The movie is a technical marvel but a narrative failure. Click to read more…
Anurag Kashyap has always been hailed as the kingpin of alternative cinema in Bollywood by many of his peers. But when someone who is an expert in one thing tries to work on a different expertise, the final result may either be something incredible or an ultimate disappointment. WithBombay Velvet, Anurag Kashyap goes hardcore commercial, as he works with a big star like Ranbir for the first time. The movie had created a lot of curiosity when it was first announced, due to the people and the production values involved. The trailers of the film, however, had been a mixed bag. Let’s see how the final product fares…
What’s it about:
The film is set in the ’60s in a city they call Mumbai…sorry, then Bombay. But it begins in 1949 when a young Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) enters the big bad city with his foster mother, and soon learns the ways of the street. Meanwhile in Goa, a young Rosie (Anushka Sharma) is taken away from her mother by a creepy musician with a promise that she will be trained as a singer, only to mistreat her physically and sexually. When she grows up, she escapes from his clutches and lands in Bombay, where the first thing she does is a ‘scandalous’ photo-shoot and then becomes a part-time bar singer. Balraj meanwhile becomes a street-fighter and a smuggler, along with his loyal side-kick Chiman (Satyadeep Mishra). It is love at first time for Balraj when he sees Rosie singing in a shady bar. But before he can proceed further, she is whisked away by a socialism-loving newspaper editor Mistry (Manish Chaudhary). The next time they meet, he is now a right-hand man for Mistry’s strongest opponent in newspaper business, Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar), who is also a shady land-dealer. Kaizad is a villainous scumbag who even pimps out his wife to his opponents to trap them in a compromising position. When a politician is similarly trapped, photographed and blackmailed by Balraj and Khambatta, Rosie is sent as a mole sent by Mistry to get her hands on the negative of the photograph. She is made the lead jazz singer at Bombay Velvet, a club now owned by Balraj, who is now Johnny Balraj. Rosie and Balraj then get into a passionate relationship.
However, it’s not just Balraj’s life that’s having huge developments. Even the city of Bombay is progressing and expanding, while new lands are grabbed and getting developed. We hear World Trade Center being built, union issues, Balraj getting beaten in a fighting match, more jazz singing, shady meetings, fiery journalism wars, more jazz singing, Ranbir getting beaten again in a fighting match, double crossing , pupil turning against his master, shootouts, before we finally give and stop tracking what’s happening on screen.
Bombay Velvet is one of the soundest technical products ever made in India, forget Bollywood. Anurag and his technical crew have taken great care to recreate the Bombay of yore, and for that great effort I stand up and salute you, sirs! Special mention must be given to the art director, Sameer Sawant, costume desiger, Niharika Khan, and cinematographer, Rajeev Ravi for taking us into the bygone era. Even the background score goes well with the narrative and the time-frame.
Ranbir Kapoor is superb as the lad who only has a single aim – to be a big-shot. He has put a lot of efforts to establish himself in the street-smart role, and it shows. Though his tapori lingo does jar at times, to the point that he reminds me of Sanjay Dutt; once he is on screen, nothing else matters. Anushka is also great, as the girl who has known abuse all her life. The surprise package, however, is Karan Johar as the gay business magnate, who has more than a soft corner for Balraj. He is oily, sarcastic and vile, yet suave. Satyadeep Mishra and Manish Chaudhary also lend in good performances. The songs by Amit Trivedi , fortunately don’t act as speed-breakers, and are interspersed in the narrative well. The recreatedFifi song and Behroopia are especially good.
Unfortunately, a technically sound product is not always a good film. While trying to do justice to the ’60s era, Anurag fails to offer anything note-worthy to the screenplay. The first half of the film moves like a non-stop train, with lot of events happening and characters dropping in and out, that it doesn’t matter whether the viewers are managing to keep track of what’s going on. With too many things happening, we don’t know or care for the peripheral characters that surround Balraj and Rosie, including Khambattta. If Anurag wants us to invest in their love story, even that’s a half-baked attempt. We neither feel for any of the two characters, especially Balraj. Sorry to say, but he is a total douche-bag, who is so self-obsessed with himself that he doesn’t care for anyone else, even his best friend, except perhaps for Rosie. Also, he is a cold blooded killer. The second half is nothing but a clichéd vendetta saga, with failed assassination plots, fruitless police investigations and a climax that’s a predictable let-down. There are no twists and turns that we expect in a Anurag Kashyap film, nor are there any of his trademark witty one-liners. Also the movie looks like an ode to Brian De Palma’s master-piece, Scarface. In the climax when Balraj burst out into the club’s kitchen with two tommy guns, we smile reluctantly at the obvious reference.
Even the other characters are left without any proper standing. Though Karan’s acting ability is impressive, his negative character is no Ramadhir Singh of Gangs of Wasseypur. He lacks the punch to be a memorable villain, especially in the climax, where his volte-face is unintentionally hilarious. Also why he doesn’t reveal to Balraj about Rosie being Mistry’s mole, after knowing it all along, is still an unsolved mystery. Manish Chaudhary’s character, while being an important player in the first half, almost disappears in the second half. I have no idea what’s the purpose of Vivaan Shah’s character, though the young actor was really good. The terrific Kay Kay Menon is under-utilised. Also after hearing so much about BV being Raveena Tandon’s much touted comeback to films, all we could see her on screen was for 30 seconds or so (though she looked really beautiful!).
What to do:
Even if you are an ardent Anurag fan and are expecting another Gangs of Wasseypur, better give it a miss instead of getting monumentally disappointed. However, if you have nothing else to do this weekend and want to have a feeling of how Bombay…sorry Mumbai looked like in the ‘60s, it’s worth taking that risk.
Reviewed by Sreeju Sudhakaran
**** Very good