Bombay Rose review: India’s animation master brings Mumbai to glorious life

Gitanjali Rao has actually been among the premier voices of India’s recently established animated scene, from stunning speculative shorts to telecom advertisement movies that presaged the coming of the digital age. Her feature-length launching, the animated movie Bombay Rose, made waves on the celebration circuit in 2019, and numerous variations of it are set to launch on March 8th, consisting of the initial in Hindi, English and a number of other languages, and an English-only dub from Netflix. (That’s the default audio setting in the U.S., which you can quickly change out of.) Fastidiously hand-painted frame by frame, the movie is aesthetically stunning, drifting in between designs and period to develop a living, breathing continuum of Indian art. It’s enchanting — however provided its haphazard story, the movie’s thrills start and end at its looks.

Bombay Rose is a story of outsiders in Mumbai, and it broadens on Rao’s 2014 Cannes brief Real Love Story, the quiet tale of a roadside flower-seller succumbing to a bar dancer. This flower-seller ultimately ended up being the function’s variation’s Salim (Amit Deondi), a Muslim youth whose moms and dads were eliminated by militants in Kashmir, while the bar dancer ended up being Kamala (Cyli Khare), a Hindu lady getting away an organized marital relationship in her rural town. In the movie variation, she’s captured in the web of predatory pimp/middleman Mike (Makrand Deshpande), who wants to deliver her off to Dubai as a housemaid.

Salim and Kamala’s prohibited love is swarming with referrals to Bollywood classics, in specific the renowned umbrella scene in the tune “Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua” from Raj Kapoor’s 1955 function Shree 420 , the story of a nation kid who takes a trip to Bombay searching for work. Where Salim and Kamala were the sole focus of Real Love Story, they now comprise a 3rd of Rao’s feature-length ode to her ever-changing city. Their tale intersects with the story of Kamala’s more youthful sis Tara (Gargi Shitole), a sprightly tween imp nicknamed phataka (“firecracker”) who befriends a young deaf dishwashing machine on the run from the authorities, and with the story of Tara’s prim and appropriate English tutor, Ms. D’Souza (Amardeep Jha), a senior Christian widow who thinks back about her past as a 1950s motion picture star by getting lost in old movies and tunes.

Rao’s picture of Mumbai, painted in striking oranges and reds, opens in the shadow of escapist dream, which has actually concerned specify the city on the worldwide movie theater phase. Helpless romantic Salim sees a Hindi hit amongst a rowdy crowd; this film-in-a-film includes fictitious super star Raja Khan (voiced by Gangs of Wasseypur director Anurag Kashyap), a figure who cameos often and feels designed off a mix of genuine entertainers, like Bollywood action hero Akshay Kumar, and numerous moustached icons from India’s southern movie markets, like Tamil legend Rajinikanth. A kiss in this movie is greatly censored, which irritates the audience. Even prior to entering the “real world,” Bombay Rose sets the phase for its representation of Mumbai, as a location where individuals from all over the nation collect and reside in torn consistency.

The majority of the movie’s characters are migrants, like Kamala, Tara, and their kindly grandpa (movie and TELEVISION legend Virendra Saxena), who runs a store by the beach. However even those with roots in Mumbai appear to come from a various time and location. When Ms. D’Souza strolls down the street, the city changes into a picturesque black-and-white variation of itself, back when it was occupied by whimsical cable car automobiles and horse carriages, and when it was still called Bombay. It’s the transformative power of memory, made physically manifest. On the other hand, a senior antique salesperson smitten by her, Anthony Pereira (Shishir Sharma), regrets the reality that nobody still alive understands how to fix the numerous ornaments and music boxes lining his racks. In Bombay Rose, the dream of fond memories exists side-by-side with its wistful truth.

The characters’ different stories are appealing when separated from the bigger whole, and the movie includes many resplendent scenes which look unlike anything put to movie. When Kamala strolls through Mumbai’s congested markets, she images herself as a princess of the Mughal Empire (16th-18th century CE), traipsing through stunning halls with Islamic arches and surrounded by wonderful realism, as the movie discreetly moves in design and starts to look like Mughal mini paintings. Another remarkable series is distinguished the viewpoint of a honeybee nestled within the petals of a rose, seeing spirits emerge and romp at a Christian graveyard after sundown. Any among these might be a brief movie deserving of recognition. They seem like followers to Rao’s Printed Rainbow, a superb brief where a senior female gets away day-to-day mundanities by delving into matchbox art. However the diverse tales in Bombay Rose hardly ever coalesce.

The film’s editing feels emblematic of its inability to find balance. By day, Kamala strings flower garlands together on one side of the road, while Salim sells roses on the other. Shots where they gaze at each other from afar are individually magnetic, but time and time again, Rao edits them together through wipes rather than straight cuts, using the cars and buses which pass between them. The idea makes sense at first — these star-crossed lovers, belonging to different faiths, are separated by the city’s fabric — but the vehicular wipes also apply to everything from jump cuts within scenes to the transitions between dreams and reality. After a while, they lose all meaning, and only serve as jarring interruptions whenever Salim and Kamala lock eyes.

The ways the characters weave in and out of each other’s orbits feel like interruptions as well. Kamala and Ms. D’Souza are connected thematically, since they both indulge in vivid fantasies of the past, but their link is nominal at best. Where Ms. D’Souza’s daydreams are tethered to reality — her late husband, and the Bombay of her memories — Kamala’s escape into Mughal artistry feels incidental.

Kamala hugs her little sister Tara in a street scene in Bombay Rose

Image: Netflix

And so does much of the film’s action. Re-assemble the story in any order, and the result would feel similar. The tragic moments remain thematically disconnected from the larger story of Mumbai. The dialogue harps on Kamala and Salim’s faiths as an insurmountable wedge between them, and while it’s an honest depiction of India’s religious discord (Muslim men are often demonized with accusations of “love jihad”), this conflict hardly ever extends beyond spoken observations. The plot could have easily played out the same way if the characters belonged to the same community.

The movie’s victories remain just as hollow, seldom stemming from the characters, their wants, or their actions. But while there’s little merit to Bombay Rose as a straightforward narrative, the way it captures Mumbai and all its details is undeniably authentic. The film’s sound mix is just as vital as its hand-crafted visuals, echoing the mechanical cacophony and the hustle-and-bustle of Mumbai’s streets in travelogue fashion. It frames the city’s multicultural fabric and litany of languages as a constant background hum to the story.

Several of these cultural elements are lost in translation in the English-only dub. It brings to mind how the novel Q&A (by Indian author Vikas Swarup) was adapted into the British film Slumdog Millionaire, whose protagonist Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) lost some of his specifically Mumbai flavor. In the book, the character is named Ram Mohammad Thomas, and the identity he chooses in a given chapter alternates between his Hindu first name, his Muslim middle name, and his Christian surname, depending on which neighborhood he’s in. Similarly, the use of language in Bombay Rose tells its own story about different parts of the city.

In the original multilingual version, the main characters speak both Hindi and English, however English is used specifically as a mark of economic status. It’s a clear dividing line in between English tutor Ms. D’Souza — an anglophonic woman who prides herself on sounding posh — and her student Tara, who speaks English as a second language. When Tara visits Ms. D’Souza’s comparatively well-off neighborhood, she enters a realm in which English is the norm; Ms. D’Souza even asks Tara to speak “nothing but English in [her] English class” as Tara initially struggles and switches between the two languages. In the English-only version, however, Tara is well-versed in English already, and Shirley simply tells her to “behave like a well-mannered young girl,” which dilutes the class specificities of a child trying to escape poverty through education; in metropolitan India, learning English often means upward mobility.

Strangely, the English-language subtitles follow the English dub exclusively, so the “well-mannered young girl” line appears in both the subbed and dubbed versions, even though it doesn’t match the spoken English. It feels like Bombay Rose faced an uphill battle simply to be understood, between Netflix favouring subtitles which dilute the story, and the first horrendously caricatured English dub sent to critics in November, which can still be heard in the original trailer. The film was originally slated for release in December 2020 before an “unexpected technical delay”; the English-only dubbed dialogue track has since been re-recorded. It sounds more authentically Indian now, since it uses voice actors from India. (The first dub sounded like Indians born and raised in the West had been hired to impersonate their immigrant parents.)

Two Indian children, a girl and boy, look at a wind-up toy soldier and bird in Bombay Rose

Image: Netflix

The new English dub is a marked improvement, however it fails to capture the city’s multilingual tapestry. Early on, a local flower-seller (voiced by Court actress Geetanjali Kulkarni) speaks to Kamala and Tara in Marathi, the local state language. The employer of the young deaf boy speaks Tamil, and speaks Hindi with a Tamilian accent. Several scenes are even scored by the famous Konkani-language song “Red Rose” by Lorna Cordeiro, who hails from the neighboring state of Goa, and sings of Mumbai’s multitude of cultures and communities. The song remains in the English version, however the other nuances are lost, and neither the dubbing nor the subtitling attempt to capture them in any way. These are perhaps the occupational hazards of translation, but the dubbed version of the movie does thematic disservice to its characters, in a story about their varying cultural relationships to Mumbai.

Still, there are details and moments which remain authentic regardless of spoken dialect. The film is at its most enticing during the diegetic song-and-dance scenes, whenever Salim chances upon a wedding procession or some other local celebration, and joins them on the street. His movements are alluring; the contours of his face and the sadness in his eyes imbue this hand-painted-Bollywood-poster of a person with real depth and pain. These living, breathing details extend to most characters in the film, especially the elderly, whose lives can be traced through their wrinkles and laugh lines, and the shudders in their voices, which are especially prominent in the original multilingual version.

Kamala is a strange exception to this attention to detail. Her design in the “real world” isn’t all that dissimilar from her Mughal miniature version, a more two-dimensional but instantly recognizable art style. The outcome is a protagonist who feels oddly nondescript, and the story doesn’t lend her enough depth to make up for it. She’s largely passive until she suddenly and inexplicably isn’t — another victory which rings hollow.

However in spite of these story failings, which would kneecap most films entirely, Bombay Rose is a stunning visual achievement, and a far cry from the CG-animated fare which tends to garner mainstream attention. Its characters aren’t as complex as real Mumbaikars, nor its story as enticing as its cinematic influences, but it records, with aplomb, the sensation of being immersed in the city’s disorderly appeal.

Bombay Rose is now streaming on Netflix.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.