Bollywood doesn’t inspire me in any way, says filmmaker Gitanjali Rao
She’s been quietly revolutionising the animation film scene, with critically acclaimed short films like Printed Rainbow (2006) and TrueLoveStory (2014) making waves at Cannes and the Oscars.
Geetanjali Rao’s first animated feature, Bombay Rose, has now been selected as the opening film at this year’s Venice International Film Festival’s Critics Week. It’s the first Indian animation film to open the Week.
Bombay Rose is the love story of Kamala, a bar dancer living in Bombay, and Salim, Kashmiri orphaned by the militancy. The film is simultaneously a homage to the undying romantic and the power of celluloid dreams, and a takedown of Tinseltown.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Rao, 46, says she’s wanted to make animation films since she was 21. This one is stunning, crafted in a palette of reds, yellows, blacks and white and featuring art work in Rao’s unique personal style — influenced by truck art, Mughal miniatures, folk art and traditional Indian puppets made of leather. Excerpts from an interview with Rao...
Tell us about the journey of Bombay Rose? What inspired it?
My inspiration was the lives for most street dwellers in Bombay. There’s a day-to-day struggle for survival, steeped in deprivation. There’s homelessness and lacking basic human rights — so the people escape to the cinemas to forget reality. But when the same Bollywood fantasies begin to influence and replace reality, the balance is lost. Bombay Rose is based on this struggle of dreams and reality.
What is it like to be an animation filmmaker in the home of Bollywood?
It is very difficult if you are trying to make an unconventional film. Actually, the industry does not inspire me in any way. My inspiration, influence, craft come from independent films made in India and the world, regional Indian films, pre-Bollywood-era Hindi films and world cinema.
What it was like to make this full-length animation feature?
The journey was difficult but very enjoyable and rewarding. The film was drawn and painted frame by frame on the computer. The challenges were mainly to make such an intricate and detailed film in such a short production time with a limited budget, but I had a hugely talented crew. It took 18 months of total manpower, beginning with 20 artists and growing to 60.
What are the benefits and the drawbacks of making a movie with only drawn images?
Benefit is you have control over everything — lights, camera, acting, actors, editing — everything. The same is a challenge because one needs to create everything from scratch or rather a blank paper so it needs immense hard work and patience
What made you choose filmmaker Anurag Kashyap and Geetanjali Kulkarni [Court, Photograph] to lend their voices to your film?
They are both amazing theatre actors too and I like working with theatre actors since I’ve worked in theatre myself. They are more natural and versatile than screen actors with no theatre background.
Who are your inspirations – anyone globally whom you look up to as a mentor, when it comes to the craft of animation?
My mentor has been animator Ram Mohan in whose studio I learnt conventional animation, Ajit Rao who introduced me to India folk art and Polish animator Jerzy Kucia from whom I learnt to craft my own language in cinema.
I want to make more animation features. I have several ideas and will get down to scripting once the first run of festivals with Bombay Rose is done.