Few modern filmmakers have mesmerised generations with their oeuvre of films like Indian director Mani Ratnam. His movies are known for their intricate storytelling, visual aesthetics, and thought-provoking themes. One such gem from his illustrious filmography is Bombay, a poetic exploration of love, sacrifice, and the complexities of an inter-faith marriage. If you haven’t experienced this masterpiece yet, now is the time to watch it on Netflix before it bids adieu to the streaming platform.
Released in 1995, Bombay is a tale that seamlessly weaves together the personal with the political against the backdrop of one of India’s most tumultuous periods. Set in the early 1990s, the film unfolds amid the backdrop of the horrific Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent riots.
It’s in this atmosphere of communal tension that Ratnam crafts a story that revolves around Shekhar (played by Arvind Swamy), a Hindu man, and Shaila Banu (played by Manisha Koirala), a Muslim woman, who fall deeply in love despite their religious divide.
At its core, Bombay is a celebration of love’s ability to transcend societal boundaries and prejudice. The film unfolds Shekhar and Shaila’s love story with a lyrical beauty against a lush green, rain-soaked Bombay (now Mumbai) to A.R. Rahman’s soaring music.
Ratnam, known for his impeccable visual storytelling, infuses each frame with so much heartfelt, almost aching emotions that you palpably feel the characters’ joy, pain, and longing. The chemistry between Swamy and Koirala is electric, making their story hauntingly authentic and heartrending.
Despite being a love story, Bombay doesn’t shy away from delving into the harsh realities of religious intolerance and communal violence that continues to divide most of India. At the time of the film’s release, Ratnam had mentioned in an interview how it was not “controversial” but a slice-of-life story which happened to take place in the backdrop of one of the darkest phases in modern-day India, “I don’t agree that it is controversial. Mine is a positive movie. I decided to show how it feels to be trapped in such situations like riots.”
Ratnam had also revealed the research that underwent in making the 1995 gem, “Needed to go to Bombay on numerous occasions. I made a lot of documentaries. I discussed with those journalists who extensively covered the Bombay riots. Times Of India, Indian Express, India Today newspapers gathered a lot of information. I read all the news that was published by the magazines and the newspapers during the time of the riots. The state of India at that time is what the movie is all about.”
Shekhar and Shaila’s love becomes the symbolic embodiment of unity, a beacon of hope in a society ravaged by hatred. Their struggles to keep their family together in the face of opposition are a poignant reminder of the power of love to bridge the gaps created by religion and ideology.
Bombay is a testament to the power of cinema to inspire reflection and compassion. It’s a film that remains as relevant today as it was when it was first released, given the ongoing issues of communal strife and intolerance that continue to plague our country.
If you haven’t had the chance to experience the lyrical poetry of Bombay, now is the time to do so. Bombay leaves Netflix on August 16th, incidentally a day after Independence Day.