Filipino indie in India
Think Bollywood rom-com with a Filipino flavor. Or, Pinoy indie in India. Benito Bautista, the filmmaker behind the gritty drama “Boundary” and the lyrical documentary “Harana,” makes a 180-degree turn with “Mumbai Love,” a romantic romp partly shot in India.
As in any project, Bautista and his team encountered not a few challenges. The biggest hurdle turned out to be synchronizing the schedules of the motley cast.
“We had a mix of popular, independent and nonprofessional actors,” Bautista recalls. “It’s like having 12 adult children in different countries and asking them all to be present on your birthday.”
Leading the cast are Solenn Heussaff, Kiko Matos, Martin Escudero, Raymond Bagatsing, Ronnie Lazaro, Angelina Kanapi, Jun Sabayton and Jason Gainza.
Gathering the right ensemble is half the battle and Bautista relied on cowriter, coproducer and casting director Emma Francisco to manage the auditions and select the actors.
Bautista says Heussaff landed the lead role “partly by luck and partly by design.”
He relates: “Emma sent Solenn the story treatment and invited her to audition. Solenn was excited about the story, and was at once nervous and thrilled to audition; it was her first time to do so.”
The GMA 7 actress says she was drawn to her character, a free spirit who finds love, while visiting Mumbai, in a Filipino-Indian. She says she has long dreamt of traveling to India.
“We went to India twice,” Bautista says. “The first time for an ocular inspection and the second for the shoot. We stayed a total of 15 days.”
Since Mumbai is the center of Bollywood, shooting entailed a few adjustments for Bautista’s team. “The film industry in Mumbai is governed by unions and politics, which add to the complexity and excitement. But, overall, it was great to experience Mumbai’s colors, culture, food, dance and people.”
With this film, Bautista hopes to tap a wider audience, including the Indian community in the Philippines. (The film opened in local cinemas yesterday.)
“I’m excited to see how the mass audience will respond to something that may be familiar and different at the same time,” he admits. “My worry is, I [could be] wrong about how I figured out and designed a cross-cultural rom-com for the masses. Either nobody gets it, or a good number will appreciate it.”
Put simply, his foremost desire is for the film’s “message of open-mindedness” to resonate with everyone who watches the film, “for moviegoers to see themselves as part of a society that embraces diversity and tolerance.”
The concept was suggested by executive producer Neil Jeswani of Capestone Pictures, Bautista volunteers.
“He wanted a story that will [showcase] Indian culture in the Philippines,” Bautista recounts. “He didn’t want it to be heavy on drama, though; he wanted it to be comedic, to reach more people.”
After the Philippine release, Bautista plans to find an international distributor for the Southeast Asian and American markets. “We initially intended this film for local and global Pinoy audiences, and Indian-Pinoys,” he says.
Bautista, an honoree in the Inquirer Indie Bravo! Awards, looks forward to the day when the barrier between independent and commercial films will disappear. “We have a long way to go, but I am optimistic,” he asserts. “We are getting there in terms of production values, regional storytelling and global recognition. For as long as we have producers and audience members who believe in and support diverse voices and expressions in cinema, we will continue to grow.”