This India-UK-France-Qatar co-production is a six-year labour of love. Indian animation is largely stuck between tacky mythological or cutesy kiddie stuff. But, Bombay Rose takes Indian animation to dizzy heights
Once in a while an Indian film comes, that knocks it out of the park. In fact, Gitanjali Rao's dazzling, debut animation feature, Bombay Rose, coolly tosses a grenade at the Bollywood movie formula and sashays off. After opening the International Film Critics' Week at the Venice Film Festival, it goes to the Toronto Film Festival, and is assured a long festival and arthouse life. Deservedly so. This India-UK-France-Qatar co-production is a six-year labour of love. Indian animation is largely stuck between tacky mythological or cutesy kiddie stuff. But, Bombay Rose takes Indian animation to dizzy heights.
At the simplest level, Bombay Rose is the love story between Kamala (voiced by Cyli Khare) and Salim (Amit Deondi), two flower sellers on the streets of Bombay; then it links multiple characters via red roses. But the film is shot with intelligence, and a sharp awareness of socio-political events in Bombay and India. Its rich subtext includes several issues, including communal relations, migrants, same-sex love and child labour. And it's a love letter to Bombay, warts and all, its working-class culture, inclusive Hindu, Muslim, Christian DNA, dance bars, a villainish hero (Raja) Khan (voiced by Anurag Kashyap), who drives over a pedestrian, killing him, and the interconnectedness of life.
The film combines unlikely genres, social realism with exquisite love fantasies and dreamscapes. Its computer-generated 2D animation with a hand-drawn aesthetic, is in stark counterpoint to the Disney and Pixar animation styles. Rao's richly textured art incorporates original, indigenous and international visual and musical styles. Its visual style spans a range, from Bollywood stereotypes to Mughal miniatures and truck art. And, in which other Indian film would you find a musical adventure that includes haunting original music, old Hindi film songs, a Mexican song (Cucurrucucu Paloma), a Konkani song (Red Rose), Carnatic music and a qawwali? You see how this film has grown from her previous animation shorts, Printed Rainbow and True Love Story, both of which were at the Cannes' International Critics' Week, reinforcing her international credentials.
Bombay Rose is loaded with subtext, and calls for 'mono-bingeing' to mine its riches: you can binge-watch it all by itself. It's a film about Salim and Kamala, celebrating a Hindu-Muslim romance, politically daring in a time of right-wing nationalism. Kamala, who fled a forced child marriage, comes to Bombay, makes flower garlands, and dances in dance bars to fund her younger sister Tara's education. Salim is a migrant from Kashmir, whose parents were killed by militants. The film is also a tribute to contemporary Bollywood, as well as old Hindi films, with wonderful songs like Aaiye meherbaan (Howrah Bridge) and Dil tadap tadap ke (Madhumati). Tara's tuition teacher Shirley D'Souza (Amardeep Jha) is an ageing film star/Bollywood background dancer. In which other film would you find an ageing Indian widow, grey-haired and wrinkled but elegant, dancing stylishly by herself at home to Baar baar dekho, with a cigarette in one hand and a whisky glass in another?
The film is also a rumination on love, time and death, and of love conquering the other two. We see spirits of couples in a Christian graveyard, dancing over their graves. There's a remarkable time-lapse sequence in which Shirley toasts her younger, black-and-white filmy self in the mirror. The film takes on a lot, and it feels churlish to mention that a double twist at the climax seems a tad facile. Yet, despite the tragedy, it is deeply moving, and one of tremendous hope and redemption. Take a bow, producers Anand Mahindra and Rohit Khattar of Cinestaan, and all. This is a Bambaiyya film like no other. Mumbaiyya? No way!
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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