Bombay by Mani Ratnam is a love story between a Hindu and a Muslim. The movie depicts the riots between Hindus and Muslims that occurred in the 1990s, specifically the Babri Masjid massacre, where Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque in India. The movie follows Shekhar and Shaila, who fall in love with each other in their small village, and later they both move to Bombay, due to their families not being able to accept their religion. I know this may be a shock to most, but I actually have never watched this film. It’s a little odd because when the musical numbers started playing, I remember hearing these songs when I was young. Recently, the movies we have been watching in class have not reminded me of the Indian cinema I remember watching when I was kid, but this movie, fits that image I remember. I have not watched this film, but it is like I have, if that makes any sense.
What was interesting was how the film depicted the violence between the two groups. When Shekhar is interviewing the Muslim and Hindu leaders, two shots are primarily used. The first is a shot where we see Shekhar and the religious leaders in a landscape style shot, then we see an over the shoulder angle from Shekhar’s point of view. We are seeing the film and the politics between the two groups through Shekhar’s eyes. Shekhar tries his best to be objective and the camera follows. Both sides have reasonable frustrations. The Muslims say the police are mostly Hindu. The Hindus say the Muslims started it. Who do we believe? Like Shekhar, the audience is confused what to think. Shekhar and Shaila just want to live their life happily in Bombay.
The fathers of both families forgive their children for the sake of their kids. In one of the more sentimental scenes, Shekhar’s father comes home from a public prayer with one of his grandsons, while Muslim rioters interrogate if he is Hindu or Muslim. His grandson quickly tries to wipe the pottu off his head, which is a signifier that he is Hindu. Thankfully, he is saved by Basheer and his other grandson. The scene is memorable because we see both grandparents come together, and both grandchildren in their Hindu and Muslim clothing, respectively as well. However, ten minutes later they die in the fire and become sacrificial lambs for their children and their children’s happiness. I thought the scene was slightly controversial. Basheer dies because he is caught up in prayer and Naryanan dies trying to get Basheer’s Quran.
Something that I noticed was how fire was obviously used as a determinant for atrocities, while the water symbolized tranquility and happiness. For example, Shekhar and Shaila profess their love for each other near the water. They go for romantic outings and spend time with their children near the water. Basically, every time the two main characters are smiling is near the water, and this is juxtaposed with images of Bombay burning in the riots. This is a political movie, but maybe this is just me but I feel it does a good job of not putting the blame on one side. The movie places less importance on the massacre, but instead on the riots and aftermath. There is one scene where a baby walks helplessly through the fire searching for his mother. It’s a brutal scene but it makes the audience think. Lastly, the movie uses blood as a way to bring people together. In a memorable scene early on in the movie, Shekhar cuts Shaila’s arm to show they are one. Later, Basheer and Narayanan forgive their children because of the grandchildren. They both playfully argue with each other that each grandchild is half their blood.