There is no love more sincere than the love of food. Food unites us in a special way and Vishal Bhardwaj’s Mumbai Dragon, a part of the recently released Amazon Prime anthology, Modern Love: Mumbai is a beautiful reflection of just that. There are six heart-felt stories in the series but the pick of the lot is definitely the tale of Sui and Ming - a classic take on a mother-son relationship shown through the prism of food.
If you have watched it, chances are you are already a fan of the Malaysian actor Yeo Yann Yann. The 45-year-old delivers a dynamic performance playing an Indian Chinese widow, living with her only son, Ming (Meiyang Chang) in Mumbai. The story revolves around Sui’s overbearing love for her son which is threatened when he shares his love with his vegetarian Gujarati girlfriend Megha (Wamiqa Gabbi).
The story narrates the insecurities of a mother holding on to her only son while trying to save her Chinese heritage. Sui wants Ming to be a dentist, marry a woman from their community, but Ming aspires to be a playback singer, lives with his girlfriend and visits his mom every weekend. Now, Megha can’t stand garlic while Sui can’t see her son’s food choices being dictated by a 'vegetarian dayan’ as Sui refers to her. Means, how can anyone choose an eggplant over meat?
There’s another man in Sui’s life, a brother-cum-best friend (Naseeruddin Shah) who is at extreme ease with both Punjabi and Cantonese. He cares for Sui and Ming and is the peacemaker between the mother and son. When the time comes, it’s his character that asks her to give his son’s girlfriend a chance and food becomes the bridge between the polar opposite characters.
Sui sends dabbas for Ming every week. Normally she stuffs it with non-veg Chinese delicacies, but by the end her affection for her son's girlfriend is also delivered through a dabba that she sends for her, stuffed with Megha’s favourite eggplant dish.
Now let’s just take a minute to applaud Yann’s effortless Hindi and the ease with which she transitions from Hindi to Cantonese and vice versa is mind boggling. But how did she pull off an unknown language with so much aplomb?
“Many have asked if I speak Hindi before I took on the show Modern Love: Mumbai Mumbai Dragon. I have to confess that I know more phrases in Tamil than Hindi. Don’t forget I grew up in Malaysia and Singapore, my ears are tuned to Tamil. But with the help of my fabulous coaches @strictlyvikas @varadbhatnagar who sees me twice a week on zoom and my lovely junior from @iti_sg @kewalkartik who teaches me about daily life in India. And the support I get from my wonderful director @vishalrbhardwaj, and of course @abhaydattsharma who sit through my painful beginnings. Every second of the process brought me joy! I can’t forget the amazement I felt when they told me your tongue is not behind your teeth when you pronounce the word. What a journey to tackle the lines. I hope to be able to construct my own sentences in the language later and have a proper conversation. Hope this answers the questions (sic).” - Yann explained in an Instagram post.
Yann’s performance makes Mumbai Dragon a must-watch. Also, it deals with a unique storyline of the fading Indian Chinese community. It depicts how despite their inherent language and distinct cultural nuances, food helps them blend into the social fabric of the magnificent city. It harps on the fact that food transcends all boundaries and binds people from different cultures - sharing a meal is an incredibly special experience that’s often filled with warmth and acceptance.
In the end, it’s the love that matters.