This is a review about the 1995 Tamil film titled Bombay.
First off a little background about this film and me. At the time of writing this review, I had just finished watching it for the second time ever. When I first watched this film, I was about 12 years old. Being the young, stupid kid I was, I disliked this film a lot when my mother first showed it to me. I saw it purely as a lame romance film set against a bunch of religious zealots killing each other. Now, 10 years later, while I was surfing YouTube, I stumbled the song “Uyire Uyire” from the film and was actually impressed by the song. So I decided to sit down and re-watch it. Now that I’m older, I was able to appreciate this film much more during my second viewing. I now consider it to be a classic of Tamil cinema. Yes, I know that some people’s definition of classic Tamil cinema differs from my definition, but I was born int he 90s, so films from the 90s feel classic to me. Anyhow, enough background! Let’s get on to reviewing this film.
All I can say is wow. Seriously, the acting in this film from the main and supporting characters is fantastic. Again, Manisha Koirala shows off her acting skill by portraying a young school girl thrust from rural into city life, and then a distraught mother perfectly. Her acting easily carries the entire film. This film has cemented her in my personal actress Hall of Fame. There are not many actresses who can capture my attention and hold it for a 2.5 hour movie just on the strength of their acting alone. The character she plays in the film is well developed. We get to see her background including her religion, her family and most importantly, how she grows and develops over the course of the film. I can’t say I have seen very many films (Tamil or otherwise) that have shown the level of growth that Koirala’s character undergoes. Of course, Manisha is not the only star of this film. We have her counterpart, Arvind Swamy. While he does not give that great of an impression at a beginning, soon I was impressed by his acting as well. The man really knows how to portray emotions. Again, just like Manisha’s character, Arvind’s character also grows during the film. Then of course, we get to the two actors that played Arvind’s father and Manisha’s father respectively: Nasser and Vasudevan. Both of these men show some serious acting prowess. While you are watching them, you would think that these actors hate each other and hate their contemporary’s religion in real life. That’s how strong their acting is. Again, both of the characters that these actors play also develop and change during the course of the film. All in all, a solid cast delivering solid characters.
I think it is safe to say that this is one of the best set of songs that A. R. Rahman has ever composed for a film. The tracks cover a wide diversity of genres from ballads/melodies to more fast-paced dance-ish songs. Each song is memorable and consequently each song has made it into my music collection. They are that good. Rahman takes full advantage of the singers and instrumentals to deliver songs that are powerful and emotional. I actually felt the songs affecting my emotional state as I was watching the movie. Same with the instrumental soundtrack used during the various scenes in the film. The music was perfect in creating the atmosphere that Mani Ratnam wanted to show to the audience. The tracks “Uyire Uyire, “Kannale” and “Malarodu” were incredibly powerful tracks that fit perfectly for the scenes, moments and dance sequences they were used in. All in all, an astounding soundtrack. I will not go too much into the music videos for the songs themselves. They all did a wonderful job of keeping up with the quality of the songs. I would however like to highlight that the music videos for “Uyire Uyire” and “Kannale” were fantastic. The shots used in “Uyire Uyire” were beautiful and the use of nature to accent the emotion of the song was brilliantly done. “Kannale” also managed to keep up with the song itself and showcased some beautiful scenes.
After watching this movie, it is pretty obvious that the cinematography is amazing. The locations and shots used during the beginning of the film are beautiful to look at. I found myself replaying certain scenes over and over again just to enjoy the landscape and weather. Then there is the entire sequence with the riots in Bombay. The props, the set, costumes and makeup were all incredibly detailed. You saw people’s clothes get dirty as they were moving through the chaos, cars were moving, trash and smoke everywhere. It looked exactly how a riot was supposed to look. The use of cloudy weather was also a nice touch and contributed to the negative atmosphere of the entire riot portion of the film. Mani Ratnam also had no qualms about using tons of extras to feel like the riots actually had mass and momentum instead of looking like it was a small group of people. Indeed, the entire film looked beautiful.
Now the important bit, the plot. All I can say is wow. We start off with Arvind and Manisha born into a Hindu and a Muslim family respectively. They are from worlds very different from each other and have fathers who are incredibly religious and dislike the other family’s religion. We see them meet, and see their love overcome their religious differences. We seem them move to Bombay from a rural village and adapt to big city life. We see them raise a family together and teach their kids both religions in a respectful manner. We see their parents come to visit their grand children and how the grand children have allowed each of their parents to come to respect each others’ religion. We the family survive the ethnic 1993 riots of Bombay. It’s not everyday that we see a film about a couple who are from different religions trying to survive in a world where the religions of the couple are at each other’s throats. But, the film is not purely a love story. It manages to delicately weave into the story an exploration of the religious divide between Hinduism and Islam, and how the two co-exist in India in a tense yet mostly stable state. We see what happens when that stability breaks down and both religions clash, how it can escalate into a vicious cycle that feeds itself, and how people can overcome their differences to join together to end the conflict between the two religions. The film has several fantastic moments where various characters highlight how despite being two different religions, Hindus and Muslims are really the same people on the inside. In fact, one moment that really stuck out to me is when the lady that saves one of Arvind’s and Manisha’s kids tells him (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Hinduism is one path to god. Islam is another path to god. They both go to the same god, but I have no idea why people fight like this.” The entire plot takes place over about 6 years from Arvind and Manisha first meeting to the riots. What amazes me is that despite all these different stages of life being shown, the film did not feel overly long. All I can say is that my skepticism from my first viewing of this film has been totally blown out of the water. This is one of those films where I actually was thinking about the consequences of the two main characters’ actions instead of just being pulled along for the ride.
Score: 8.75 / 10
This is a must see film, regardless of whether you are Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, or any other religion. As a self-proclaimed atheist, even I enjoyed this film immensely, and I’m sure many others will as well.