Bombay Rose, by Gitanjali Rao, pays an ode to stereotypical Hindi cinema romance through exquisite animation.
Kamala (Cyli Khare), who is Hindu and has escaped a child marriage in Madhya Pradesh, is now a flower garland street seller, looking after her younger sister Tara and desperate for a way out.
Salim (Amit Deondi), a young Muslim who has escaped war-torn Kashmir also sells flowers, albeit lifted from the local graveyard.
But he spends most of his time escaping via his daydreams into Bollywood action thrillers and fantasies of Mughal high romance.
Then there’s Shirley (Amardeep Jha), an elderly Anglo-Indian ex-actor and Tara’s English teacher, who dwells mostly in the past.
Their stories cross when Salim steals a carmine rose left by Shirley at a graveside to give it to Kamala, whose beauty leaves him breathless.
Though attracted to each other, Kamala and Salim’s different faiths and the uphill struggles they face in their lives keep them separated.
Bombay Rose definitely seems to be Gitanjali’s love letter to the city of Mumbai.
Through the hand-painted animation, she beautifully paints depicts the gritty lives of the working-class people like a kaleidoscopic portrait.
In this portrait, the ‘rose’ is almost like a silent additional character. Despite the thorns, the beautiful fragrance of it unites two lovers in the forms of Salim and Kamala.
We even get to see events occurring in the movie through the perspective of the rose. In a way, the flower is personified as an omnipresent silent witness.
The metaphor is also extended to animals. For instance, the villain Mike (voiced by Makarand Deshpande) is depicted as an evil eagle, symbolising that his eyes are constantly on Kamala.
Rao presents a convoluted and layered narrative which delves beyond two-dimensional drawings on the screen.
Every character pursues some kind of utopia… Especially Salim. Through his idolisation of Bollywood and imagining his love story as a Mughal saga, he creates his own safe haven.
Running parallel with this love story of Kamala and Salim is the reminiscing of Shirley’s relationship with her deceased husband.
She omits her loneliness by remembering her younger days as an actor… Hearing the classic songs like ‘Abhi Main Jawaan’ and ‘Baar Baar Dekho’ ironically represents her moods and situations.
The dual narrative style of love from the past and present works seamlessly.
Furthermore, the film is a cinematic treat and Rao proves that she has a good realistic eye for cinema… Even if it is through animation.
Throughout the movie, the only background music we hear is the authentic street noises. There are no soul-stirring instrumentals.
In fact, the only time we hear ‘music’ is Bollywood songs like ‘Yeh Mera Dil’ play in the backdrop.
During the dramatic scenes, we get to hear loud drums in order to build tension and this works very effectively.
Speaking of songs, a ‘Rewa’ track plays throughout the film… Almost like a narrator, reflecting what the characters feel at a particular stage.
The animation genre is not quite popular in Bollywood. Mainstream movies like Roadside Romeo, Delhi Safari and Toonpur Ka Superhero were underwhelming.
In an attempt to cater to the famil-oriented audience, quality seemed to get compromised. However, on that front, Bombay Rose is special.
It is not a children’s movie nor does it boast of fancy technological features. At least it tries to present a mature tale through animation.
Whilst it has several impactful cinematic tropes, the premise and main storyline do not offer anything new.
As such, interfaith love stories of Hindu-Muslims have been done to death.
If anything, adding religious differences only seems to become a shorthand for creating unrequired drama.
The mentioning of Kashmir-conflict just makes the film seem more outdated.
It almost seems like the makers are trying to include a mini Indian history lesson for the western audiences when it isn’t needed.
Somehow, that Indo-Western hangover of Slumdog Millionaire is present in the movie.
The inclusion of stock characters… Including a villain with a long tilak on his forehead and a racist, is quite problematic.
Plus, the female character is showcased to be self-sacrificial and pitiable.
The fact that Kamala has faced harsh circumstances to become the breadwinner of the family, we should’ve seen a more assertive and formidable woman.
Whilst the film is layered and convoluted, it takes a while to get to the point.
Salim’s daydreaming becomes so repetitive and the development of the main love story gets stretched.
Even though the movie’s duration is quite short, the slow-moving pace does not help with the prolonged aspect.
The good point is that we continue to empathise for the two protagonists even after the credits roll.
Generally, Bombay Rose is a decent endeavour to revive the animation in Indian cinema.
Whilst it may not be a perfect film, the impressive cinematic tropes contribute to making it a visual delight.
Deserves a watch.
⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)