‘Taj Mahal 1989’ Review: A Pensive, Poetic Meditation On Love

A sad-sweet show
80%Overall Score

THE UPSHOT
Netflix’s Valentine’s Day special, Taj Mahal 1989 explores the meaning of love. Set in 1989, the series weaves together stories of four couples associated with Lucknow University. The seven-part limited series is anchored by the layered characters and intelligent insights on the nature of relationships.

Creator: Puhspendra Nath Mishra
Cast: Neeraj Kabi, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Sheeba Chaddha, Danish Husain
Streaming on: Netflix

The show explores love in the time before the internet

How did people meet before Tinder?, asks Angad (Anud Singh Dhaka), breaking the fourth wall. We’re given four examples. Set in 1989, a time before the economic reforms, before the internet changed the way we date, the show follows four couples associated with Lucknow University. Each story examines how love brings out the best and worst in people.

Akhtar (Neeraj Kabi) and Sarita (Geetanjali Kulkarni) have been married for 15 years. Predictably, romance has taken a backseat. Akhtar’s friend, Sudhakar (Danish Husain), a former gold medalist in philosophy from the university works as women’s tailor and lives with Mumtaz (Sheeba Chaddha), a former prostitute. Rashmi (Anshul Chauhan) and Dharam (Paras Priyadarshan), are university students in a relationship with each other. Fourteen-year-old Sunaina (Vasundhara Rajput), a classmate of Dharam’s brother, and Shalin (Mihir Ahuja) are in love and decide to elope.

It means different things to four couples

The story of Sarita and Akhtar is central to the show. They met at Lucknow University as students. Now they teach physics and philosophy respectively at the same university. After 22 years of togetherness and a child, their lives are monotonous, devoid of the romance that drew them together.

Akhtar loves poetry and is at heart a romantic. However, he never demonstrates his affection, which bothers Sarita, who feels lonely and, as a result, is perennially irritable. Sarita, on the other hand, isn’t much of a poet but doesn’t shy away from showing love. In contrast, is Sudhakar, Akhtar’s university buddy. He might not be a professor like his friend, but he takes a philosophical approach to life, namely that you accept people for what they are. He lives with Mumtaz, who he met in a brothel. Mumtaz took three years to trust Sudhakar. Naturally, neither Sudhakar’s family nor society at large accepts them. But they’re sustained by their love for each other.

Dharam, Sudhakar’s nephew, studies in the university and is in a relationship with his fellow student, Rashmi. He’s a jealous boyfriend, endangering their relationship by acting upon his fears. The fourth pair is Sunaina, a teenager and Shalin, who moved to Lucknow from Mumbai.

Love and hate are a couple

Each couple is tested. When Sarita considers getting a divorce, Akhtar strives to rekindle their romance. In an attempt to control Rashmi, Dharam gets embroiled with locals goons, damaging their relationship. Angad, an advisor to Dharam and Rashmi, is cynical about love till he falls for a girl. Sunaina, a fearless teenager in search of love, elopes with Shalin. But he’s not exactly what he seems.

The series concludes with each character speaking into the camera about what loves means to them. Akhtar’s definition, “Love is a mutating virus”, is perhaps the most apt, suggesting that ideas of relationships change over time and generations. Ask the Taj Mahal. The greatest monument to love has been a spectator to millions of couples in various phases of their romantic lives.

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