It is never easy to bring animation to life, and some of the greatest animators like Hayao Miyazaki from Japan have struggled to produce this kind of motion and magic. His Spirited Away (a coming of age fantasy) and Princess Mononoke (an epic historical war drama) were brilliantly conceived and drawn. Of course, he had a whole team and Studio Ghibli. I still remember, during my visits to Tokyo, the long queues outside the cinemas screening Miyazaki's creations, something I never saw when it came to live-action Japanese movies.
India has been several steps behind Japanese animation. But yes Japan is a nation known for its Manga comics, cartoons and caricatures. One would find these everywhere in Japan.
It is in this context that one admires Gitanjali's Rao's first feature, an animated work called Bombay Rose. She must have been pretty daring to go with Bombay – and not Mumbai – a changed name for the metropolis that has become an obsession, political and otherwise!
Bombay Rose opened the Critics Week at Venice at the beginning of September, and played at the recent Mumbai Film Festival to packed houses (where it won the India Gold Silver Gateway Award and the Manish Acharya Award for New Voices in Indian Cinema.) It reminded me of Japan and Miyazaki's immense popularity.
Rao wrote the story, drew it frame by frame (with some help I would think) to make it into a 96-minute feature. She also edited it. No mean task, really.
The colours are bright and merry, attractive to the core.
But probably in her eagerness to pack as much as possible into the running time, Bombay Rose appears rather stuffed. There are multiple plots, and they keep moving back and forth. This can be confusing to a viewer.
The most important segment of the movie relates to Kamala (Voiced by Cyli Khare), a pretty, young woman who has escaped to Bombay from her village after a painful child marriage. She sells flowers by the day, and dances in bars at night. Ready to marry a rogue and fly away to Dubai only to give a better future to her younger school-going sister, she falls in love with a Muslim youth.
He is Salim (Amit Deondi), whose parents were killed in Kashmir militancy -- the second segment opens here.
The third zooms in on Shirley (Amardeep Jha), a retired schoolteacher, who has not stopped yearning for her late husband.
The fourth profiles Kamala's grandfather, a watch-repairer – who plays a moralist.
If all this is not enough, Rao adds more frames to talk about child labour as well as the ban on dance bars in Bombay and tries to enrich the narrative with old, lilting Bollywood numbers – which make the film a kind of trip down memory lane. The music is haunting and tugged at my heart.
Forays into Indian mythology and the 1960s fantasy envisioned by Bollywood will certainly find admirers, but the writing could have been crisper.
Rao also resorts to the archaic fade in and fade out technique between the scenes – which she choses to term conventional. But surely cinema has progressed beyond all this.
Also, her tendency to obfuscate her characters by a moving vehicle is distracting. “But that is how Bombay is”, she told me during a chat in Venice.
Yet whatever be the weaknesses of the movie, the regional flavour is interesting, and this leaves a thirst for greater detailing. Fewer stories could have given Rao more freedom to explore some of her characters in depth. In the end, Bombay Rose seems a trifle overdone with too many musical interludes, and crammed with archetypes and unnecessary sentiment.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran covered the recent Mumbai Film Festival)
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