A few years ago, animator Gitanjali Rao visited Goa for the National Film Development Corporation of India Film Bazaar in the hopes of securing funding for a film that she was making. Fast forward to 2019 and the filmmaker, who has previously done short films like ‘Printed Rainbow’, returned to Goa to screen her debut animated feature ‘Bombay Rose’ at the ongoing International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2019.
Having had its world premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, ‘Bombay Rose’ (a co-production between France, UK, India, and Qatar) is a musical romance set on the streets of Mumbai telling the story of Kamala and Salim’s quest for love in the chaotic and beautiful city of Mumbai. The film addresses issues like Hindu-Muslim love, life on the streets, child labour and the after effect of the ban on dance bars in Mumbai. Although designed like a Bollywood musical, the film is in truth, “an ironic take on how Bollywood is all about happy endings but real life is not”. “What I mean when I say ‘Bollywood’ refers to the entertainment type, the musicals, the running around the bushes, etc,” she clarifies.
Having first attempted to make a feature film back in 2009, she reveals that she had to abandon it after she ran out of funding. The same happened in 2011. “I stole ideas from there for the characters in this film because I wanted to tell their stories,” says Rao.
Interestingly, Rao has used various Indian art styles in her animation in the film. “When the lead characters in the film travel back in the past I have used the art style which is used in the place where they come from. For instance, the girl hails from Madhya Pradesh so when she goes into her dream world I used Kangra miniature paintings,” she reveals. For the boy, who hails from Kashmir, she has used truck paintings which are often seen on Indian and Pakistani trucks. “This is a very kitsch art style featuring waterfalls, sunsets, sunrises,” says Rao. A third character in the film is Miss Dsouza who used to dance in Indian films back in the 60s and 70s. And so, Rao has used back and white Indian cinema elements to animate it.
“I got interested in all these art styles long back and started learning them in order to animate it. And then I actually found stories to be able to use these styles,” she says, adding that in the film she has used styles that people are familiar with, but have never seen in motion ie in animation form.
“Most people have heard of miniature paintings but they may not be able to tell the difference between a Mughal miniature and a Kangra miniature. Similarly, although most people have seen truck art, often as a lay person, you don’t realise that this is a form of art also,” she explains.
The music that she has used in the film once again relates to the place that the person comes from. And interestingly, Rao has used Goan nightingale Lorna Cordeiro’s song ‘Tambde Roza’ in the film too. “The Anglo-Indian woman’s story was shot in Bandra which still has a very Goan feeling to it, especially the area near St Andrew’s Church. So it is used while the woman is going to lay flowers in the church cemetery and the song did wonders to the film. It essentially is used to talk about love as seen through the point of view of a rose,” she says.
Apart from making films, Rao is also into theatre and made her film debut in the much acclaimed Hindi film ‘October’ by Shoojit Sircar which also featured actor Varun Dhawan in the lead role. Rao played the role of the mother of Shiuli.
“Shoojit had seen me in a play about 15 years ago and I did one ad film with him back then. Some time ago he called me up while he was looking for an animation director for a film he was planning to make. While I couldn’t take up that film, during the course of the conversation, he told me about a script he had and the role he wanted me to play. And he wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she recalls.
The role, she adds, was supposed to be a small one, but after shooting commenced, it became much bigger. “I didn’t realise that it would be such a pleasant experience. Because I am a director, it is also interesting to become an actor, which I think is a much easier job,” she says, adding that she had no confidence herself, but Shoojit had a lot of confidence.
And while she got a lot of acting offers post her ‘October’ experience, she had to turn these down as by then, work for her film ‘Bombay Rose’ had begun. “Now that I have completed this film and I am free, I am ready to try acting again. If something interesting does come up I will jump into it,” she says.
Why Indian animation films are lagging behind
“There are people who want to do original Indian animation but I think the circumstances in India are very different than elsewhere. One of the reasons why we see good animation films coming out from the rest of the world is that there is state funding for animation films there. While the Children’s Film Society, India does provide some funding, they do not circulate the film. So the only option we have is to look at private equity. We also have to get star names for voiceovers in order to be able to find funding. Also, in every other country, the television network gives space for their own animation films which does not happen in India.”
On the perception that animation films are meant for children
“The fact is, we have been feeding the Indian audience animation films which are for children and not exposing them to animation films which are being made in the rest of the world which are not necessarily for children.”