"Printed Rainbow": An Animated Alternative to Life By Nadezhda Marinchevska

in 47th International Short Film Festival Cracow

by Nadezhda Marinchevska

The Indian director Gitanjali Rao’s second film Printed Rainbow has already won several awards at the Critics Week in Cannes and at festivals in Valladolid, Mumbai and Aspen. It is a gentle story about everyday life and nostalgic dreams, death and imagination, solitude and mystical longing.

An old woman and her cat sit in their small apartment, staring at the raindrops outside. Across the street, through the misty air, they see an anonymous building, its anonymous inhabitants full of melancholy and sadness. After finishing her everyday house chores, the old lady reaches for her collection of matchboxes which sparkle as wonderful specks of bright color in the monochromatic gray world. She plunges into this picturesque place of freedom, fascinated by its vital strength and exotic beauty. After a brief return to their reality, the old woman and her cat choose to live in the magical world of imagination. Their bodies are found by a neighbor, the only person with whom the old lady had been in contact in her previous life. She waves him farewell from her rocking chair on the idyllic farm, drawn on a matchbox cover.

Gitanjali Rao approaches such themes as solitude and death in a gentle and non-dramatic way. The narration carries influences from the eastern philosophy of life and rebirth without ruining the feeling of human warmth. We all can attain harmony but in another world.

Printed Rainbow is a skillfully structured film. The separate worlds of reality and imagination are drawn in contrasting styles. Everyday life is more gray than black-and-white and is composed of numerous tiny colorless spots. The artist’s pointillist manner leaves the impression reality is fundamentally incomplete, lacking something essential. The only creature to be drawn in thick black-and-white is the cat. It remains unchanged in both worlds, as it is unaffected by human solitude. The matchbox universe is bright and joyful, drawn with intense colors and lines. Stylistically, Rao gets her inspiration from Indian illustrations and miniatures, and some scenes have something of Mark Chagall’s flying figures. Poetry and vitality pour out of this world without restriction. The old lady’s dress changes to symbolic red — the color of life, feasts and weddings.

The narration gradates succeeding places and actions. The old lady’s adventure in the unreal wanders from an exotic jungle safari to an odalisque’s bath in a palace pool, to the romance of being a truck driver to the harmony of the beautiful, calm farm. Gitanjali Rao combines signifiers of different cultures to show the limitless power of imagination, including those from her own Indian tradition and the attractiveness of the road-movie genre.

The director inventively moves her protagonist through various spaces of the matchbox covers. Floating down a jungle river, the old lady sees the frame of another picture and easily steers her boat into the waters of an oriental palace’s lake. As in the logic of a dream, a detail always appears to connect one matchbox’s world to the next. The reality episodes are anchored in solid space parameters while repeatable time dimensions are conveyed in a single shot. A panorama across the windows of the old lady’s flat shows her everyday house activities in a way impossible in reality. She is seen in every window, which would leave her no time to move from one room to the next; this small touch serves to illustrate the effect of the cheerless monotonous life that goes on and on. The director’s concept of space and time is not a demonstration of a cinematographic style but is a trigger for developing the story. Gitanjali Rao is mostly interested in revealing emotion, and not in the formal directors’ ways of expression. She skillfully uses animation to expand upon the story. Rao has chosen to work not with key-frames and in-between’s but with progressive animation achieving fluent motion in a slow thoughtful rhythm. Her soundtrack is very impressive, especially in the ‘reality’ episodes. Street sounds and the rustle of muted rainfall make dialogue needless. Silence becomes meaningful.

Gitanjali Rao is an illustrator, a golden medallist from the Institute for Applied Arts in Mumbai, and a self-taught animator. She is one of the few independent animation directors in India financing her films alone and raising funds from her work in advertising. Her first animated film, Orange (2002), won several awards.