11 movies that reveal the secret to being happy in Mumbai: Sharing dreams in the city that never sleeps
As part of our series on cities in cinema, we have honored Mumbai. In the city of dreams and disparity, love is the only real thing.
There are many wonderful quotes about love and companionship that books, movies, and television have given us over the years. One of my personal favorites is from the show Sex and the City. Carrie Bradshaw says in a voiceover as she stands with Mr. Big in a park at 2 a.m.: “In a city of endless options, sometimes there’s no better feeling than knowing you’re n only have one.”
It’s a deceptively simple line in a show that many perceive as frivolous, but it perfectly expresses the human need to be wanted exclusively and unconditionally. Like Manhattan, Mumbai can be both captivating and intimidating almost simultaneously. Mumbai, like love, “is a thing full of splendor.” It is a city where people arrive to work, fulfill their dreams, improve their financial situation and try their luck in the great Indian dream.
But while it’s a city that lets you dream, Mumbai is a badass. We are jostled in the trains and the crowded streets. There is dirt, noise, pollution and small houses which can often leave you feeling claustrophobic. Excessive physical closeness between people is often juxtaposed with a lack of emotional intimacy. If there’s one thing that helps us rise above the hustle and often sadness of everyday life, it’s having someone special in your life. Knowing you have someone to come home to, talk about your day with, or just share a cup of coffee at the Bandstand or Marine Drive.
Bollywood films have also realized the redeeming, soothing and transformative power of love in a city like Mumbai where millions of foreigners live, travel and work side by side every day. Over the decades, Mumbai has been the backdrop for many cinematic love stories. Some sweet, some poorly timed, some tragic, and more than a few happily ever after. In gangster movies and crime dramas like Company, Satya and Shor in the City, love is what humanizes men with criminal intent or problematic personalities. Kind of like Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall, who says to waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) in As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.”
As a city linked to organized crime and the infamous underworld, Mumbai has been the scene of many crime dramas. It is therefore not surprising that films like Company, Satya and Shootout at Lokhandwala are based in the city. But while poverty, lack of education, greed or sectarian violence in the city drives men to a life of crime, love is often what humanizes them. In the groundbreaking film Satya, which became the benchmark for gangster films in India, Satya’s relationship with Vidya wasn’t just a break from an otherwise violent film. Vidya and a life with her was Satya’s only chance to escape a world of crime he had been sucked into. As their love story ends tragically, the theme of love as a chance for redemption for an individual wronged by fate and society has become a narrative trope that many Mumbai-based films of this genre have utilized.
Very often in Mumbai-based Bollywood movies, love also has the ability to ennoble a person. In a city where food, income, and chances for true happiness are scarce, only true love can inspire you to put someone else’s happiness first. In Citylights, Deepak (Rajkummar Rao) puts his life on the line to ensure that his wife Rakhi (Patralekha) and their daughter Mahi return safely to their village. In Talaash, love not only redeems Suri (Aamir Khan), but also the secondary characters. The poignant love story between Taimur (Nawazzudin Siddiqui) and Nirmala (Sheeba Chaddha) and his sacrifice to help him escape a miserable life in a brothel, adds a wonderful layer of emotional complexity to the narrative. In Mani Ratnam’s iconic film Bombay, love for each other and their children compels Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala’s characters to take on rioters and become the face of hope and hope. religious unity in the city.
If love can be the balm of a wounded soul or a means of ennoblement, in Mumbai it can also be the bond between two strangers who might never have met otherwise. Very often in Bollywood films, we see the city itself or an aspect of it playing cupid between two people.
In The Lunchbox, a Mumbai dabbawalla accidentally delivers Ila’s (Nimrit Kaur) husband’s lunch box to Sajjan Fernandes (Irrfan). Sajjan is a widower and lives alone, and Ila is alone in her failing marriage. She writes a note to Sajjan when she realizes the mistake, unknowingly beginning a correspondence that is transformative for both of them. Although they never meet in the film, the unlikely way they make a connection proves that miracles happen amid the craziness of Mumbai.
Life in a subway was another wonderful movie that summed up how hard it was to find true love in a city like Mumbai. The cast of the film included many actors like Dharmendra, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kangana Ranaut, Kaykay Menon, Sharman Joshi and of course the wonderful Irrfan. The film used the motif of local trains and railway platforms which are the lifeline of Mumbai to depict the human journey. While life here may be like the Virar, fast-paced, crowded, and often unbearable, it’s also filled with the hope of finding a lifelong co-passenger.
Wake up Sid, though told from a more privileged perspective, is also the heartfelt story of two strangers who meet at a party and forge an unlikely bond. In a coming-of-age tale of two lost and seemingly disconnected individuals finding love and purpose in Mumbai, Sid and Ayesha become friends, roommates and colleagues before falling deeply in love. Both realize that while they love growing up and being independent, having someone to share the journey with is what makes life really special.
Even in Ravine Boy where the love story wasn’t the film’s central conflict when Murad (Ranveer Singh) takes a giant leap towards his dream, the person he wants to share the news with first is Safeena (Alia Bhatt), because seeing your happiness reflected in the eyes of someone you love only magnifies it.
Love can make the world go round, but it makes life bearable in Mumbai. In a city that forces you to live fast, love forces you to slow down and soak up little moments of joy with someone who wants to stay still with you. Mumbai may be the city that never sleeps, but the prospect of finding someone who shares your dreams can be worth it.
As part of our Cities in Movies series, we’re focusing on Chennai next week. Watch this place.