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I am not ashamed to admit that I sometimes cry in darkened theaters. It happened during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre scene in Gandhi, Naatak’s powerful play that tugged so expertly at my heartstrings. And my lachrymal glands were at it during Vrindavan, another superb Naatak play also by Sujit Saraf. Vrindavan was about the plight of widows cast off by society, that included a powerful performance by Ranjita Chakravarty. When I complained to Sujit Saraf that his plays kept ruining my eye makeup, he grinned happily and said, “Aur ro lo, aur ro lo,” (Go ahead and cry some more).

Salim and Kamala in Bombay Rose.

I took this advice and confess to weeping discreetly in the theater while watching Bombay Rose last week at the 2019 Third i festival in the storied Castro theater in SF, a movie palace from a bygone era. The film was like the delicious pain of a loose milk tooth. The refrain of the song about Reva, flowing like a river to the ocean, was sorrowful, like a replay of Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour in Silver Linings Playbook. Like nostalgia for a glorious era of Bollywood that has slipped into history. Like doomed love of the small and powerless for whom pain has already occurred and will occur again. Like regret for a lost paradise where Shammi Kapoor serenaded Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir ki Kali (1964) but now has more guns than roses.

Tareef karoon kya uski, jisne tujhe banaya. (What praise can I offer your creator?) (Kashmir ki Kali, 1964)

Kashmir ki kali (the flowerbud of Kashmir) Source: Wikipedia

Bombay Rose had a melancholy undercurrent that I thought of for days afterwards. The main characters in the film labor in the “informal economy” of Bombay’s mean streets. There is a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, a dastardly villain, romance, deception and heartbreak. So, is the Bombay Rose a homage to Bollywood? When the film begins, Salim, who has sought refuge in Bombay as violence engulfs his home in Kashmir, is one of the audience members in a movie theater. He is enthralled by the swagger of a six-packed, swashbuckling larger-than-life Raja Khan, a sendup of Bollywood’s grandiosity. Salim’s own existence as a traffic light flower-seller is more meager, but his view includes the lovely garland-maker Kamala across the street, and love blooms.

Is the rose flower Hindu or Muslim? Gulab Singh or Gulab Khan? The film raises this question in a voiceover.

There are flights of imagination to Mughal miniature paintings where our beleaguered couple can escape the indignities and cruelties of their crushed-under-the-heel-of-poverty existence. (The paintings were reminiscent of Nina Paley’s 2008 Sita Sings the Blues). This animated film might not get the highest points for technical excellence, but Anjali Rao has put together a memorable film that holds its bleak characters lovingly, like something fragile. A newly-hatched chick placed in one’s hands might elicit a similar response.

Or a bruised Kashmir ki kali.

Bombay Rose. 2019. Director: Gitanjali Rao. Writers: Asad Hussain, Gitanjali Rao. Actors: Anurag Kashyap, Shishir Sharma, Makrand Deshpande.

Geetika Pathania Jain is the Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. She sometimes finds catharsis for geopolitical sorrows in the dark, cocoon-like insides of theaters.

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