The story starts with Hindu man Shekhar and Muslim girl Shaila Banu falling in love and eloping to get married and live in Bombay, without their parents' blessings. One of the best scenes in the beginning of the movie shows Shekhar's father nauseated at the mere thought of his son finding himself a North Indian girl, because nothing seems more appalling to him than a Punjabi or a Gujarati. Until he learns that his son is in love with a Muslim... I loved the irony of that scene. Cleverly written. And that set the tone for the rest of the movie for me.
Namak: I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little fed up with these love at first sight plots. It's bad enough when one of them falls in love and spends the rest of the movie convincing the other, but when they're both so in love after 5 glances and 2 words, it just gets ridiculous.
Dolce: Heh... I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan either. Sometimes I even think I want to see a movie where they marry after being in love for 2 hours and then it all falls apart glamorously because they realize they don't even like each other.
Namak nods her head in admiration: Well well... I didn't know you had that in you! My little girl is all grown up now!
Though as the movie goes on...
Dolce: I've decided I'm ok with the love at first sight business in this movie...
Namak: What?? Noo! I thought you had finally come around! What happened?
Dolce: Well, think about it, if you spend an hour with the couple getting to know each other and falling in love and then eloping and getting married, how will you have time in only one hour and a half to show what happens with their families, with their neighbours, with their children and so on? This movie isn't about the happy couple, it's about everyone else around them and how their relationship changes their little world. There's no time to waste on wooing and cooing and elaborate dialogues. Love at first sight is nice and expedited, who cares how they met after all. He fell for her because look how pretty she is, and she... well... maybe she likes older mustachioed men...
Dolce and Namak decide to accept it as a plot device. But just this once. Because they agree that beyond the love story, the strength of "Bombay" lies in the little moments when people set aside their religious differences and are united in a more powerful, more selfless feeling: their love for each other. Even if this movie had only been about Shekhar and Banu's parents, I would have still been perfectly happy. In fact, I wish there were more scenes with them. The parents' stubbornness as well as their gradual acceptance were brilliantly captured in a few fantastic scenes. So I must be content with what I got, and truly, I am.
|Muslim prayer beads around their necks and the marks of Shaivite Hinduism* on their forehead|
*Gladly accepting corrections on this point. I had to look it up online, so this caption is about as reliable as wikipedia.
As a side note, I have been listening to Humma Humma (called "Ek Ho Gaye Hum Aur Tum" on the Hindi soundtrack) for over a year and it never hit me that it was a "first night song". Not that the title didn't give it away ("You and I have become one" - D'oh!!), but I never put two and two together. Now that I know, that giant water fountain exploding in the background as well as the wall on fire have a whole different meaning!
And speaking of symbolism, it's nice to find some more of Ratnam's favourite imagery, such as the half doors or transparent courtains of water separating but also keeping people close together in a fight;
the wind playing with a woman's head scarf and playfully revealing her face;
the mud of the world getting purified in a water puddle;
the single ray of light...
I may not always get Mani Ratnam's messages (though God knows he pounds them enough in each movie) but I sure appreciate his artistic virtuosity. Even without Santosh Sivan by his side.
Now what with it being a Mani Ratnam movie I knew better than to think everything would evolve peacefully. So for the first half of the movie I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And then... 1 hour and 28 minutes into the movie:
Just kidding. Well, not really, there was true joy and cheer when he appeared halfway through the movie, in a police uniform to boot (sadly not for long), but that's not how the other shoe dropped. The other shoe was all about the religious riots in Bombay in the early 90s and how having a religious identity suddenly becomes important for the two 6 year old children of Shankar and Banu. The second half of the film shows the family going through those years, what they gain, what they lose, how they cope. There are some intense moments that I won't spoil, but one of the most touching scenes for me involved a little girl sneaking bread out of the house for one of the twins during the riots:
If I were the crying type, right about then is when I would have cried. And somehow through all this Ratnam manages to keep the filminess away from cheesiness, which is a balance I always appreciate.
Bombay may not be Ratnam's most praised film, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a favourite, and in fact a film I would unconditionally recommend to anyone looking to give their first Indian film a try. Sad that it's so hard to find that it has taken me a couple of years to get my hands on an original copy.
It's always hard for me to give cheese ratings to favourite films, and with this one it's especially difficult because I genuinely think it's the kind of film that would please almost all tastes. So maybe Bombay is like Greek feta cheese: impossible not to like and it never fails to give you solid value for your money.