Indian filmmaker Gitanjali Rao found global fame when she won three awards at Cannes for her 2006 animated short “Printed Rainbow.” Another animated short, 2014’s “TrueLoveStory,” also received considerable festival play. In 2018, she debuted as an actress with “October.” And now, her feature debut, “Bombay Rose,” the story of a flower seller who has to make the choice between protecting her family or allowing herself to fall in love, opened Critics Week at the Venice film festival, and will continue its festival journey at Toronto.
What are the styles of animation and art that you have explored in “Bombay Rose”?
The film has four styles that seamlessly merge into each other. The reality is constructed in an impressionistic style characteristic of my earlier short film “TrueLoveStory.” But within that I go into the mindscape of my protagonist Kamala, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, using the Kangra miniature painting style. For Salim, the hero of the film who hails from Kashmir and is a truck driver’s son, I have used the truck art style of Pakistan. The other important character in the film is an Anglo-Indian woman who used to be an dancer in Hindi films from the 1950s, so for her my style changes into the black and white vintage style of an older Bombay.
It has been a six-year journey for “Bombay Rose,” and now you have opened Venice Critics’ Week. What were the challenges you faced in your journey to bring the film to the world?
The biggest challenge was the financing of the film. Running from pillar to post would be an understatement. Trying to make an artistic, socially relevant, not for children alone, animation film with no star voices or big names as a debut is in itself a challenge for any one interested to bet their money on. So I used the time in between to make one story from the feature into a short film, “TrueLoveStory,” which premiered in Cannes Critics’ week. That brought conviction into the style of animation and the film’s emotional connect. By then I had secured my French producers Les Films d’Ici. Then over various script labs and co-production markets, I managed to find Cinestaan to partner with. Or rather they found me, to be exact, and they loved the script enough to believe in supporting it. As funds faltered in the process of making the film, Cinestaan stood by steadfastly and we managed to complete it in two years. With regards to challenges during production, the task of creating such a huge volume of work and to keep to its quality in such a small time ( yes 21 months is small for animation) was a mammoth one. But my team at Paperboat Animation Studios, and everyone involved in its production, gave it their everything so the challenges became surmountable and even enjoyable. Toward the end, the last three or four months, the team was working Sundays and even nights to complete in time. Life and leisure was sacrificed by one and all.
You made quite an impact with your performance in “October.” Did the experience help in any way as a director?
Not really the experience of this film, but yes, my training in theater under Satyadev Dubey has helped me a lot with my filmmaking. I do concentrate a lot on acting of my characters and this is done without using live actors as reference, the way Disney, Pixar or any big studio does. I push my animators to act themselves and bring that into the animation. It is far more difficult but sometimes much more richer.
In what way will the worldwide exposure for “Bombay Rose” help in the growth of the Indian animation industry?
Only time can predict that, not really me. Wishfully thinking I’d love to believe that this will set a precedent in a kind of animation film never seen before but easy to digest, enjoy, recommend and revisit again after a few years. Maybe make people more open to Indian stories in animation not restricted to mythology or fantasy or superheroes. Stories about common people that work for all ages and stages as well as class of people.