The city of Mumbai is serenaded in Gitanjali Rao’s Bombay Rose – the debut feature which she also wrote, edited and designed. The multiple strands of this hand-painted animation come together to pay homage to the lives lived by a bustling city’s diverse citizenry. Love’s many facets and forms are explored across the city with the interweaving storylines of four principal characters, and the medium of animation is put to work in a tale that could have been too easily (and erroneously) grounded in reality. With so much to juggle, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Bombay Rose loses focus and sometimes feels like it never finishes its thoughts; yet while this charming love letter to Mumbai might be flawed, there’s something in it for everyone to enjoy.
Reality and imagination collide throughout Bombay Rose. The reality is a struggling economic system that fails to provide job opportunities for the most disadvantaged Mumbai residents. The courts begin closing down dance clubs and arresting performers, thus limiting the opportunities by which women can make some extra money. The police are also clamping down on child labor: whilst education remains a luxury, the captured children are taken away rather than put in classrooms. This is the world surrounding Kamala (Cyil Khare), a garland seller, and her young sister Tara (Gargi Shitole). As a Hindu woman, Kamala is kept artificially distant from her star-crossed lover Salim (Amit Deondi), a young Muslim man who sells bunches of flowers (stolen from graves; honest work is hard to find) across the street from Kamala.
Imagination comes as a saving grace for these principal characters. The quirky transitions devised by the animators create visual excitement as reality slips into fantasy. Kamala dreams of romance in a medieval era; Salim’s mind is captured by a yearning to fly away with Kamala. Perhaps these daydreams make Kamala and Salim’s troubling lives bearable – especially considering Kamala seems fated to marry shady gangster Mike (Makarand Deshpande) in return for some semblance of financial security, and to afford an education for her sister.
A subplot which is given almost equal time to the Kamala-Salim romance is the private life of Tara’s English teacher Mrs. D’Souza (Amardeep Jha). She walks the same city streets as Tara, but she is in her own world. She imagines a monochrome city of the past, unable to live apart from her cherished memories of time spent with her deceased lover, Laura.
Many boxes are ticked in representing Mumbai, and the melodramatic archetypes of Bollywood are craftily incorporated and mimicked. But like the busy Mumbai streets, ultimately there is too much happening at one time: it’s almost as if the romance between Kamala and Salim is jostling for run-time with the musings of Mrs. D’Souza. The short verses scattered throughout the narrative – although sung beautifully – add little to what the animation is already achieving, and only serve to frequently grind the pace of the film to a limp. Luckily for Bombay Rose, viewers are most likely to remember the bold visual style above all else.