Gitanjali Rao’s makes her feature-length debut with the hand-drawn animation Bombay Rose, a broad story where sentimental fantasies mesh with harsh reality to paint a bittersweet picture of life in India. After its success on the 2019 festival circuit, the animated film was released worldwide this week and proves to be visually mesmerising, while simultaneously leaving viewers wanting more.
Set in modern-day Mumbai, the film follows multiple characters’ stories with heavy emotional arcs that each reference a series of political issues. Three distinct plots interweave to craft the impression of an episodic structure; however, main focus revolves around a tragic love story between Muslim flower-seller Salim (Amit Deondi) and Hindu dancer Kamala (Cyli Khare). Pairing candid renditions of life and issues facing the country, Rao’s also makes reference to classic Bollywood tropes and Indian fairy tales through some animated musical sequences. The contrasts between scenes of idyllic happy-ending fantasies with cold, drama-filled callbacks to reality craft some heart-wrenching moments.
Rao’s strong aesthetics and the interesting blend of art styles captivates viewers, but falls short of developing all of the themes and emotional arcs hinted at in her script. Here is a classic case of trying to do too much: each story presented is full of potential, but when packed together in a 93-minute feature, they feel diluted and impossible to explore fully. Strong story beats such as Salim’s parents’ murder or the conflict between working children and the police are glossed over, causing the pacing of the animation to falter, and ultimately failing to do justice to Rao’s art style and themes.
Despite its struggle to capture the narrative depth demanded by its poignant character-driven script, Bombay Rose’s striking art direction makes for a charming and worthwhile watch. This is an exceptional animation that leaves a lasting impression on its viewers. The hand-painted visuals and obvious passion for both Indian culture and its people strike a powerful emotional chord, making this Mumbai drama a flawed but unique experience.
Bombay Rose is released on Netflix on 8th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Bombay Rose here: