“It was the city of Mumbai, and my struggle with love itself that led me to come up with this story,” says Anand Tiwari, director of Netflix’s first Hindi film Love Per Square Foot. He invokes Ghalib to elaborate on his lackadaisical love life, which essentially forms the plot of the film. “Ghalib ka romance chahiye tha umar bhar, ki ek aag ka dariya hoga, and I shall drown in it to get to the other side. I never got that intensity. Love has become conditional, and we have messed up the purest things in the world. Sadly, unconditional love has been relegated to just literature, music and movies,” says the 34-year-old.
A romcom set in Mumbai, Love Per Square Foot stars Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar in the lead, with an impressive supporting cast of Ratna Pathak Shah, Supriya Pathak and Raghubir Yadav. The film’s premise — space crunch and the constant struggle to succeed — is something that Tiwari, a fourth generation Mumbaikar whose family moved here from Rae Bareli, is familiar with. “I am born and brought up in Matunga Road, which suffers from an existential crisis. People from the eastern side of Matunga don’t claim it as theirs. Mahim doesn’t acknowledge it as well. It’s in the middle of nowhere. I have lived in small houses for about the first 16 years of my life. Space is a metaphor in the film,” says Tiwari. “The space that Sanju Chaturvedi (Vicky Kaushal) keeps hankering after is a space that allows you to be yourself. Space crunch is just the premise of the film; it is essentially about relationships — that of the two young lovers, the conflicted one between two generations, and the resultant clash between our virtues and our aspirations.”
The film also addresses the conflict that ensues between the elder generation and their children. Sanju is an IT professional, while his father is a government employee. The heroine Karina D ’Souza (Angira Dhar) works in a corporate set up. Her mother is a seamstress. “Our millennials, they are very different from let’s say when I was born. I was brought up in a very socialist environment. I was taught the importance of loving people around us and how money was never the reward, relationships mattered. But the younger people are so influenced by the globalised economy of today, they are more individualistic and only their aspirations matter to them,” sighs Tiwari.
Romantic comedy is a genre that many in Bollywood have tried their hands at in the recent past, but failed. This realistic effort by Tiwari is his little nudge to Bollywood that not all romances take place under waterfalls and in lush mustard fields. “Let’s not make romance about moons and stars. Where was your first kiss, were there any water fountains around? Can you kiss in a crowded local? Coming back to the space thing — yes it’s a constant struggle for people in Mumbai. In the film, every tender or significant moment happens in a crowded place. As a country, we are very in your face. When there is a fight, we stand and watch, people slow down their cars. We watch the foreigners. We create our own spaces, like in Mumbai there is Marine Drive and Bandstand — they create their own isolated space and they are not affected that people can see them,” says Tiwari.
Tiwari, who trained in theatre under Sunil Shanbag, has sported many hats in his career — he has been an assistant director on the sets of Barfi and The President is Coming, and has directed acclaimed short films like Bang Baaja Baraat and Neighbours. His acting credits include Udaan, Go Goa Gone, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy and the television show Sumit Sambhal Lega.“The performing arts had always fascinated me. There is no black and white for me — as in acting vs directing. At times, I vegetate for two-three weeks at a time, when I am just watching films,” says Tiwari.
He has co-written Love Per Square Foot along with actor Sumeet Vyas, a close friend. “Our lives have been similar, we both come from middle class households with very conventional parents — Marwaris on that side, and bhaiyas on mine. We also share the same core values. And we are living our dreams right now,” says Tiwari.
The treatment of film, Tiwari asserts, was not influenced by the fact that it will be aired only on a web streaming platform. “I made a movie. The platform on which it will be aired doesn’t matter to me. As a consumer, we don’t really care for the platform, content is the lone king. Game of Thrones is the most scaled up show ever, and it’s on TV. If you like something, the size of the screen becomes redundant,” says Tiwari, who has a busy year ahead. “I am all set to write another feature film for Ronnie Screwvala, and have also written and co-produced a TV show, Gabru, for Discovery Jeet,” he says.