The Underrated Charms of Indian Animated Gem ‘Printed Rainbow’

At the prestigious cultural hub that we call the Oscars, animated short films have become a welcome inclusion alongside their more famous feature film counterparts 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 is a much-acknowledged reality that animation shorts are likely to pass under the radar. 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, particularly because of their limited running time of six to nine minutes (Tom and Jerry’s imaginative format garnered it Oscars in the short film segments back in the classic era).

With the advent of YouTube, discovering hidden gems like Gitanjali Rao’s Printed Rainbow has become accessible for all cinephiles 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 makes me wonder why it has not been hailed in the manner it deserves to. Indian animation is an extremely novel and niche genre but strides taken by sincere, enterprising filmmakers like this go a long way in overturning our ideas about the basic structure of the form, owing to years of substandard works and the looming might of the Hindi/Bollywood film industry nipping its progress. 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, colourful palette and poignant storytelling.

Printed Rainbow is a 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. 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 colourfully 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 the confines of her apartment she is captured in hazy monochrome, 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 and 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 behavioural tics are spot on, captured beautifully by Gitanjali, from the feline licking herself to her impassive expressions when with the lady. As father of my own feline beauty Queenie, I could see how her eye for these details mattered to me.

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 Indian litterateur and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

The end portions put 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, leaving you 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 film lover.

A delightful film to share with children, Printed Rainbow bats for the agency and imaginative worlds of those in the 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.

You can watch Printed Rainbow for free on Youtube, as seen below

by Prithvijeet Sinha

Prithvijeet Sinha is from Lucknow, India. A regular contributor to Screen Queens, he lives for the beauty of poetry in moving images and translates them into stirring writings in verse and prose. He is also a dedicated cinephile. 

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