At the prestigious and cultural global hub that we call Oscars, animated short films have become order of the day for years altogether along with their more famous counterparts comprising of animation feature films from major American studios like Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks. In this span of time, Japanese masters of the form too have come into prominence. However, it’s a much acknowledged reality that animation shorts are likely to pass under the radar, something which live action shorts, on the contrary, do not have to suffer in today’s digitized age. It’s also ironic since definitive cartoons like TOM AND JERRY, LOONEY TUNES, PINK PANTHER et al were nothing but energetically created capsules of cross generational entertainment that we all still enjoy and particularly because of the limited running time of six to nine minutes. For a tidbit, let me inform the uninitiated that TOM AND JERRY’s imaginative brio was such that it received Oscars in the short film segments back in the classic era.
The bottomline is that short animation films’ success on such platforms and in terms of viewership are shots in the arm for those venturing into this fertile field that, like the inescapable genre, often mixes innocence with stark social truths. Every push towards mainstream acceptance of this varied form calls for our support because the styles, cultural backgrounds, teams and designs that go into each work is distinct and hence diverse.
With the advent of YouTube, discovering hidden gems like PRINTED RAINBOW (India, 2006) has become accessible for cinephiles like me and you, always seeking underrated voices irrespective of the form of presentation. Winner of several awards at Cannes including for animation and short films, this fifteen minute marvel by artist / animator GITANJALI RAO makes me wonder why it hasn’t been hailed in the manner it deserves to. Indian animation is an extremely novel and niche genre yet but strides taken by sincere, enterprising filmmakers like these go a long way in overturning our ideas about the basic structure of the form we assign to it owing to years of substandard works and the looming might of the Hindi film industry / Bollywood nipping its progress, so much as a mention, in the bud. To cap it all off, comparisons to the supreme mastery of the form from Hollywood especially makes most compatriots not seek enough homegrown meritorious works.
A combination of all these factors cost a film like PRINTED RAINBOW due chances of exposure even with all the international recognition and festival rounds in tow plus cumulative acclaim from both sources. I wonder if the selection committee for national cinematic corpus even bothered to recommend it for an Academy Award nomination for animated short film because it could have easily merited a position in the top five owing to its individuality, colorful palette and poignant storytelling. Alas for lost chances. In fact, this one is easily one of the best examples of miniature filmmaking across boards, in my opinion.
Actually, leaving the past behind, we must endeavor to unearth its charms for our own good and share PRINTED RAINBOW with all our children so that they get to experience its beautiful moments and take away its silent beating heart that bats for the agency and imaginative worlds of those in throes of old age for whom the idea of memories, imagined or real, acts as an antidote to loneliness. Imagination, after all, marks our greatest victories against and apart from our mundane, routine lives.
This is key to PRINTED RAINBOW ‘s tale of an old lady seeking her own escape from the everyday circle of life ( and those dreadfully lonely later years) by immersing herself in the inner worlds of sundry matchboxes that she has collected over the years so they are her lifelines to then and now. Each matchbox has a colourful, wonderfully alive idea of freedom to express. Be it in the forest complete with an elephant ride, the boat on the river, chasing butterflies and the greenery of trees, shrubs and flowers positing an Eden of liveliness for her. Or when she rides colorfully decked up trucks (quirky maxims and a riot of colours mark the heavy automobiles in the Indian subcontinent) and then gets lost in a palace during nighttime, complete with a classical song and dance performance, a sensuous open air bath for ladies and diyas floating down the river. This is visually arresting since the old world charm is evocative of Indian royalty and its many glorious trappings. Ditto the part where she enjoys simple pleasures of the countryside with her cat in tow. Remember all these sequences emerge from the pictorial representation of images on her matchboxes suggesting an ideal dreamscape.
The eye for detail is striking here. The old lady’s inner world is bursting with bright colours but within confines of her apartment she is captured in hazy monochrome – stark black and white, with the misty grey colour scheme appropriated to the same effect on windows and outdoors as we often see on many rainy days. There is a beautiful shot of her looking down at the road with zig zagging cars all around; the height from which she looks down becomes a measure of the distance she has from the world below, her peaceful homeward trajectory in stark contrast with the hustle – bustle of normal city life. It can also be symbolic of the might of her loneliness where she persists in her own little shell, fending for herself, looking at few inhabitants of apartments facing her own.
Her cat is unobtrusive, imperious and silently drawn to her own world and her behavioral tics are spot on, captured beautifully by Ms. Gitanjali, from the feline licking herself to her impassive expressions when with the lady but she is adorable. As father of my own feline beauty Queenie, I could see how her eye for these details mattered to me.
Here we are!
The same realism is reserved for the man who gives the lady company and with his slender frame, flowing beard and wise face, he reminded me of one of our very own, the great literatteur and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
The end portions puts on the curtains for a poignant summation of mortality for both the lady and the cat as their lifetime bond of non verbal communication and innate unity gets beautifully captured and their souls finally get transported to their ideal space. I found myself teary eyed by the end. Teeming with sublime images, a profession of joy and the poignancy occasioned by dotage, PRINTED RAINBOW is sensitively designed and a must watch for every cinephile.
Last but not the least, let me say that the director Gitanjali Rao essayed the part of the stoic and brave mother of a comatose daughter in the preciously humane OCTOBER (2018) that I had included in my best of last year’s works. That compassion is the thread between her animated output here and her performance. She is, most importantly, a leading light for Indian animation with shorts like BLUE, ORANGE, TRUE LOVE STORY to her credit.
Her latest full length animation feature BOMBAY ROSE opened at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews and will release soon. Be on the lookout for this talented Indian artist straddling multiple worlds with her creativity that never calls attention to itself. She has dedicated PRINTED RAINBOW to her mother and her cat.