MANILA, Philippines – Mumbai Love is an ambitious film, filled with potential. Unfortunately, it’s constantly derailed by a story that feels unconcerned with the romance it supposedly portrays. When a young Philippine-raised Indian named Nandi (Kiko Matos) turns his back on an arranged marriage, he finds himself falling for Ella (Solenn Heussaff), a Filipina who likewise falls for the wealthy Indian while in Mumbai on business. But when Ella is whisked away to the Philippines, Nandi tries to find her by returning to the country that raised him.
It’s a setup that is expectedly traditional, but unfortunately mechanical. Mumbai Love goes through the motions of a film that isn’t quite Bollywood or mainstream Philippine cinema. But instead of taking the best of both worlds, it stumbles on their pitfalls instead.
While it’s easy to accuse the film’s excessive running time as the heart of its woes (the movie clocks in at a little over two hours long), Mumbai Love suffers from a more basic, pressing problem: for a love story hinged on overcoming obstacles, the movie lacks something fundamental to all love stories: conflict.
Magic, Music, and Mumbai
Though it aims for more, despite the occasional moment of levity, the film mostly meanders than moves. The film’s only genuinely moving moment is a gem of a scene when Ella sings to Nandi in French. It’s an odd scene because it highlight’s Ella’s French upbringing over her Filipino heritage. But the reason why it works is that it feels, for the first and only time, that the love story is coming from some place real. For a brief moment, Mumbai Love captures that fleeting sense of cinematic romance distilled into a single scene. Unfortunately, the scene comes too late to be relevant and passes too quickly to resonate.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the film’s best moments are mostly musical. Dance numbers are rare but entertaining. While they don’t carry the same spectacle as modern Bollywood productions, they do deliver a sense of delight punctuated by Teresa Barrozo’s inspired score.
In fact, one of Mumbai Love’s most entertaining sequences is in its credits, when we find the film’s rich roster of characters all dancing to a theme that feels both traditional and original. While praising a film’s credit sequence may sound like a backhanded slap against Mumbai Love, it is more a testament to the kind of Bollywood spirit that goes beyond simple costumes and cardboard romances.
Mumbai Love succeeds when it isn’t enslaved by the conceits of the genre it tries so hard to mimic. It succeeds when it is undeniably fantastic, escapist, but ultimately, sincere.
Sweeping Bollywood references are easy ones to make when discussing Mumbai Love; but these references are ultimately superficial. Bollywood has long since moved past many of the common assumptions impressed on it by the rest of the movie-watching world; much like our own mainstream movie industry. While many distinct Bollywood characteristics still remain in Mumbai Love, these distinctions are purely superficial.
But to discredit Mumbai Love for not being ‘Bollywood enough’ isn’t only unfair; it fails to take the film’s merits (and demerits) on its own account. To its credit, Mumbai Love showcases a kind of humor and candor that is neither Bollywood nor mainstream Philippine cinema. These are often found in the scenes where supporting actors Jayson Gainza, Raymond Bagatsing, Ronnie Lazaro and Jun Sabayton take center stage. Unfortunately, these are scenes so far removed from the main story that it’s hard to argue for their place in the film.
As a Philippine-Bollywood hybrid, Mumbai Love feels more concerned about juxtaposition than illumination. It lays two distinct cinematic cultures beside each other without making the effort of exploring why any of it is necessary. The result, ultimately, and disappointingly, ends up as more of an exercise of genre than an expansion of it.
It’s hard not to feel like there’s a missed opportunity here; not only in terms of general cinematic culture, but also in fundamental storytelling. At its heart, Mumbai Love, aims to be an against-all-odds romance that transcends language, culture and distance. Instead, it is a meandering commercial effort whose ambitious intentions are sidelined by a commitment to superficiality instead of sincerity.
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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