Eventually becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the Chennai film industry, the film was well-received both critically and commercially, and it was screened at many international film festivals including the Philadelphia Film Festival in 1996 where it was an audience favourite. The film's soundtrack sold 15 million units, becoming one of the best-selling film soundtracks of all time, and earning composer A. R. Rahman his fourth consecutive Filmfare Best Music Director Award (Tamil). However, the film caused considerable controversy upon release in India and abroad for its depiction of inter-religious relations and religious riots. The film was banned in Singapore and Malaysia upon release.
In July 2005, a book on the film by Lalitha Gopalan was published by BFI Modern Classics, looking at the film's production, the several issues it covered, and its impact upon release in India and abroad. The film was ranked among the top 20 Indian films in the British Film Institute's rankings. The film was also dubbed in Hindi and Telugu with the same title.
The soundtrack of the film by Academy Award winner A. R. Rahman is hailed as a masterpiece.
Shekhar is the son of an orthodox Hindu Narayana Pillai living in a coastal village in Tamil Nadu. A journalism student studying in Bombay, Shekhar visits home to be with his family. On one of his return trips, he notices Shaila Banu, a Muslim schoolgirl in the village and loses his heart to her. Initially shy, Shaila seeks to distance herself from Shekhar, but after frequent run-ins, and days of pursuit, Shaila begins to like Shekhar. Eventually, they both fall in love.
Shekhar meets Shaila's father Basheer Ahmed and reveals he wants to marry her. Basheer throws him out, citing difference in religions. Shekhar reveals his interest to his father Pillai, who becomes angry, meets Basheer and gets into an abusive argument with him. Upset with rejection from both families, Shekhar leaves the village and returns to Bombay. Through Shaila's friend, he sends her a letter and a ticket for her to travel to Bombay. However, she is undecided; Basheer comes to know of her regular letters from Shekhar and plans to get her married immediately to stop this relation growing further. Left with no choice, Shaila leaves the village with the ticket sent by Shekhar and reaches Bombay. They get married and lead a happy life. Shaila conceives and delivers twins who are named Kabir Narayan and Kamal Basheer. The twins are raised in both religions. Shekhar continues to work as a journalist, while Shaila takes care of home and children. After six years, Shekhar and Shaila settle down in their life and begin the process of re-establishing relationship with their respective families.
When the Babri Masjid is demolished by Brahminist on 6 December 1992, riots break out in Bombay. Kabir and Kamal, who had gone to buy groceries, get caught in the riots; eventually, Shekhar and Shaila save them and reach home safely. Narayana Pillai, who receives the news of the riots, rushes to Bombay to meet his son and his family. Everyone is happy with his arrival, and he stays with them. Soon, Basheer also comes with his wife and all of them live together happily for a few days. Both Pillai and Basheer are happy with their grandchildren and wish to be with them.
On 5 January 1993, when two murders are interpreted as communal killings, another riot breaks up in Bombay, raising tensions between Hindu and Muslims and they clash in the streets. Hundreds of poor people belonging to both the religions die. The mansion where Shekhar stays with his family also gets burnt. When Shekhar evacuates everyone, Narayana Pillai, Basheer and his wife get caught in the fire accident and die. The children who run to save themselves get separated from their parents. Shekhar and Shaila begin to search for them and they go through several tense moments. Shekhar participates in the movement to stop the riots with other religious leaders (who realise the futility of the riots by then) and succeeds. When the riots stop, the children who were saved by people from different religions, also turn up and join their parents.
Credits adapted from Conversations with Mani Ratnam:Arvind Swamy as Shekhar Narayanan Pillai
Manisha Koirala as Shaila Banu
Prakash Raj as Kumar
Nassar as Narayanan Pillai
Tinnu Anand as the Sakthi Samaj Head
Kitty as Basheer
Master Harsha (Sumeet) as Kabir Narayan
Master Hridhay as Kamal Basheer
Additionally, Sonali Bendre and Nagendra Prasad make a special appearance in the item number "Humma Humma".
Mani Ratnam had initially planned to make Bombay in Malayalam and requested M. T. Vasudevan Nair to write the script. This was supposed to be his second straight film in Malayalam after Unaru (1985). But since the idea did not materialise, he decided to make the film in Tamil. He held a photo shoot for the film with Vikram and Manisha Koirala, but eventually did not choose Vikram as he was unwilling to remove his beard and moustache that he had grown for the production of another film during the period, Vikraman's Pudhiya Mannargal (1994). According to Ratnam, Bombay was not originally planned as a political film: "It was a phase India was going through and these things affected me and found their way into my work." Koirala's voice was dubbed by Rohini. Nassar, a Muslim in real life, was cast as the father of Arvind Swamy's character (a Hindu) while Kitty, a Hindu in real life, was cast as the father of Koirala's character (a Muslim). Ratnam deliberately cast them in those roles as a statement.
When Ratnam approached cinematographer Rajiv Menon to shoot Bombay, he described it as a film about the riots and said that he (Menon) needed to "(make what came before) the riots as beautiful as possible". So, Menon suggested shooting in the rains to achieve the effect. They shot the interiors of homes in Pollachi in Tamil Nadu and the exteriors were shot in Kasargod, and Kannur village in Kerala, and the song sequence Uyire was shot at Bekal Fort. Several scenes of the city of Mumbai during riots were recreated with the help of photographs.
Bombay was released on 10 March 1995. The Telugu-dubbed version, Bombayi, was released on the same day.
Bombay was a huge blockbuster and is regarded as one of the most acclaimed Tamil films of the 90s. The Hindi version of the film earned ���140 million (equivalent to ���580 million or US$9.1 million in 2016), as reported by Box Office India which was phenomenal for a dubbed film.
Ananda Vikatan, in a review dated 19 March 1995, rated the film 53 out of 100. In 2008, The Times of India rated the film 3.5 out of 5, saying "Bombay might not be a masterpiece, but is certainly a bold attempt". In 1996, American critic James Berardinelli rated the film 3.5 out of 4 and said, "Largely because of their limited North American appeal and dubious quality, Indian movies are routinely ignored by distributors [...] Occasionally, however, a worthwhile picture causes enough people to take notice that it becomes a favorite on the international film festival circuit. One such movie is Bombay, the fourteenth feature from celebrated director Mani Rathnam." He concluded, "Director Rathnam has shown great courage in making this picture (bombs were thrown at his house after it opened in India), which speaks with a voice that many will not wish to hear. Bombay recalls how forceful a motion picture can be." Bangalore Mirror noted that the film had similarities with the 1990 film Come See the Paradise.
The film has won the following awards since its release:1996 National Film Awards
Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration ��� Mani Ratnam
Best Editing ��� Suresh Urs
1996 Filmfare Awards
Best Film (Critics) ��� S. Sriram
Best Performer (Critics) ��� Manisha Koirala
1996 Filmfare Awards South
Best Film ��� Tamil ��� S. Sriram, Mani Ratnam
Best Director ��� Tamil ��� Mani Ratnam
Best Actress ��� Tamil ��� Manisha Koirala
Best Music Director ��� Tamil ��� A. R. Rahman
1996 Matri Shree Media Award
Best Film ��� Mani Ratnam
1995 Tamil Nadu State Film Awards
Best Lyricist ��� Vairamuthu
Best Female Playback ��� K. S. Chitra
1996 CineGoer's Award
Best Music (Tamil) - A. R. Rahman
1996 Film Fans' Award
Best Music (Tamil) - A. R. Rahman
1996 Kalasaagar Award
Best Music (Tamil) - A. R. Rahman
1995 Edinburgh International Film Festival (Scotland)
Gala Award ��� Bombay ��� Mani Ratnam
1996 Political Film Society Awards (United States)
Special Award ��� Bombay ��� Mani Ratnam
2003 Jerusalem Film Festival (Israel)
Wim Van Leer in Spirit for Freedom Award ��� Best Feature ��� Bombay ��� Mani Ratnam