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Modern Love Hyderabad: What made showrunner Nagesh Kukunoor say yes to the Telugu version

Filmmaker Kukunoor has also directed three of the six shorts in the Amazon Prime series starring Nithya Menen, Revathy and Suhasini Hasan

Ratnalekha Mazumdar Calcutta Published 08.07.22, 06:21 PM
A moment from Modern Love Hyderabad, streaming on Amazon Prime; showrunner Nagesh Kukunoor (right)

A moment from Modern Love Hyderabad, streaming on Amazon Prime; showrunner Nagesh Kukunoor (right) Instagram

Filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor loves to take up new challenges, steers clear of repetition and the OTT space allows him that “creative freedom”. We also got to know that the story of Doorman in Modern Love, his favourite, is the reason he agreed to do Modern Love Hyderabad and that he has ticked off his wish list to work with his once-upon-a-time crush – Revathy and Suhasini Hasan — in the show streaming on Amazon Prime. Here’s a chat with the showrunner of the romantic comedy anthology Modern Love Hyderabad, who has also directed three episodes.

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First up, what was your thought while selecting these six stories for Modern Love Hyderabad from the The New York Times column?

Nagesh Kukunoor: We had a writers’ team. Besides me, there were two other writers, the producer, and her team. So we all sat and shortlisted a bunch of articles. From 100, we brought it to around 25 and then picked these six because we felt these covered two aspects – one was that it would appeal to a Telugu audience, and it would at least give a whole range of what Modern Love should be.

How was the experience of working on a story which isn’t written by you?

Nagesh Kukunoor: It was a challenge and that’s what makes it so exciting. All through my career, I have tried to do something that I haven’t done before. I don’t want to repeat myself and this OTT space has allowed me to do so many different things.

You have primarily worked in Hindi but with Good Luck Sakhi and now with Modern Love Hyderabad, you have forayed into the Telegu space which, by the way, is your mother tongue. So, is it a sort of homecoming for you?

Nagesh Kukunoor: (Smiles) I am Telugu boy though I was always terrified to tell this. Even though I grew up in Hyderabad, we travelled. So I learnt to read and write in Hindi, and I never learnt Telugu, which is a regret. But that is the way it’s been, so I was always sceptical about delving into it. I didn’t have a good command over the language, and I knew I had to put in a lot of effort.

But then, projects happen. Like I did Good Luck Sakhi where I got the opportunity to collaborate with Keerthy Suresh. With Modern Love Hyderabad, the series is just a great series. Let’s try and rise to the challenge of putting something, hopefully of a reasonable quality next to the original. All the Modern Love seasons will sit together in one place in the world, right? That was a challenge that brought me to the Telegu space because it is not about me doing one episode. It might have been the case if I had done it in Hindi, but here the creative space is far more exciting.

Coincidentally, your foray into the Telegu space is at a time when all South films are doing better business than Bollywood…

Nagesh Kukunoor: Isn’t that a recent thing? I did Good Luck Sakhi three years ago. I don’t think I can gaze into the crystal ball like that. I just do my own thing. (Smiles)

After directing films, what is the OTT space doing to you?

Nagesh Kukunoor: With City of Dreams (Disney+ Hotstar), I could write a long series format show. That was a challenge and directing it was a mega challenge. With Modern Love Hyderabad, I could do two to three different things. One was like, I just mentioned, take someone else’s idea and then build on it, but make it relevant to a certain audience. Then finally, I did an anthology, so to write stories that begin, end and complete in 30 minutes was a huge challenge. All of this makes for a very exciting show. Schedules were tight. There is creative freedom in this space. We started the journey in January 2021, so it was challenging to keep the creative thought constant in our head.

The audience has evolved over the last two years during the pandemic. What is your observation as a filmmaker?

Nagesh Kukunoor: In the last two years, people have just sat around and done nothing and watched a lot of content. And I think there has been a little bit of an overkill to some extent. So, it becomes more challenging for me. People finish an entire season in a single day. It’s true binge-watching for two years that causes an overkill. I, as a filmmaker, never think about what the audience thinks, what works and what trends are there. If I feel compelled enough to do something, I will do it, so I need to be convinced. That is the beginning and the end of it. Always. Second guessing the audience is a slippery slope and there is no coming back.

And what about as an audience? What did you watch during the pandemic?

Nagesh Kukunoor: To be perfectly honest, I sort of went the other way during the entire pandemic. I watched less and read more because it’s so easy to watch TV and people have abandoned reading. I did a terrific amount of reading. I was extremely pleased with myself because I had become a horrible reader over the years, so that was lovely. But I never restrict myself to a genre (while watching on OTT). I go where my mood takes me, so the OTT platform is perfect. One day I can watch horror, then another day action, and next day, drama.

How was it collaborating with powerful actresses such as Revathy, Suhasini Hasan and Nithya Menen?

Nagesh Kukunoor: There is a wish list of actors who I had wanted to work with, whom I had admired in the ’80s, before I left for the US. Clearly, the list had Revathy and Suhasini Hasan. One had a crush back in the day (Smiles). It was very nice when I reached out to them and they said yes. In My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner, I worked with two actors from two different eras. It was wonderful. Both brought their set skills.

Nithya is one of the most beautiful, instinctive actors I have ever worked with. She does everything so effortlessly. For her, one moment she is chilling, and then next she does a great take. Revathy had to work hard because Telegu is not her mother tongue. The results are terrific, and I hope the audience enjoys it as much as I enjoyed making it. Women will have a much stronger reason to like it because of the mom-daughter relationship portrayed in it, which is arguably the most unique thing. There is love, hate and everything in between. Also, you will finally come away hungry because there is a lot of delicious food shown, which I find the best in the world, but everyone has their own opinion.

Tell us a bit about what to expect in the other two episodes directed by you and which aspect of Hyderabad you capture…

Nagesh Kukunoor: Fuzzy, Purple and Full of Thorns features Aadhi Pinisetty and Ritu Varma. It was out of my comfort zone because the kind of tone I wanted to bring with it was a little wacky and over the top. I used different devices to tell the story. There is 2D animation that bridges the gap in the storytelling. This story is about a live-in couple in Gachibowli and has shown the modern side of the city.

Why Did You Leave Me There…? features Suhasini Hasan and Naresh Agastya. It’s the most emotional among all the six stories. It’s about a grandmother and her grandson. A huge chunk is set in the slums of Hyderabad, so I managed to capture three different elements of the city in terms of relationships and the visual backgrounds.

Which is your favourite Modern Love episode?

Nagesh Kukunoor: I haven’t watched a single episode of Modern Love Mumbai. I am in the US, so I will do it after getting back to India. When I was asked to be the showrunner of Modern Love Hyderabad, I said no because I had assumed it to be a show about romance or something like that. So, I was told to watch it to understand. I watched the first episode of Modern Love (US) Season 1 and I said I will do it, after watching Doorman. It’s still my favourite. That’s how it happened.

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