is a Malayali boy in Mumbai who speaks a smattering of Hindi, which puts him at a disadvantage as the two applicants vie for the same job in an electronics superstore. The girl goes out of her way to help the latter with tips before he steps into the interviewer's room.
Two people at the lower end of the social scale in a frenetic world where every opportunity has to be grabbed find common ground in a situation that pits them against each other. Their exchanges - and the quick evolution of their relationship - fill out a story that one is instantly invested in. The directorial touches are simple, but the takeaways are informed with intriguing complexities.
Kabir's mystic verse finds its way into Ishq Mastana, which takes its title from a song composed by the 15th century Sufi poet, and enriches it in a way that nothing else could have. Directed by Jaydeep Sarkar (who is also the co-writer of the short with Subhra Chatterji), the story, like the others in the series, hinges on a clash of two opposing worldviews. It eventually stands apart because of the manner in which it combines politics and poetry.
Kabir (Skand Thakur), nursing a broken heart, plans a date with activist Mehr (Tanya Maniktala). The former thinks it will lead to a therapeutic no-strings-attached one-night stand. But he finds himself at a students' protest meeting. What is going on in the world isn't Kabir's 'battle'. He admits as much. In contrast, for Mehr and her ilk, standing around doing nothing while animals die and forests are razed is not an option.
The collision of personalities has its moments. The finest emerges through "Haman hai ishq mastana/Haman ko hoshiyari kya," a Sufi ghazal pregnant with meaning in the context of a world that has never been more in need of an infusion of madness because it faces grave threats from greedy men and their destructive machines.
Tanya Maniktala, last seen in Mira Nair's A Suitable Boy, is luminous. It is just as well that the series ends with her act. Her quietly efficient, bewitching performance helps Feels Like Ishq, a series that might not sweep you off your feet but is easy to love, linger just a touch longer.