Gitanjali Rao is a self – taught animator, filmmaker and theatre artist from Bombay. Being a graduate from the reputed J.J. School of Art, she is an artist who has found a mid-way between her love for art and filmmaking and is doing a great job at it! Pandolin caught up with this internationally renowned animator at the Film Bazaar in Goa and chatted up with her about her new project Bombay Rose.

Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali Rao

What about Film Bazaar attracted you to bring your project Bombay Rose here?

Since I am an animator, I knew that Film Bazaar is a great place for filmmakers to pitch their films. I’ve seen the history (of the Bazaar) and been very impressed. I was working on this project for two years but never thought of Film Bazaar because of being an animator. Somewhere you just feel that animation has another group of people and in India, we never get that space. One of my friends told me that your film is cinematic and it fits into the live action zone as much as any other, so why don’t you try applying for the Bazaar. So I applied for the Screenwriter’s Lab. I got selected in the lab and since my project was quite advanced they chose to put me on the Co-Production Market. So as I told you earlier, I had heard of them but it took word of mouth to convince me that I fit into this space.


What is the film about and what inspired you to make it?

My film is a love story between two migrants – a Muslim boy from Kashmir and a Hindu girl from Madhya Pradesh who sells flowers on the streets of Juhu in Mumbai. It is told in animation and is a love story but deals with a lot of things including issues like migration – people who come into the city, help you to build the city but are not given the rights to live as citizens of Mumbai and so they live on the streets etc. So the story goes into those kinds of social issues through the love story. It’s set in 2005 when the dance bars were shutting down and the girl dances in one of the bars. So the story deals with what options does a girl like her have. A girl who’s uneducated and has come to Bombay, has a grandfather to feed and a small sister to educate. Its about people from outside, coming into the city and how vulnerable they are because of these changing laws of morality. It’s a tragic love story, like a Romeo-Juliet but set in the modern times with modern problems!

Was there a personal experience of observing something like that which influenced you?

It has come from being stuck in a rickshaw or a bus in Juhu’s traffic jams all my life. I have been born and brought up in Bombay. The longest time for thought in this space is while being stuck in a traffic jam. People are generally very pissed off but I used to find this one hour space when you can’t do anything. This was at a time when there were no smart phones or internet and I was in college. I would keep observing these boys and girls selling things and I would see the chemistry between them. I found it very attractive. These are stories no one talks about but there is so much happening. Bollywood is influencing them even though they may be poor. See, nobody can stop romance and hormones! Migration in that sense has been very interesting for me and romance as well. So the two came together and this is what I took forward in this film.

What drives you to animate?

I am an artist and I’m from JJ School of Art. I always loved painting, theatre and cinema. But I knew I had to make a choice between each of them as a career till I discovered animation in the last years of my college. I passed out in 1994 which was the pre-internet age where film festivals were the only place to go see animation. I knew Disney animation but film festivals showed me another kind of animation: moving paintings. That’s where I realized that I want to paint and I want to make movies and animation is the medium that allows me to do both. Even now for me, painting is much more precious that filmmaking. Telling stories is one thing and everybody does it very well in live action. Animation is a medium which hasn’t been explored much. Although it is very difficult – otherwise I would have done two-three live action feature films by now going by my history in Cannes – I am so passionate about it because I don’t want to stop painting.


Is that why you love 2D?

Yes. I would never do 3D. I’d do a live action film more readily than do a 3D animated film.

There’s very little awareness about 2D animation. People feel there’s not enough scope in it. Do you agree?

Unless people like me don’t make such films, these views won’t change. There are two of us who are animators over here and we’ve been doing work for a long time. Over the past ten-fifteen years, as we deal with students, we realize that if we don’t do this who else will? If we all give up, the next generation is not going to be passionate about it and will think there’s no scope. So somewhere you feel the responsibility of keeping an art form alive. All our folk traditional art forms are disappearing because Chinese stuff is filling up the market. So somebody needs to do it to change this perception. I agree with this perception but I feel if you don’t do anything about it, you can’t depend on others to change it. You have to do it yourself. Probably in my 20s I didn’t feel this way but in my 40s I feel far more responsible to keep this art form alive otherwise it will disappear. I have faith that 3D animation will reach a point of saturation at some time because it has become so perfect and realistic that people will come to be like, now what? That is when the appreciation for 2D will come back. So one is waiting and working towards that to happen.


Mostly animators work solo and are in their own zone that gets very difficult to express. How is your team like especially when you are working on a feature?

I don’t have a team and I work solo. Once I get the finance for my feature is when I’ll be able to put a team together. In 2009, I was working on another feature film, which didn’t happen but I did get the opportunity to work for six months, form a team and work with them. For me it was very liberating because you work in isolation not because of choice, but because that’s the only space you have. So for me, making a feature is in a way working in a team. I can keep making my shots alone but the reason I want to do a feature is because of the collective input.

What I feel Film Bazaar and the Script Lab gave to me was a team of people who work on your script, help you on your script ,which is the part that’s unfair to do in isolation. Sitting in isolation and doing animation is okay but when you are writing a script, you need inputs because very few animators write scripts. We are very good at animation so I feel that isolation even in the animation community. So that is why this jump to the live action scene for the script. And I have prepared a team for a feature and we have worked together for six months so I am very comfortable on that. I am confident that I can manage.

What kind of research went into creating the visual presentation of Bombay Rose?

Actually since it took me a while to write the script and get the finance ready for this film, I got impatient and made a short film out of one of the stories of Bombay Rose. In all my films, I am continuously influenced by different art forms and study them for various animation projects. Basically its a flight of fantasy of my central characters. I’ve been researching miniature paintings because that’s one art form I like very much and that’s the style one of the characters will have a flight in. My research is continuous in life and when I find a story, that research goes into it. Another research could be reading about the migrant situation in Bombay all the time but it’s not done especially for this. It’s your human interest that keeps you researching. And then there are film posters which I used to painted. That’s an art which is disappearing now because we have digital posters. I have a scene in the film with the migrant boy who loves Bollywood and goes to watch a film. So my research for that film style would be the Tamil film posters. Art forms are my research. First the art forms come to me and then I string them together as a story.


How was your experience at Film Bazaar 2015?

Very good. It is something I needed so much to take this project forward. I can’t believe I didn’t do Film Bazaar earlier. Everything I have not been able to do sitting in Bombay in the last two and a half years, which includes approaching all these Indian directors and talking to all sales and distribution people around the world, has happened in two and a half days of the Bazaar for me. Animation and writing a script is so much easier but this entire scene of meeting people and showing your work is important. You come here and there are fifty people telling you that they love your work and would want to be associated with you. Whether it happens or not is irrelevant, but it’s the confidence that people know your work and you are as much out there that matters. So it’s been brilliant.

-Transcribed by Shivangi Lahoty