'Bombay Rose’ movie review: This animated wonder is an ode to the City Of Dreams and its people

Gitanjali Rao’s animated film goes beyond typical storytelling to explore the many ways one can love and be loved

From petal to pollen, the flower has retained its symbolically rich status across literature, music and film. Sylvia Plath’s poem Tulips reflected her use of flowers to reflect exterior life. The Rolling Stones sang ‘Dead Flowers’ to gauge closure around a broken relationship. Now, in the recently-released animated film Bombay Rose, directed by Gitanjali Rao, flowers embody character, growth, an environment, pretty much anything.

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The film took 18 months to make, given the frame-by-frame hand-drawn animation style. That said, the trailer of Bombay Rose paints a beautiful and Utopic picture of vibrant Mumbai but also sheds light on the gritty nature of the City Of Dreams. The film made several homes on the international festival circuit from the 2019 Venice Film Festival to the Toronto International Film Festival of the same year to, of course, winning Silver Gateway, India Gold award at MAMI 2019.

The film is split into three intersecting stories set in a thronging Mumbai, which Rao and her team of animators have presented in a spread of fiery and earthy tones. Only at night do the hues cool down, as if to connote the loneliness one could feel despite the constant activity. The story focusses on a single neighbourhood of Mumbai, the entire experience serving as a microcosm of a Mumbai many of us would have known.

Read More | Gitanjali Rao talks about ‘Bombay Rose’

The central arc follows Kamala (Cyli Khare) who falls in love with Salim (Amit Deondi), a young Muslim man from Kashmir. However, life is a little more complicated than that. By day, Kamala sells flowers in all varieties, befriending customers with her wit and charm; by night, she is a bar dancer, unbeknownst to Salim, her grandfather and younger sister Tara (Gargi Shitole). As if things were not complicated enough, a thuggish brute Mike enters the picture; he wants to whisk Kamala off to Dubai all the while blackmailing her.

Alongside this arc is the story of Shirley D’Souza (Amardeep Jha) who was once a famous actor and is now a widowed English teacher. Still indulging in the occasional cigarette during the morning and whiskey in the evenings, she continues to relive her golden era of stardom through the pretty pictures in her home and iconic songs such as ‘Aaiye Meherbaan’, as she reminisces.

The film is mindful in not preaching on the socio-economic issues it does touch upon such as child labour, poverty, and sexual exploitation. However, the overlapping stories with the occasional dream sequence get a bit haphazard, and unfortunately can do more harm than help.

Beyond the visuals

As powerful as the visual beauty, the sound and music take on equal responsibility in telling these complex stories. Bombay Rose, though, has on-boarded a talented set of voice actors who convey the right amount of yearning, desperation, anger and glee throughout the story.

To my delight, the film plays classic tracks such as ‘Yeh Mera Dil’ and ‘Hoon Abhi Main Jawan’. Clearly, Bombay Rose is an ode to the era of ‘Bombay Cinema’ when people poured in from different corners of India in hopes to make it big – and the city itself takes on a more stratified character where the rich and those with the sharpest teeth win out. There is no intended harmony here but it exists in some shape or form, for the sake of survival.

After watching the film a couple of times, I do find myself wondering about the life of the flower seller from whom I buy the weekly supply of roses, jasmine flowers and chrysanthemums. Bombay Rose gets you thinking about your own life and your interactions with people across different layers of society – without instructing you to do so.

Would Bombay Rose have worked as a live-action film? Perhaps, but I have a feeling it would not have had the desired effect of nostalgia and longing across the audiences. This film has a lot of re-watch value, given there is just so much packed into it; to the point that you may find yourself living vicariously through the characters and their difficulties. So, don’t be a phool and miss this.

‘Bombay Rose’ is streaming on Netflix.

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