Interview Hindi

My films are about what I see around me: Gitanjali Rao on Bombay Rose

The artist and filmmaker speaks about her 'labour of love' Bombay Rose, the animated feature that will have its world premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival next month.

Sonal Pandya

Gitanjali Rao's first feature film, Bombay Rose, will be the first Indian animation feature film to open Venice Critics Week next month. Rao's short films, Printed Rainbow and TrueLoveStory, have picked up awards around the world at film festivals.

Produced by Cinestaan Film Company (a sister company of Cinestaan Digital Private Limited, which runs this website), Bombay Rose has been painstakingly painted frame by frame and tells the story of a flower seller living on the streets of Mumbai, who has to choose between love and family.

Gitanjali Rao called the project “a labour of love” that took nearly six years to complete. In an email interview, the filmmaker spoke of how the idea of the film had always remained with her, the “sweet war” to complete the project, and how the film was created, frame by painstaking frame. Excerpts:

Congratulations on Bombay Rose’s world premiere and selection to open the Critics Week at the Venice International Film Festival. How does it feel to see your film make its way to audiences?

Many thanks. This is just the beginning, and there could not be a better way to present this labour of love made over six years by me, my producers and my artistic team to the audience. So it feels absolutely rewarding and very exciting to know what the first reactions to the film will be.

Filmmaker Gitanjali Rao with Kaduva

Bombay Rose, your debut animated feature, took six years from conception to completion. How did the idea first come to you?

The idea was there for much longer, the idea to tell the story of young love, of migrants, of the influence of 'Bollywood' [mainstream Hindi cinema] on these young migrants. Only when I began writing the script did it shape into Bombay Rose. My films are about what I see around me, what I feel about it and what social context it lies in. So naturally all these ideas came together to make Bombay Rose a love and survival story about these people.

Did the initial story remain the same or was it tweaked over time?

The story did go through about five drafts and three script labs, but it did not change at its heart and soul level, it changed merely at the storytelling level.

Has the story been expanded from your short film, TrueLoveStory?

Not really, I had been planning the feature for long and in order to help raise the finance, I chose one story out of the three in the film and made the short film TrueLoveStory around it.

A scene from Bombay Rose

Compared to your previous films, the colour palette for Bombay Rose is both bright and dark at the same time. Is that due to the setting of the film in Mumbai?

The colour palette of the film is very vibrant, but I avoid the chaos of the multicoloured look of Bombay and have set it into coordinated palettes which reflect the colourfulness of Bombay without its garishness and eye-smarting fluorescence. I keep to its organic palette.

What challenges, if any, did you face in production?

Oh, it was nothing less than a war, but a sweet sweet war, not bitter at all. 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 task. But my team and everyone involved in its production gave it their everything, so the challenges became surmountable and even enjoyable. Towards the end, the last three or four months, the team was working Sundays and even nights to complete it in time. Life and leisure was sacrificed by one and all.

How large or small was the team that worked on the film?

We started with a team of 20 for the first nine months, then expanded to about 60 in the last three months.

A scene from Bombay Rose

As the film was painted frame by frame, what measures did you have to put in place to ensure consistency across the feature?

Well, the only way to do that was for me to paint one coloured frame of every shot in the film. This was then followed by the artists over the rest of the hundreds of frames to complete the shot. In this frame, all the characters, their lighting depending on the time of the day or the mood were coloured on the background and then forwarded. I also had a very small but highly talented background team that painted the background for every shot and made contact sheets to see how well they pan out. Finally I am also very involved with the compositing of every shot of the film where all the elements come together and can be colour corrected layer by layer, shot by shot, scene by scene.

Last year, you also acted in Shoojit Sircar’s October (2018). Are you open to more acting parts in future?

Absolutely, but only if they are well-written scripts and roles and only if I can take time out from my first love, my baby, Bombay Rose.

Related topics

Venice International Film Festival