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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Bombay Rose - Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali Rao’s Bombay Rose is a melange of quintessential Bombay – people and places, and sights and sounds – in all its cosmopolitan, egalitarian miasma. Both the city and the film are a place where distinctions between good and evil blur because they don’t matter.

Love is a momentary fantasy, an all-too-brief interlude between the grim certainty and the crusty, caked grime that covers the city and the lives of its people. The Bombay of Bombay Rose is a place where there's hope, but it has to be stolen from the sweeping and melancholic hopelessness of utter destitution.

Set in a traditional gaothan, that small, defiant village that refuses to change with time, and is unconcerned of the bustling megapolis that surrounds it, the film has a rough hewn authenticity to it because the filmmaker has hand-painted all the scenes. Computer animation would've turned this soulful tale kitschy. 

Bombay Rose is a bunch of stories of people who have been left behind. They belong to the dark underbelly of the City of Gold that prefers to focus on glitz, glamour and wealth. Bombay Rose is the world of hand-pulled carts, slave children, wasted men, and demure yet defiant women.

A homeless immigrant family comprising a grandfather and two granddaughters exist on Bombay’s pavements. Kamala, the older granddaughter, makes and sells mogra gajras (jasmine garlands) on the street, outside their shanty. The grandfather is disguisedly unemployed. He has a makeshift shop where he repairs watches that people stopped wearing a long time ago, and so just whiles away his time smoking beedis and sipping cutting chai.

On the other side of the road is a paan-beedi shop owned and operated by Mishraji, another immigrant to Bombay. Salim, a newcomer, has come from Kashmir (it’s no longer a paradise, he says, it’s somewhere between jannat and jahanum – heaven and hell).

Kamala toils hard to ensure that her young sister Tara gets the opportunities she deserves to get ahead in life. Tara goes to a local convent school and gets coaching in English from Ms. Shirley D’Souza, a cat-loving, idiosyncratic Catholic spinster, who lives in the past, and adores young Tara.

Shirley spends her time reminiscing about her days in cinema, when it was more colourful perhaps because it was black and white. Anthony, an antique shop owner doubling up as a pawn dealer, buys useless (but not valueless) knickknacks from Shirley, and flirts with her in the hope of getting her piano.

Tara befriends a young boy who is on the run from the local police, tasked with preventing child labour. And there is Mike, a local tough, who wants to be Kamala’s saviour by pushing her into the sleazy world of dance bars, and promises to take her to Dubai.

Then, there is the Bollywood megastar Raja Khan. His chiselled body, larger than life screen persona and the masala-themed movies, provide the only escape from reality for immigrants to Bombay such as Salim. He drives a red-coloured sedan and casually drives away from an accident scene with impunity (just as Salman Khan did some years ago).

Salim & Kamala
Inevitably, Kamala and Salim fall in love in the middle of Bombay’s famed monsoon; both know the odds are against them but have the will to fight prejudice and destiny. Mike, the villain, is willing – almost eager – to kill Salim to prevent their love from flowering.

Along with the hand-painted scenes, the imaginative music – both background score and the songs – gives the film its strong and distinct identity and texture. The endearing Konkani ditty played intermittently throughout the film, and especially when Shirley cavorts around Anthony, enlivens their otherwise dreary lives.

CucurrucucĂș Paloma, a refreshing, surprising choice, playing in the background is an apt finale to Shirley’s unfulfilled life. Kamala humming of a dirge-like love song about the Rewa (Narmada) river reflects her deadened desires, and the raucous, rhythmic drum beats, when the city celebrates its many festivals, form a constant, angry backdrop depicting the latent rage of most of its inhabitants.

Thematically, Bombay Rose is no different than a Bollywood masala, with all the staple ingredients such as song and dance, romance, and a heavy dose of melodrama. And yet, it transcends these formulaic barriers and rises to touch the crimson sky that envelopes the city everyday as the sun goes down.

Bombay Rose was shown at the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival

Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8435324/fullcredits/?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the most well understood review of the film I have read...thank you Mayank Bhatt, for taking in all that Bombay Rose has, to offer!