Gitanjali Rao says with "Bombay Rose", her colourful animation feature that has been winning hearts in international film festival circuits, she wanted to explore the story of regular people whose dreams are swept away in a corner. Rao believes Mumbai is made of immigrants who are building, cleaning and running the city but never feel at home. "Everybody in Bombay has left some place, come here and are trying to survive. A lot of stories have been told about people who make it big. But there are thousands who are not able to achieve that and they're essentially the ones who are running the city, building it, cleaning it and yet they're the ones who are marginalised or swept away in a corner.
"This is unfair, but this is how the city is. I felt that the beauty was not in the people who are successful, but in those who are trying to survive huge difficulties with small successes every day," Rao told PTI in an interview. The film, which has toured festivals like Venice, Toronto, London and Busan before its India premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival, features beautiful hand-painted frames that have been turned into animation.
The core story of "Bombay Rose", which Rao has directed, written, edited and designed, is about Kamala, a flower-seller who moonlights as a bar dancer and Salim, a cinema-loving Kashmiri immigrant with dreams to make it big in the city. They both are struggling to make ends meet but are drawn to each other. Rao said she made the deliberate choice to not just only focus on characters' struggles but also on the "special" moments that they encounter in their lives.
"Nothing grand ever happens to any of my characters but whatever is happening is very special and it still keeps people engaged. At the same time, I also want people to not turn their faces away from the realities that these people live with every day and that does happen to people in Bombay." "Bombay Rose" also has Ms D'Souza, an elderly woman who reminisces about her past to live through her present.
"All my films are about dreams. Dreams can be the past as it really happened. Dreams can also be an imagined world where you wish you had been. So, for me, the old woman is actually reliving her past life which was glorious. "When you're in your 60s and 70s and have lived a full life, you can have nostalgia. Every old person I encounter are living in that world. I have travelled with my mother a lot. She's always reliving the beautiful times of her life. So after a certain age, you're reliving your life."
Rao has made "Bombay Rose" in such a way that it also reflects on how the city's secular fabric was torn apart in the '90s. "For me, personally, things changed after 1992 when the Babri Masjid fell. I was about 17 or 18 and in college. Until then, none of us even knew who was Hindu, Muslim or Christian. Bombay was a very cosmopolitan city then. "What happened after 90 days, suddenly there was a breach in a place like Bombay. Suddenly the other community became very, very bad. And these were tremors were felt almost daily. So to me, it was, in a sense, the death of a beautiful part of Bombay."
Besides the events of the 1992, the filmmaker also focused on the present and how the state and those in authority failed the city and its people. "The present is actually 2005, which was when these dance bars were being shut down. I read about how these women were pushed into prostitution, actually by the state. It was the same with children. They're not allowed to work if they're less than 14 but they're put into juvenile homes, which make criminals out of them. So you question the state, which is making these laws without any support system."
Rao has weaved these different threads into storyline in such a way that rather than having a melancholy tone, the film comes across as a surreal piece of art. "Bombay Rose", Rao said, is also a tribute to her favourite filmmakers like Pedro Almodovar, Guru Dutt, Mira Nair and especially Wong Kar-Wai, whose 2000 romance drama "In The Mood for Love" influenced the theme. "It is a total tribute to In the Mood for Love'. I find it so poetic that it stay with you inside always. There was music, colours, paintings, slow motion shots. There is just this one look between this man and woman and it speaks volumes. Also the fact that they almost never even touch each other.
"In 'Bombay Rose', I took this to another level where forget touching, they don't even speak with each other. It is only in the end when you know that they are not going to be together, everything happens." The movie was the closing film at the just-concluded Dharamshala International Film Festival.