'Bombay Rose' review: Picturesque Indian animation

BIFFES | 'Bombay Rose' review: A picturesque, engaging piece of Indian animation

If Hindi cinema had Tumbbad as its most innovative film of 2018, Bombay Rose takes the spot for 2019 with its use of art to portray its story and characters

A still from the film. Screenshot: YouTube

Director: Gitnajali Rao
Cast: Cyli Khare, Amit Deondi, Anurag Kashyap
Score: 4

They say art imitates life. Be it in the hopes and aspirations of people or reasons to be sad and angry, art always has held a strong place in human culture, regardless of where one comes from. So what happens when someone takes a slice of life, with all its comings and goings, and turns it into literal art?

This is where animator Gitanjali Rao and her small team of about 100 come in with Bombay Rose, a film about life's comings and goings which may well be the most innovative and original picture coming out of the Hindi speaking regions in years.

Bombay Rose follows a number of story threads. From a young woman named Kamala and her budding love with Kashmir violence survivour Salim to little Tara and her friendship with her English teacher Shirley D'Souza and D'Souza's relationship with an antique shop dealer, Anthony, circling back to Kamala.

Beyond all doubt, Bombay Rose is clearly a labour of love. Born from a six-year-long effort as mentioned by director Gitanjali Rao herself at BIFFES, the film has a totally unique take on traditional Bollywood tropes in a completetly different art style, in that it is quite literally art: The team hand-painted each and every frame of the 95 minutes of the film with parental care, taking great pains to ensure every frame was as good as it could be, and it shows.

The film revels in using traditional Bollywood tropes right from the get-go, where a cinema plays the classic Bollywood shirtless action hero beating the snot out of the bad guy and getting the girl - only for their kiss to be censored, much to the anger of the patrons who repeatedly shout for a replay. From there, it moves into the painful life of Kamala, who was saved by her grandfather from a forced marriage, and now works multiple jobs to make ends meet for Tara's education.

Into Kamala's little slice of hardship is thrown Salim, an earnest, even though a little block-headed, Muslim orphan of the Kashmir crisis. The two share a distant but intimate love which is interjected ever so eloquently by transitions into the times of India past, all the while a Hindu hardliner pimp tails her like a hawk, bent on sending Kamala off to Dubai while warning Salim to lay off because she's a Hindu.

Meanwhile, little Tara has her own story with her teacher, Shirey D'Souza - a widowed teacher with a melancholic view on life - for in her mourning for her husband reveals a yearning of old love and the relation she has with her toys, markings of a promise not quite spoken about. Tara, for her part, rescues a deaf-and-mute child labourer with a cat, who shows talent for tinkering, even though he doesn't quite nail the first impression with Kamala's grandfather, a cripple running an old watch repair shop.

The art and animaton of Bombay Rose are exquisite and a wonder to behold. From modern-day Mumbai slums, suburbs and markets to transitions to the Mughal past, which serves as an alternate exposition to Salim and Kamala's budding love and to blocky transitions to old Bombay when Tara and Shirley are involved, the film creates a vibrant atmosphere full of life. Rao herself clearly has a most tender goal to pay tribute to Bollywood's melodrama which is represented in the form of the larger-than-life hopes of love of the characters.

All of this is paired with a fundamentally moving soundtrack, going from classic Bollywood songs sprinkled throughout to a song representing the aspirations of the heart which plays throughout, to Cucurrucucú Paloma and a Konkani love song, all of which are stitched together with masterful timing and craft at the hands of Yoav Rosenthal, who created the film's emotionally potent original score.

To close, there is little more that can be said about Bombay Rose. It is a film to be seen and felt from the heart for in its little relations and in its characters does it find its identity, its own little space in which to exist.

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