The first Indian Netflix original movie is a Mumbai romance
When writer-director Anand Tiwari, 34, was growing up in Matunga, Mumbai, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was the epitome of love. It was a time when Shah Rukh Khan’s Raj refused to run away with Simran (Kajol) until Amrish Puri acquiesced and told Simran to go “live her life".
“These days," says Tiwari, “problems are internal. Relationships are far less complex."
His own tryst with the transactional nature of relationships was the trigger for Love Per Square Foot, a Hindi romantic comedy about “a marriage of convenience" that pivots around a compelling Mumbai city situation—housing.
Love Per Square Foot stars Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar as characters who enter into a relationship back-to-front. The foundation itself is flawed, as Karina (Dhar) reveals in the trailer. “People first fall in love and then marry and then buy a house. But we started the other way around, right?" she tells Sanjay (Kaushal), a Mumbai boy with aspirations of moving from his modest home to a high-rise apartment.
“Sanjay is an amalgam of myself and Sumeet (Vyas, co-writer). The film is about several things, including the aspiration to own a house, the lack of privacy for intimacy and the idea of transactional relationships, which has bothered me in all my relationships as well," says Tiwari.
Recounting an incident from his own life, Tiwari adds, “Once, during a break-up fight, I said, ‘This is not love, this is love per square foot.’ I thought this made for a great title."
In the age of millennials, love is no longer blind, says Vyas. “People are not just sticking out relationships when there isn’t enough compatibility or love. They are not embarking on great gestures just so that they have a good story to tell their grandchildren either. Today there has to be a balance between the heart and the brain. Sense of self is high priority and so is practicality," says Vyas.
Tiwari and Vyas have the shared experience of growing up in Mumbai, with little, or no privacy. “Friends from more privileged backgrounds spoke of bringing girls home and spending time in their ‘room’, but I lived in a chawl, where we all shared one room. We had no choice but to sit on the rocks by the sea, hold hands and maybe steal a kiss," says Vyas. The near-empty movie hall during a flop movie screening was another great venue. Vyas went to shows of Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag seven times, but he didn’t see much of the film.
Love Per Square Foot releases online on Valentine’s Day. It is the first Netflix original Hindi film. “This is a pure Bollywood masala film," says Tiwari. “It’s a romcom with dance, love and comedy. It represents Bollywood in a zone that matches what Netflix had in mind for an international audience."
The thought of his movie being available in 190 countries around the world, dubbed in various languages and potentially reviewed by international critics, was nowhere on Tiwari’s radar when he was shooting on a Lower Parel building terrace.
Today’s social-media-savvy netizens have an understanding of love quite different from the baby boomers or even Generation X. “When you tire of dancing, you want to get to know the person better. Why die for each other? Why not argue and fight and then go eat Chinese food?" says Vyas.
Tiwari says that while he loves the experience of watching a film in the theatre, he is cognizant of dwindling numbers and the need to reconfigure the economics of a theatrical release. “As a writer-director, economics don’t affect me as much. However, I understand the need to invest in content. On a platform like Netflix, we are competing with Black Mirror, Bright and Okja—content which people are consuming around the world. Our content too has to be relevant to, and affect, all viewers, for which we need to stay true to our stories."
Love, housing, privacy, space, transactional relationships, ambition, the erosion of purity and intensity in romance—these are universal ideas, say the two writers. “People have to like your work wherever they see you," says Tiwari, even if it’s in their own space and time. And space is as much a theme as a metaphor in Love Per Square Foot.