Couples from the show Love Storiyaan
Couples from the show Love StoriyaanYouTube screengrabs

Love Storiyaan review: A very bingeable celebration of love across bounds

Produced by Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Productions, ‘Love Storiyaan’ may be guilty of treating remarkable real-life love stories with a filmy, flowery hand. But it is a timely reminder of human connection in the face of arbitrary social boundaries.
Love Storiyaan (Hindi)(3.5 / 5)

In a country where love and marriage can often remain distinct from one another and where arranged endogenous partnerships are the norm, I’ve always found it ironic that so many immensely popular mainstream Hindi films depict love that transcends social boundaries. Love Storiyaan, a docu-series about six real-life couples who challenged barriers of caste, faith, culture, and nationality, is a reminder that perhaps seemingly fantastical Bollywood love stories might not be so far removed from our true aspirations.

Based on six stories from the India Love Project, an Instagram page run by journalists Priya Ramani, Samar Halarnkar, and Niloufer Venkatraman that showcases “love outside the shackles of faith, caste, ethnicity, and gender”, Love Storiyaan was released on Amazon Prime Video on Valentine’s Day. Each of the six stories has a different director – Archana Phadke, Akshay Indikar, Hardik Mehta, Shazia Iqbal, Collin D’Cunha, and Vivek Soni. It uses a mix of on-camera interviews with the couples, a chronicle of a real-time event – meeting the family who didn’t accept them earlier, an old friend who’s often the matchmaker, or returning to their home countries after their resigned departures – and dramatisation and old footage of the past as the couples narrate their love stories and struggles in the present day.

At times, the re-enactment takes away the intensity from the couples’ on-screen presence, treating their experiences with a flowery hand, which appears to soften the extent of the difficulties they describe. For example, in Hardik Mehta’s An Unsuitable Girl, the dramatisation feels lacklustre compared to Aekta’s narration of how her relationship with Ullekh NP, a Malayali journalist based out of Delhi, led her to explore her womanhood and how he won her two children’s affection by tending to their two dogs. Similarly, in Vivek Soni’s Love on Air that recounts the story of rival radio jockeys Nicholas and Rajani, the dramatisation is hard to sit through when the interviews with their young son, Rajani’s parents, their matchmaking friend Mandira, and a very charming and vulnerable Nicholas form the most compelling visuals.

The series is a certified happily ever after – and as a viewer, you know that their hardships, ostracisation, and even the danger to their lives ultimately amount to the families and lives they have built in the present day. But it is hard to not feel the weight of the sacrifice and hardship that these couples have traversed, that the very personal choices they made because they seemed like the most straightforward thing to do to have a loving, equitable relationship are also very political. Shazia Iqbal’s episode, Homecoming, is about Sunit and Farida, an interfaith couple in their 70s who fell in love as college students and migrated from Bangladesh to Kolkata, are the flirtatious lovey-dovey elderly pair that heartwarming love stories are made of. “I understand her; she understood me. Maybe this is love – that we had and we still do,” says Sunit, who lays bare the simplicity behind couples who make choices that defy social bounds.

In Akshay Indikar’s Raah Sangharsh Ki, a powerful story follows the union between Rahul Banerjee, a Brahmin IIT graduate, and Subhadra Karpede, an outspoken Dalit activist. Subhadra felt no need to ask about his background and caste when they married – it mattered more that he agreed she would continue her work and studies, and that he was not violent towards her. Logically, this foundation underpins a sound partnership. However, the steep political and social prices these couples – especially women – pay for such basic rights are painfully clear. Being cut off by families, grappling with poverty, lacking space to grieve children lost to insufficient healthcare, and penalties for supportive relatives are some consequences societies impose. The contrast between the equity, mutual respect, and support these couples share against the arbitrary hurdles they face for defending their relationships highlight the injustices they withstand, while also making clear how the relationship sustains them.

While Love Storiyaan tries hard to capture these challenges, the most beautiful moment in the series happens off camera, or when the couples are focused on one another and sharing banter. For instance, Farida’s reunion with her extended family and long-estranged younger brother during the couple’s hometown revisit in Bangladesh is not captured in the documentary but offered a far more satisfying conclusion. Rahul and Subhadra’s brief exchange about their politics, oppression, and patriarchy reveals the mission that unites them. And in Archana Phadke’s Faasley, the most intimate moments between an Indo-Afghan couple happen when they are in the kitchen, passing ingredients to one another.

Dhanya and Homayon’s cross-border story in Faasley gets the most Bollywood treatment of them all and perhaps where Karan Johar’s touch in recreating their college romance as students in Russia is most visible through young actors frolicking in glistening snow. Perhaps the drama of their cross-border romance, full of immigration challenges and political turbulence in the backdrop of the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan in the early 2000s could have been brought out more by focusing on their narrations alone, especially Homayon’s heartfelt observations about losing basic freedoms as human beings.

While Love Storiyaan’s ‘filmy’ treatment of its subject matter – as can be expected in a Karan Johar production – has its ups and downs, it is important that art captures real life that ends in ‘happily ever afters’, too. This is strongly illustrated by Collin D’Cunha’s Love Beyond Labels, the story of Kolkata trans couple Tista Das and Dipan Chakraborty, where their experience with their gender identities is intertwined with their love story. The ending montage is a rosy date Dipan has planned for their anniversary – and it works because for far too long LGBTQIA+ relationships and trajectories have been seen through the voyeuristic lens of struggle. It matters that an industry giant like Dharmatic Productions portrays their story with hope as its crux.

“Everyone is an activist,” says Tista, “when you stand for something that is against your ideals.” Love Storiyaan is a mixed bag, with some stories proving more impactful than others. However, it remains vital art for a society increasingly reinforcing the very barriers these couples face, where legal and political tools are increasing scrutiny on what happens in our hearts, homes, and bedrooms. At the heart of love stories like these, is choice, which is why the act of love is as political as it is personal. Whether or not the subtext resonates, Love Storiyaan is highly enjoyable and a palatable binge, and convinces us that love stories make for good entertainment as well as aspiration. Most of all, it is a testament to the resilience of human connection in the face of social division.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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