Stylized, impressionistic and striking, “Bombay Rose” is a fanciful animated melodrama for adults, a tale of India’s past and present, with some of that past rendered into old fashioned Bollywood movie myth.
A simple parable that’s a little hard to follow in a style best-described as under-animated — the drawings more painterly and the movement more jerky — it’s poetic and prosaic, a hybrid of anime nd CG and old school TV 2D animation and quite unusual in appearance.
Gitanjali Rao’s script tracks several interlocking stories, gives us fantasy flashbacks and little tastes of Indian TV and cinema storytelling, and sacrifices a realistic ending for one that’s dark but dramatically satisfying.
Kamala is a young woman who makes leis out of flower petals, a Hindu who looks after her school age sister Tara and her grandfather, who runs a failing watch repair kiosk.
Salim is a Muslim from Kashmir, new to Bombay, hustling flower and scent sales for Mishra Ji, who is an old friend of Kamala’s grandpa. Salim “left heaven (Kashmir) for hell on Earth,” but he has flashbacks about the violence of this border country flashpoint. He’s smitten with Kamala, and none of this “But she’s a Hindu and you’re a Muslim” palaver is going to change that.
Kamala and Tara are under threat from the pimp/hustler Mike, a mustachioed villain who promises Kamala a passport and work (as a maid, at best) in Dubai and threatens to “look after your sister when you’re gone.”
As if that seals the deal.
And young Tara is taking English and young lady comportment lessons from Ms. D’Souza, a long-retired actress with a house full of Bollywood romance memories, music-boxes mostly.
It is a time of mass roundups of child laborers, and every walk with Ms. D’Souza sees Tara and her teacher walking through India’s past — black and white backdrops, modern economy cars and auto-rickshaws replaced by running board roadsters and sedans.
The jumble of stories begins in a local cinema with the audience griping “Why’d you censor out the kiss?” (India long kept its films comically chaste), and as Kamala makes eyes at Salim, she drifts off into reveries straight out of Indian myth — flying horses and hunter/prey parables and the like.
Mike’s intrusions into her life take the form of a predator hawk shape-shifting into the street predator he is in actuality.
The film comments on itself when it notes how this is yet another depiction of India’s vast underclass. “Misfortune is always around the corner for the poor” is true enough here.
Before long, all these peripherally-connected characters, and Ms. D’Souza’s antiques-dealer pal Anthony, Tara’s new mute street kid friend Tibu, Kamala’s exotic dancer colleagues and the cops are headed for a collision.
I like the way the film commands your attention despite its simplicity. The color palette is vivid even if the actual images — characters, flowers, backgrounds and the like — are closer to sketches than finished and sharp digital renderings. Not a huge fan of the style, not for an entire movie. The jerky motion can be wearing.
But if you’re looking for an animated dip into Indian culture and a film that charts its own path to a distinct animated style, it’s well worth a look.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for thematic/suggestive material, smoking, some violence and language
Voice cast: Cyli Khare, Amit Deondi, Amardeep Jha, Shishir Sharma, Anurag Kashyap, Makrand Deshpande
Credits: Scripted and directed by Gitanjali Rao. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:37