Joseph Mathew Varghese is a photojournalist-cum-filmmaker whose clean visual aesthetic gives way to a somewhat distant and subdued cultural crossing in the richly intricate Bombay Summer. Varghese's first narrative feature film, Bombay Summer follows in the footsteps of the director's two previously released documentary films in presenting an intimate perspective of one of the world's most populous and rapidly developing cities.
The plot is simple: a young middle class couple (Geeta and Jaidev)--a graphic designer and writer, respectively--build a friendship with a struggling artist (Madan) who makes a meager living by illegally delivering drugs and liquor to members of the Mumbai elite in order to take care of his village-dwelling parents. The film is about the way their relationships with each other develop and, eventually, disintegrate... to varying degrees. Bombay Summer is not a plot-driven film; it is propelled by the complexity of its characters, which are brilliantly executed by Tannishtha Chatterjee, Jatin Goswami, and Samrat Chakrabarti.
The gorgeous cinematography is equally compelling. From the jump we are aware that Bombay Summer will provide an interesting visual experience, as the opening scene is shot from the back of a paan stand looking out toward the street. This is how we meet the city--from the perspective of a paan wallah who sells a college-aged guy wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt a Frootie, flirts with a sari-clad kajer meye (much to her annoyance), and shoots the shit with a fellow working stiff who has come by for his afternoon pick-me-up wrapped tightly in a betel leaf.
Bombay Summer explores many varied elements of the paradox that is modern day urban India without the weight of a heavy-hand: strained familial relationships, sex and love, the romanticizing of the lives of the poor, various shades of envy, an appreciation for the creative arts (thank goodness for the musical stylings of Mathias Duplessy, Mir Mukhtiyar Ali, and Sabir Khan), impatience birthed from greed, environmental serenity, working women's newly emerging roles, and the dangerous underbelly of the street economy. Mumbai is one of the spaces in India where all of these things intersect. Bombay Summer simply captures a piece of that convergence on film.