Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet is his big, brassy and boombox-ed entry into the big budget films league. It is also his dream venture, and is meant to save the day for Ranbir Kapoor, whose goodwill continues to recede after Besharam and Roy. Buttloads of money has been poured in this film by Phantom as well as Fox Star Studios, and believe me, it shows, as grandeur oozes out of each frame. But alas, Bombay Velvet is an aggrandized product, one which has little depth to suck you in beyond its visceral thrills and some good performances. The suspected word is out, and its going to be a nightmare night for the phalanx that came together for this difficult film. Difficult to shoot and produce, not difficult to make a mess of, of course.
Bombay Velvet unspools a retro era, soaked in nostalgia and homage, where a small time crook, Johnny Balraj (Kapoor) watches James Cagney’s The Roaring Twenties ironically inflicting the same fate upon himself. He loves Rosie Noronha (Anushka Sharma) who ran away from Portuguese occupied Goa and now sings in bars in Bombay. Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar) is not only a media baron, but someone who secretly is significant in controlling the underworld business dealings as Bombay city takes its shape post independence amidst a host of putrid bureaucrats, politicians and builders. Some fact, much fiction and a lot of cinematic liberty comes to the rescue of writers Vasan Bala, Thani, Gyan Prakash and Kashyap. Not to mention that the story is based on Prakash’s book, Mumbai Fables.
Bombay Velvet is a misfire. The guttural world of the film is mooched from Scarface to Once Upon A Time.. films to Bollywood retro masala to Kashyap’s standard revenge story. But its not all bad or terrible, as there is much to like as well. Lets go a little in detail.
1. In Kashyap’s 1960 Bombay, every single person smokes and every frame looks as if they burnt agarbatti right before the shot. Not just that, he takes the liberty to re-imagine Bombay as he pleases which anoints a fantastical feel to BV, much unlike what one would have wanted.
2. The plot is heavily crammed with unnecessary turns and twists, most of which do not even surprise you, but instead they never let you soak in anything from the character’s minds.
3. The crucial elements to the story itself don’t feel so crucial to you as Kashyap breezes over macabre details with a whiff, leaving you feeling unquenched or the scene being half-baked. It feels as if the screenplay was written like an action sequence plot.
4. The film astoundingly has the worst climactic scene ever where Khambatta is having dinner and Johnny comes to kill him. What should be an adrenalin administering high point, is an over simplified laughter inducing culmination.
5. Bombay Velvet badly straddles the line between a retro masala mainstream and a parallel noir film and ultimately causes its own falling as you don’t connect to any of its characters. Nope, none.
1. Kashyap has a brilliant eye for visual styling and along with cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, he bathes BV with a stunning visual palette. The way he stages some of his scenes, or the way he uses Background Score for decisive scenes is largely discerning, like always. Ravi’s camerawork is probably one of the best in ages.
2. Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack is top-notch and though the songs did not click with the audience, they have the potential to become cult classics. The operatic value of Dhadaam Dhadaam is phenomenal and the song transcends the film itself. Again, the OST is not meant for mainstream audience.
3. In the best scene of the film, Johnny asks Khambatta for his share of the business and Khambatta, being the up-class uptight man he is, excuses himself to take a secret laugh. Pure genius. As is the scene after Rosie breaks her leg and Johnny talks to her on the road in a car.
4. Leading the pack of performances are Karan Johar and Satyadeep Mishra, as Johnny’s right hand man and friend, Chiman. With unswerving mettle, both these men deliver knockouts. Watch Johar in the scene where he is with Johnny in the verandah of his house, talking about his own past.
5. Production Design (Sonal Sawant, Sameer Sawant, Errol Kelly) is a trump card. BV looks so lovingly detailed and so strikingly beautiful that it is hard to dislike it completely. Knowing that they built the whole set in Sri Lanka, its a commendable feat in itself to make it look this authentic. This department largely benefits from Niharika Khan’s gorgeous costume design as well.
Even with a quaintly familiar plotline and the deficit of mystery, Bombay Velvet is fairly engaging as I never got bored. Underwhelmed, yes I was. As with Ranbir’s performance. I am almost tempted to say he was miscast for this role. Anushka carries a sullen expression all through, even when she is not running a guilt. Sadly, we don’t even feel much when they fall in and out of love. Siddhartha Basu and Manish Chaudhari are good, but Kay Kay Menon and Vivaan Shah are completely wasted in thin roles.
Bombay Velvet promises a lot but delivers only little, and that itself is very superficial. It is lot of information and very little heart and I could see the audience exasperated by the end of it, specially with the despicable final reels. The film has taken a poor start and its bad omen for the large sums resting on its shoulders. The weak buzz upto its release has cast its shadow now. I am no one to say this but maybe Kashyap is better off doing his niche cinema. With the same inherent style, same Trivedi music and similar actors, with much less cinematic pizazz and noise. As for this one, one can file it in the section of failed experiments. Even if you do choose to watch it, you wont be devastated, just upset. And that is okay I feel. Bombay Velvet is incoherent, yet not an almighty mess.
Rating – 2.5/5