Film: Bombay Velvet
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar, Kay Kay Menon, Manish Choudhary, Siddhartha Basu
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: 2.5 stars.
When the trailer of Bombay Velvet released a few months ago, the first round of feedback was painful. To some movie buffs, the film looked like a rehash of Scarface, the 1983 Al Pacino starrer. To some others, it seemed pretentious (a regular Kashyapan trait). To me, the trailer fell short on these and more fronts.
Period films are a treat to watch. As a friend tells me, it lets you time travel into a zone where everything, including the sights, sounds and smells of a city, is different. Bombay Velvet, in a similar vein, is set in the resplendent 1970s and unfolds in the land of dreams — Mumbai. With a touch of Raveena Tandon (in a fleetingly short yet mindblowing appearance), some uplifting jazz and a tale of two intense characters — Johnny Balraj and Rosie Noronha — Bombay Velvet begins with a curious cinematic alaap.
Played by Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma, respectively, Johnny and Rosie learn to deal with their world in diametrically opposite ways. If Rosie is silenced by the ordeal inflicted by the violence in her world, Johnny, on the other hand, is enthralled by the sheer power of violence. In his world, violence is the means to being a ‘big shot.’ Therefore, it is utterly endearing to watch Johnny fantasise over a scene played out from a movie in which the hero (an anti-hero, perhaps?) dies in the arms of his beloved.
Equally fascinating is Rosie’s rather passive inclination towards being famous. To her, what matters most is the comfort of being part of a home with a lover who lets her be. All through the first half, this crackling tension between the star-crossed lovers is a spectacle to behold. It is especially breathtaking to see the lovers exchange glances in the midst of a cacophony of sounds and the strains of a song. But that is where the joy of watching Bombay Velvet ends.
The rest of the movie built around the city of Bombay and its various elements is disappointing. Bombay as a city has several layers to it. Some of these come from its history linked to the underworld. Though this aspect is particularly interesting, Indian cinema has done the trope of the suit-clad, cigar-smoking gangster to death. Therefore, any attempt to showcase a plot set in the underworld always falls short of the expectations it inevitably generates.
However, movies such as Once Upon a Time in Mumbai have proved otherwise. Despite being another movie on Dawood and Chotta Shakeel, it kept the interest of the viewer alive. This, I believe, is the true magic of a filmmaker. This is where Bombay Velvet falls flat. In the hands of a child who is utterly excited seeing big bad men flick out their guns and do bang-bang, Bombay Velvet lies like the neglected lifeless toy.
The last time that Anurag Kashyap, the filmmaker, had impressed me was way back in 2009 (Dev D). But, in six years, Kashyap’s metamorphosis from being a filmmaker who says it as it is, to a filmmaker who can’t get enough of himself has been horrifying. While it is true that the director has approached his subjects without tarnishing them with candy floss, his utter lack of empathy towards his characters is disturbing. Even more so when he adores violence and shows absolutely no feeling for its victims.
For instance, if the spectator empathizes with Rosie’s past riddled with abuse, Kashyap uses it merely as a plot device to fulfill his ambition of showing the “bad world” steeped in sexual depravity. To him, this is his movie and his toy. Roping in Karan Johar (his foe-turned-friend in real life), Kay Kay Menon and Vivaan Shah, Kashyap weaves in multiple plots into the central strand of a love story.
While this is a Tarantino technique, for Kashyap it is his elixir to ecstasy. Why else would he place the rivalry between two editors, a driver’s crush on the singing sensation, the insinuation of a homoerotic bond and the story of two loyal friends amid all the hullabaloo of double-crossing gangsters, businessmen and politicians? Why else would he play a song and go ballistic like Johnny does when he grabs his guns to rescue Rosie?
My grouse with Bombay Velvet, therefore, begins and ends with Anurag Kashyap. Only an empathetic and down-to-earth filmmaker could have salvaged this movie and saved it from being the disappointment that it is. Not Kashyap because he is driven more towards propping up large canvasses than moulding his characters with empathy.
Watch Bombay Velvet for the performances. Even if Johar seems out of place and Menon and Shah are wasted, watch Bombay Velvet for its idiosyncrasies. Watch it for the men whose eyes well up with tears every time they are betrayed. Watch it for the insane Johnny who cannot make up his mind between making it big or dying in the arms of his beloved. Watch it for Amit Trivedi who belts out one spectacular number after another, unaware of how it would be misplaced in the movie. And please do watch it for Rosie, who relegates herself to a painful silence until she makes an attempt at conversation with Johnny. Once in a while, let us indulge a movie for the actors and not for the craft.
Watch the trailer of the movie Bombay Velvet: