Gitanjali Rao: Bombay Rose is a poetic take on filmy romance
Animation filmmaker on the six-year journey of Bombay Rose, her debut animation feature, which is set to open the Venice Film Festival Critics' Week
Animation filmmaker Gitanjali Rao’s debut feature, Bombay Rose, will open the Critics’ Week section at the Venice Film Festival next month. More than six years in the making, the 2-D animation film is a love story set in Mumbai, with movies as the backdrop.
The lead character, Kamala, is a garland-maker from Madhya Pradesh who falls in love with Salim, a rose seller from Kashmir. Gitanjali recalls being intrigued by the romantic negotiations between flower vendors on local trains. “I noticed how their main influence in terms of romance came from Bollywood — of how to be a ‘man’ or how to be ‘wooed’. I’d see them emulating the movies. The impact of Hindi films on the youth is huge. That can lead to crime, or a relationship. I felt like telling that story in a visually poetic form,” she says.
Gitanjali studied commercial arts at the Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts. In 1994, a retrospective of Polish animator Jerzy Kucia inspired her to take up animation. After training under Indian animation pioneer Ram Mohan, she made her first short film titled Orange. This was followed by Printed Rainbow in 2006, which won international acclaim. The 15-minute short told the story of an old woman and her cat — predominately in hand-painted charcoal, with dreamy interludes of colour. “When I started out, hand-painting was the norm. Computer-generated animation was still premature. I am quite a purist in that sense; I have a lot of respect for classical forms,” says Gitanjali.
Securing finance for a full-length project was tough, Gitanjali notes. French company Les Films d’Ici — who also produced Waltz with Bashir — came on board in 2013, but had no experience of working in India. As proof of concept, Gitanjali made TrueLoveStory, a short film introducing the characters of Kamala and Salim. Then, in 2017, Bombay Rose was picked up by Cinestaan through the NFDC screenwriter’s lab. “In animation, your budget is always higher than a live-action film. So even if your idea is working, a producer knows he can make three live-action movies in that money. With Cinestaan, they were adventurous enough to jump into something nobody else had.”
Gitanjali’s art style varies over projects, and is sourced from the sociocultural backgrounds of her characters. “Kamala comes from MP, which is known for its miniature paintings. I also wanted to explore the truck art prevalent in Kashmir and Pakistan. So Salim hails from there.” The voice cast of Bombay Rose includes Cyli Khare, Amit Deondi, Makarand Deshpande and Anurag Kashyap. The film makes extensive use of archival music, with one original song written by Swanand Kirkire. “It’s easier for me to take a pre-existing song and animate through it. One of the characters in the film is someone who danced in 1960s’ movies. So the music had to come from that era. My producers increased the budget to acquire the music I needed.”
The filmmaker, who has also acted in plays, was cast as Banita Sandhu’s mother in Shoojit Sircar’s October (2018). Her performance in that film won her a Filmfare Award nomination for best supporting actress. Asked if she plans on acting more often, Gitanjali replies, “I’ve worked with Satyadev Dubey’s theatre group before. After October, I got several offers but had to turn them down to finish Bombay Rose. Now that the film is done, I am looking out for something interesting.”
The 76th Venice International Film Festival will run from August 28 to September 7.