Bombay Rose is an animated film directed by Indian animator Gitanjali Rao. What’s interesting about the film is that the entire 97-minute feature is made with hand-drawn animation. The film had its World Premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival at the International Critics Week. It was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Contemporary World Cinema Section.
The film was released on Netflix India in March 2021.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
‘Bombay Rose’ Plot Summary
The film begins with a Bollywood Masala film playing in a theatre. The hero, Raja Khan (voiced by Anurag Kashyap), spews corny lines while fighting the villain’s henchmen to save the damsel in distress. Soon, we escape from that melodramatic celluloid existence into the real world of Bombay, presented in a picturesque miniature style animation.
Bombay Rose tells a simple story of Kamala, a woman who makes living selling flowers and gajras. She has to pay for her younger sister’s education while also dealing with a local pimp, Mike, who’s persuading her for a job in Dubai (cough C U Soon cough). Kamala comes from a broken home and lives with a paraplegic grandfather who owns an old watch repair store. Kamala’s sister Tara is learning English from Mrs. D’Souza, who lives in a dream world. She leaves roses at her deceased husband’s tombstone (which keeps going missing) while also flirtingly denying antique shop owner Mr. Pereira’s advances.
Throughout the film, Kamala falls in love with Salim, another flower seller she meets. Unfortunately, love is never as simple. Salim discovers that Kamala is also a bar dancer. In contrast, Kamala discovers that Salim steals flowers from the cemetery to sell on the streets. Tara saves a deaf-mute boy Tipu from being taken away by cops searching for child laborers and must now convince her family to let him stay.
After a series of cliched conflicts, Salim dies in a car accident driven by Raja Khan (insert ‘arre bhai bhai bhai bhai’ video), Mrs. D’Souza passes away in her sleep, leaving behind money for Tara’s education, Mr. Pereira promises to look after all the accounting so Kamala can take a break, which finally allows Kamala to refuse to go to Dubai and rid herself of Mike’s presence. Mr. Pereira, impressed with Kamala’s grandfather’s talents, also helps them set up a clockwork toy shop, which they name (roll credits) ‘Bombay Rose.’ The End.
A City of Dreams
They call Bombay the city of dreams, so it’s only natural that dreams play an essential part in the film.
In the first scene with Kamala, as she picks up the basket of flowers, she imagines herself to be a Hindu girl in a Mughal kingdom. This one scene beautifully encapsulates both the spirit of the film and the city of Bombay. Her drab attire transforms into a luxurious, almost bridal seeming costume adorned with gold and jewels. The dirty fish market streets of Bombay transform into the lavish, clean streets of the Mughal Empire. The ugly buildings become the grand palaces. The scene looks like an actual Mughal miniature.
However, those dreams are shattered by the appearance of a hawk, who morphs into the real-life local pimp, Mike. Mike, who breaks her dreams constantly, is the primary driver of conflict in Kamala’s love story. From trying to scam her out of money to send her off to Dubai to tricking Salim into believing Kamala is one of his prostitutes, he’s a constant villain. Even in the end, where Kamala’s dance bar is raided, it’s Mike who is the police’s informant. It’s Mike with the cop who chases Salim and Kamala, ultimately resulting in Salim’s accident.
The other characters of the film, too, have their shares of dreams and heartbreaks. Tara befriends a dumb-and-deaf boy, Tipu, whom she wants to help. When Tipu is fired from his job, she tries to persuade her family to let him stay. When Mr. Pereira isn’t able to fix Mrs. D’Souza’s prized toys, Tara promises that her grandfather will be up for the task, which he manages successfully. Throughout the film, Tara plays the role of hope, never losing hope, always striving to make everyone happy. It is for her that Kamala is struggling to make ends meet, it is for her that Mrs. D’Souza dedicates time and effort, and it is her that singlehandedly uplifts the film’s – and the audience’s – Hope.
Lastly, there’s Salim, a refugee from Kashmir who’s trying to survive in the concrete jungle of Bombay. His love story with Kamala begins with a stereotypical love-at-first-sight. Of course, it’s forbidden Hindu-Muslim love, a concept (thankfully) not explored at length. However, Salim is haunted by nightmares of his life in Kashmir, where he saw his parents gunned down by the Indian Army. Salim idolizes Raja Khan, which is ironic because Raja Khan runs him over in the end. The accident is as casual as anything, with the celebrity managing to escape and Salim dying a romanticized death in Kamala’s arms.
A Gorgeous Jumble of Ideas
Bombay Rose is chock-full of great ideas. Unfortunately, the 97-minute runtime isn’t enough to explore all of them. The divide between the rich and the poor, domestic violence, dance bars, Bollywood romanticization, celebrity deification, old love, child labor, and much more. I admire the filmmaker’s efforts in shedding light on all of these. I can’t even imagine what an arduous task this film must’ve been to make, given that every frame was hand-drawn. Considering that the film looks as gorgeous as it does, you have to give the filmmakers credit and a little leeway for the half-baked ideas. I wish the film were a little longer so it could’ve explored all of those ideas relatively. At present, I felt some of those storylines didn’t get their due credit, like Shirley D’Souza’s life story, the grandfather’s clock shop, Salim’s backstory (which, apart from the nightmares, isn’t explored sufficiently, in my opinion). It would’ve been amazing to have a fuller experience, but alas, that isn’t the case.
Now for the animation style. It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous. And knowing how recognized animation is in India, Bombay Rose comes as a breath of fresh air. The visual style is reminiscent of Mughal Miniature paintings, colored in a palette and roughness reminiscent of classic Bollywood posters. The character movements can be a little awkward at times. Still, the film overall has a unique visual flavor, which alone is enough to be experienced.
The characters are beautifully drawn but remain primarily two-dimensional. The city comes alive with the filmmakers and animators’ skills, but it doesn’t feel as profound as it should, at least not at first glance. This film is one of those unique pieces that mark a milestone in the larger cinematic discourse owing entirely to its technical finesse. Look a little closer, and maybe you’ll find the profundity that I failed to see. However, I feel the visual splendor of the film makes up for the cliched, trope-y narrative. It wasn’t a great film, but I’d still recommend it purely for the visual experience.
Bombay Rose is a simplistic film about hope and unfulfilled dreams. It’s a cliché story presented in a beautiful miniature-painting-style animation that’s a treat for the eyes. This might not be the best film you watch in your life, many of you might even forget it in a few days or weeks. Yet, I’d say this film is worth experiencing at least once.
Bombay Rose is a 2021 Animated Romantic Film directed by Gitanjali Rao.