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MOVIES: Bombay Rose (LFF 2019) - Review

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Bombay Rose is an audaciously ambitious and original animated film that taps into both the magic of both Bollywood and Indian folklore, opting for an against-type love story that also addresses social issues using Bombay - now Mumbai - as a backdrop for them to play out on screen, told with a unique animated style that benefits from its lavish attention to detail.

The music that plays throughout much of the film when there is a lack of dialogue present manages to be both captivating and alluring, setting the tone that helps make both the day and nightlife of the city come alive. Although it’s not a musical, it has echoes of both The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and La La Land, filling the perfectly shaped hole that romantics may be missing from cinema. Bombay Rose avoids the temptation to get the two leads together at the earliest opportunity and instead opts to take its time, with both characters rarely interacting through spoken word throughout much of the films’ runtime, opting instead in favour of subtle glances shared across the street that they both work at through the hustle and bustle of the everyday commute, and multiple times do we see them simply going about their day with all the struggles that come with it.

Bollywood – described as its own kind of cult in India in the film's summary - factors into Bombay Rose with film and stardom playing a large role - not only do characters have a history with acting, describing how many takes it took to do certain scenes, but the opening scene takes place in a large, sold-out cinema where a crowd are witnessing the hero come to the rescue at the last minute and confront the bad guy, as all fairy tales go. Before the hero can kiss the girl however, the frame freezes, cut short by the censors. Audiences demand their refund and walk out - but answers don’t come as easy in the real world, and flights of fantasy are frowned upon in a city where kids are arrested simply for working, and marrying between religions is dismissed. But therein lies the aim of Bombay Rose – to get away from the escapism and magic of the movies and showcase the reality for young people in love in the streets of the city, with all the ups and downs that come with it.

The hand-painted artwork is wonderful with every frame being able to catch the eye, and from what initial glimpses into the fantasy world of Indian folklore I saw I’d love to see director Gitanjali Rao tackle something that goes all-in on the genre. The colour palette is vibrant and alive, with the greens of the open fields a far cry from the dark and damp city streets after dark. Nature is beautiful in Bombay Rose, and in a city as packed as Bombay itself, it is few and far between.

Outside of the beautiful artwork which is arguably the film's biggest draw, Bombay Rose is ultimately too packed with storylines that take too long to come together to pay off completely, often feeling convoluted and full of coincidences at times, and more often than not it wanders too far away from the direction that it should be going in, leading to a messy and inconsistent narrative that fail to consistently capture the multiple storylines at play here. It feels almost like a day in the life tale wherein the story only really starts to come into effect in the final act, but thankfully, after the experience beforehand, it is where the story starts to feel truly alive, rewarding the audience when it is at its most bittersweet and at is most befitting of what it sets out to do..

That said, it’s hard not to admire Bombay Rose despite the flaws that come with it. It’s a raw and sombre tale delivered with passion, backed by a strong cast from a director with a clear vision. The performances from voice actors Amit Deondi and Gargi Shitole both add strong dynamics to the cast along with good roles for Makrand Deshpande, Amardeep Jha and Cyli Khare who all make this a well rounded ensemble that all bring life to their meticulously crafted characters.

Look out for Bombay Rose at the London Film Festival for its UK premiere and watch the trailer here.

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