Gitanjali Rao's "Bombay Rose", screening at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as part of its Contemporary World Cinema section, is nothing if not an achievement of epic proportions.
The visually captivating, emotionally beguiling film, which was reportedly in the making for six years, marks a giant leap for Indian arthouse animation.
"Bombay Rose", as much a painstakingly crafted ode to a massive megapolis that abounds in contradictions as a tribute to the dreams and impossible loves of its struggling, faceless and ultimately fearless little people who live and die in anonymity while barely managing to keep their heads out of the water.
"Bombay Rose" is something that an Indian animation has never been: both heartwarmingly tender in plot terms and delightfully deep with regard to the socio-political themes it addresses. Its beauty lies in the fact that it appeals equally to the mind and the heart.
"Bombay Rose", which was the opener of Venice Critics' Week a little over a week ago, is not the first Indian animation film to play in TIFF. In 2013, Shilpa Ranade's "Goopy Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya" had its world premiere in Toronto in a section meant for children's films, which has since been discontinued.
Mumbai's Paperboat Animation Studio, headed by filmmaker Soumitra Ranade, are the common link between the two films. While neither the director of "Bombay Rose", an Indo-French co-production, nor Ranade are present in person in Toronto, the film is represented here by executive producers Deborah Sathe and Tessa Inkelaar, sound designer P M Satheesh and Paperboat's Mayank Patel.
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"The mean streets of Mumbai have rarely looked so vibrant, so lavish, so otherworldly as they do in 'Bombay Rose', a meticulous, handcrafted animation," film critic Xan Brooks wrote in The Guardian from Venice.
"Gitanjali Rao's film paints a luminous valentine to the city in all its squalor and beauty and audaciously socio-realist drama as a sentimental folk tale."
Variety's Guy Lodge wrote,"Whatever colour you're imagining when you hear the title 'Bombay Rose', add a little more ruby to it."
It is easy to do that given the many visual charms of "Bombay Rose".
TIFF is where Hollywood and global cinema big guns come to fast-track their Oscar campaigns. Could we, like the never-say-die underdogs of Rao's remarkable film, dream of a breakthrough when the Academy announces its award nominations for feature animation films? "Bombay Rose" definitely struck a chord in Venice. In Toronto, too, it has been received with enthusiasm. So, why not.
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