If you are an animation enthusiast, what will hit you first about the 2019 film ‘Bombay Rose’ is the choppy, slow-motion animation in the first few minutes which shows a Bollywood film playing in a theater. It starts with the classic ‘damsel in the clutches of the villain’ scene, with the hero stepping up, beating the goon and saving the day. You know from scene one that ‘Bombay Rose’ is going to be an ode to the Tinseltown of India.

Directed by Gitanjali Rao, the film goes beyond the typical Bollywood romance and attempts to explore the aspirations of those living in the big city, especially the poor. There are two parallel stories interwoven with each other, one of the young Kamala who sells flowers and falls in love with Salim, an orphan from Kashmir; and the other of the much older Ms Shirley D’Souza, who teaches Kamala’s little sister English and is stuck in a bygone era.

The animation for this film has been painted on computer frame by frame and according to news articles took 18 months to make, with dozens of artists on the team. But the result is an inconsistent art style through the course of the story. For large parts, the animation is almost grainy and not very appealing, which makes the slow scenes test your patience. The artwork is not detailed enough, so when the camera zooms in and stops for a few seconds on a certain still, you wonder ‘why?’. But there are several scenes where the lead pair is transported to an alternate world, where they are transformed into mystical creatures from miniature paintings of the Mughal era, and the artwork on those scenes are more intricate and beautiful to look at.

The story is sprinkled with clever metaphors, like how the villain keeps shape-shifting into a hawk, symbolic of his opportunistic and predatory nature. When Kamala and Salim meet for the first time, the scene changes into a hunting ground, with a arrow missing them by a hair-breadth, almost a literal allusion to cupid’s arrow. The rose is a character in itself and sometimes we see the city through the flower’s eye – a bustling metropolis teeming with both the living and the dead.

One of the strongest points of ‘Bombay Rose’ is its soundtrack, director Gitanjali Rao has handpicked some great Bollywood and Konkani numbers that will tickle your ears with delight and help hold your attention. The voice actors have done a great job. It’s the story-telling that gets quite mainstream in the end, despite the careful artistic approach of the makers. The sub-plot involving old Miss Shirley D’Souza felt more intriguing and moving than that of the protagonist. You have a climax that is very typical and quite disappointing. Kamala gets a happy ending, sort of, but one wonders if she really earned it?

It’s hard to put a number on this film, but I am leaning towards a 6/10.

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