It’s always fascinating to see how an Indian physically removed from the “homeland” represents it in film or other visual media. There is a romanticized nostalgia often attached to such portrayals, which gives rise to a unique style of filmmaking from the NRI perspective. Joseph Mathew-Varghese’s Bombay Summer is one such film that is above all a visually sumptuous ode to the city of dreams. Finished in 2008 and after having an award-winning festival run, the film is all set to release theatrically in select cities around the U.S. Bombay Summer tells a simple story of three individuals from different backgrounds coming together, their lives delicately intersecting with one another and the city as they learn more about themselves and the separate worlds they live in.
The film isn’t plot-driven and Mathew-Varghese admits to that by calling it “more of an experience, it’s the journey of three people and an exploration of the city they live in.” Geeta (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a middle-class woman juggling a graphic design career and the responsibilities of a good daughter at home. Unknown to her family, Geeta is having an affair with Jaidev (Samrat Chakrabarti), a struggling writer hailing from a wealthy family but determined to make it on his own. Geeta and Jaidev’s lives change when they meet Madan (Jatin Goswami), a working class migrant to the city who wants to use his artistic talents to climb up the ladder. Madan shifts the dynamic of their lives, getting a taste of the life he wants and also inviting them into his version of Bombay. The three embark on a metaphysical journey to connect with one another, bridging class and cultural divides until greed, loss and betrayal threaten their friendship. Another character, perhaps the most important one, is the city of Bombay. Mathew-Varghese shows it in its heat, grit, and rich multicultural spirit, a space that supports millions and is constantly struggling to adapt to rapid modernization. The story of the three friends intersects with the city, reflecting the vulnerabilities of identity that arise when traditions meet modernity.
Mathew-Varghese has a background in photography and documentary filmmaking and this is very evident in Bombay Summer. There is a truth to the characters, the way they behave and what they do. One of the key scenes in the film – the street stall – is simply an observation of what goes on in front of the camera. It is documentary in its style, capturing the life of the city and yet driving the story forward. In another instance, the three friends are walking through the streets of the city sharing their stories while the camera follows them nonchalantly, never interrupting the scene with cuts and close-ups. These “stolen moments” as actor Samrat Chakrabarti calls them, “gave us a lot of freedom to be creative, to improvise, and to really live and breathe our characters.”
The ambience of the city and the lives of the three characters is also beautifully expressed through a wonderful soundtrack composed by French composer Matthew Duplessy (who recently also did the music for Peepli Live) in collaboration with Rajasthani singer Mir Mukhtiyar Ali and sarangi player Sabir Khan. The music flows very well with the poetic visuals of the city and the actions and emotions of the characters, making it one of the most memorable elements of the film.
Even though Bombay Summer was completed two years ago, its theatrical release comes at a time when independent cinema from India and about India is truly blossoming. Mathew-Varghese, with this beautiful low-budget film that was produced in New York and shot in India, hopes to work in a global cinema that is emerging today. With its casual pacing, lingering visuals, soothing music and utterly real characters bolstered by such candid performances, Bombay Summer is the perfect film to warm up to in the cold fall weather.
The film is releasing in New York City on October 8, and will screen at select cities around the U.S. For more information and full list of theatrical screenings, click here.