Cinema Asian America: Joseph Matthew on His Film ‘Bombay Summer’

by | June 8, 2011 at 12:12 PM | Cinema Asian America, Indie Film Club

Bombay Summer is available on Xfinity On Demand through June.

Bombay Summer is available on Xfinity On Demand through June.

Set in contemporary Mumbai, Joseph Matthew’s “Bombay Summer” centers around a young, well-to-do couple, Geeta (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a designer and Jaidev (Samrat Chakrabarti), a writer. Nestled comfortably in their professional aspirations, the two begin to see their lives expanded – and complicated – when a friendship develops with Madan (Jatin Goswami), an aspiring artist caught up in Mumbai’s criminal underworld.

See what’s playing on Xfinity On Demand.

The deliberately paced and gorgeously photographed film, available to all Xfinity digital subscribers through the month of June, examines the class and cultural fissures in a changing India through not only the dynamics of these three young people, but through its visual engagement with the city of Mumbai.
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Matthew’s observing eye rests on those details of the city which indelibly create a sense of place; the layers of paint on Bollywood movie posters, plays of architectural light and shadow, and the subtle summer breeze moving through drying clothes. The result is an engrossing and entrancing cinematic experience, a quiet, yet powerfully moving debut feature from this talented filmmaker.

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“Bombay Summer’s” story revolves around the interactions of a young, urban couple, who allow a new, mysterious friend to enter their lives and the unexpected dynamics which follow from their interactions. You are the screenwriter as well as the director of this film; can you talk a bit about what you built the story from?
For quite some time, I was kicking around this idea of a film about youth culture in urban India. It stemmed from my desire to address my own experiences growing up there. But that was a different time altogether — the eighties. India was a closed, quasi-socialist country back then. It’s very different today. Whenever I went back over the last 10 years, I was blown away by how quickly the country is changing. It’s not just about new cars, highways and buildings; it’s the rearrangement of a whole social order. All this was happening in a society that is still fiercely conservative and class/caste conscious. That’s where I wanted to set the story.

“Bombay Summer” was shot in India with a cast and crew which came from all parts of the globe. Both you and lead actor Samrat Chakrabarti are based in the US, while actress Tannishtha Chatterjee is based in London and perhaps best known for her performance in the British film “Brick Lane.” Can you talk a bit about how you came to cast these two and the inspiration for making a film in Mumbai?
I always wanted to work with Tannishtha. When she came on board, I knew that my main character was in safe hands! I actually met Samrat when he showed up for the audition. We are both New Yorkers but we met in Bombay. It was amazing working with both of them. All of us shared this amazing bond and tried our hardest to make an amazing and unique film. We were also blessed with a fabulously talented local crew. I was fixated by this idea of making a film in Mumbai. It’s a city where people of all social strata and regions rub shoulders with each other. People come to Mumbai in search of a dream. Some make it; most don’t. It was the perfect setting for the story.

There is an entrancing, languid pacing to “Bombay Summer” that contrasts with the intense interactions which develop between your three characters. How did you choose to use a more poetic sensibility to explore a dramatic (and traumatic) love triangle? Can you talk a bit about your cinematic influences?
I really wanted to get away from the titillation of quick cuts and kinetic editing that seems so in vogue today. I personally feel the photographic frame is sacred. The idea was to make a film that would reward the invested, patient viewer. Once you adjust to the slower pacing, you start noticing all the things that happen within and around the static frame…like layers of paint. My cinematic influences are really quite varied. I enjoy all kinds of movies — from Ozu to Buñuel! “Bombay Summer” was inspired by new Taiwanese cinema especially those by Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien.

Prior to making “Bombay Summer,” you had produced primarily documentaries, including “Crossing Arizona,” which won many awards for its exploration of the U.S.-Mexico border, and the experiences of those individuals who live on both sides of the divide. What prompted you to move to narrative filmmaking, and what connections can we draw from your interest in ideas of migration, and the story we find in “Bombay Summer”?
“Crossing Arizona” was an exhausting journey both physically and emotionally. It took two years to make and the film was about a hot button political issue — migration. I really wanted to do something different after that. This idea about doing a film on youth culture in India just felt right. Yes, “Bombay Summer” does deal with migration. Madan’s character is a migrant to the city — an outsider who dreams of making it but ‘success’ seems just out of reach.

What are you working on now?
An adaptation of a Paul Theroux novella set in India and a couple of other projects as well.