In 21st-century Mumbai, what kinds of things can happen when people really try to connect across vast social differences? Is this emotionally possible, is it physically safe? If friendship and love can happen, is there also a cost? And if there are costs, who is most likely to bear them?
In Joseph Mathew-Varghese’s fresh and sophisticated Bombay Summer, the urban worlds of three young people expand when a middle-class couple make friends with Madan, an artist who’s recently come to Mumbai from his village. From the movie’s first scene, where the everyday comings-and-goings of anonymous people in a little street stand are mildly disrupted by a muffled off screen crash, the movie’s skillfully sustained mood of immediacy and openness is gently shadowed by a sense of possible danger.
Geeta meets Madan when he comes to her editorial office to show her his work. When she hires him to design a project, her writer boyfriend, Jaidev, joins them in rambles to search out shooting locations, with Madan leading the way. As their friendship develops Madan takes them into some – but not all — of the Mumbai he knows: abandoned mills; a Rajasthani concert in a hidden location, the disused movie theater where he has his studio and a few film-poster-painters are still doing some work.
The movie, all beautifully shot on location in Mumbai, sometimes “guerilla-style” (Mathew-Varghese’s previous films are documentaries), also takes us into each character’s own environment – the well-furnished bachelor flat of Jaidev, where he and Geeta can be intimate and alone; Geeta’s middle-class home with her family, who would like to prevent her romance with Jaidev; and the tenement chawl that Madan lives in, in the society of other marginal young men like himself — as well as a glimpse of a much uglier side of Madan’s Mumbai that he does not share at first with Jaidev and Geeta: up to now the Mumbai underworld has been his chief source of income.
In an excellent ensemble performance all three characters have equal weight: Tannishtha Chatterjee as Geeta is both independent and impulsive, the one who is impelled to reach out and cross boundaries; Samrat Chakrabarti as Jaidev is cautious and a thinker but passionate as well, the kind of guy who sometimes seems stiff but then really touching and young, as when he and Madan connect over a record collection. And Jatin Goswami’s physically magnetic Madan is played with dignity, and with an outward sweetness and reserve that overlies growing internal distress. His situation gathers emotional urgency as the story goes on and first we, and then his new friends, realize more fully what kinds of things he is doing in order to survive in the city. Geeta and Jaidev respond very differently, and we wonder where fate will take all of them.
The soundtrack by the French musician Mathias Duplessy and Mir Mukhtiyar Ali from Rajasthan provides a brilliant score for the worlds-mixing themes of the movie.
Bombay Summer has won Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Film awards at a premier Indian film festival in the United States, the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival in New York.
It is being released in the United States on Friday, October 8, starting at Big Cinemas in Manhattan, and continuing on into the fall at other locations including Edison, NJ, San Jose, CA, Norwalk, CA, and Chicago, IL.
To find out more check out www.bombaysummer.com