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Few films have the ability to get your attention right from the opening shot. In Bombay Velvet, Anurag Kashyap " jumping from a mid-budget-indie scale to no-holds-barred mainstream mode " does this exceptionally well. As the opening credits roll, a nostalgic surprise from the 90s greets you against the backdrop of Amit Trivedi's jazz score, and the world of Bombay Velvet becomes yours before you can blink. The atmosphere is intoxicating; the sets, costumes and scope are far beyond anything done so far in Bollywood.
The film is supposed to borrow from Gyan Prakash's book, Mumbai Fables, which is a look at the city's recent history. But Bombay Velvet is no historical sermon. It's a love story, pure and simple. Ranbir Kapoor is Johnny Balraj, a boxer turned mobster. It's a showy role and he looks great in a boxing vest. He also looks extremely cool as he chats up Rosie, the girl of his dreams, played by an equally attractive Anushka Sharma.
She croons velvet on stage, he woos her with his eyes and smile. When Anuskha beautifully lip syncs to "Dhadaam Dhadaam", it's paisa vasool date movie stuff, hyper romanticized. Sharma and Kapoor make a great couple - convincingly and deeply in love, even when the girl smashes furniture on the guy. It's been a while since we saw an on screen romantic couple to root for in a Hindi film. This duo's chemistry is a breath of fresh air.
Then there's Karan Johar as the villainous newspaper baron Khambatta, pulling off an unlikely, uncontrollable snigger when you least expect it, and Satyadeep Mishra as Balraj's pal, Chimman, who can own the screen with just his stare. They're all matched by the incredible production design that recreates 1950s' Bombay with such detail that it's impossible to differentiate the sets from CGI. The first half glides along to perfection, with Trivedi's background music always on point to stitch scenes together.
In the second half of Bombay Velvet, there's a sequence featuring a massively long buildup, with sexy lighting and music, that develops into a dazzling slow motion shot of a vengeful man firing dual guns in slow motion. The walls are peppered with holes, the furniture explodes into pieces " it's so powerful it seems like he's spraying the whole world with spitfire. He ends up killing two, inconsequential and faceless people and you're left wondering what the buildup was for.
This scene accurately reflects the essence of the second half of Bombay Velvet, and the effect it has on the audience. Post-interval, the story wilts and Kashyap dedicates himself to making everything look cool, but losing sight of the narrative. The film looks like a million bucks, but has no depth. In cricketing terms, it feels like a beautifully crafted, well-timed shot " only to be caught at the boundary.
While the first half is a homage to films from the 1970s, the second ends up becoming a film from that era: complete with clichd blackmail based dialogues on film negative rolls, double roles, Madh Island gold biskut maal, damsels in distress, and so on. Kashyap is known to take cinematic clichs and subvert them, but here he treats the clichs with great seriousness.
Despite the magic of editor Thelma Schoonmaker (and there's a lot of it), the film's story elements end up to be mostly incoherent. There is a 1950s' Bombay real estate scam plot point, which is pretty much indecipherable. It's tough to figure out what Khambatta is about, what his deals with the real estate barons are, and what exactly is at stake. There is a rival newspaper too, and there, the intentions of the editor (Manish Choudhary) are unclear. Then there's some history about the World Trade Center force fed to us during the end credits, which makes even less sense.
Rather than being its own beast, Bombay Velvet is more a throwback to older, better gangster films by Hollywood legends like Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers and Curtis Hanson. There's a Goodfellas car-trunk nudge and a Miller's Crossing hat wink, and neither of them add anything to the plot except for fan service and a strain for greatness that remains out of reach. There's a noticeable lack of humour in the film, even though the film's elements are not dark enough to warrant such seriousness. The film is mainstream and filmi', so it's hard to imagine why there is only one joke in the whole movie.
Needing some sort of punch in the second half, Kashyap makes a late grab for thrills and renders the aforementioned tommy gun scene, but it speaks more of the desperation to compensate for a weak story than it does about delivering a great cinematic moment. Clearly, the curse of the second half gets to even the best.
However, make of it what you will, but for all its weaknesses, what Bombay Velvet lacks in complexity, it ultimately makes up for with its sheer beauty. And if you think about it, that more or less sums up the mainstream genre, so perhaps on his first attempt at a blockbuster, Kashyap is on the right track after all.
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By Lokesh Dharmani Thursday, 14 May 2015
STARRING: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar
RATING: 2.5 stars
Ranbir Kapoor has a moustache in Bombay Velvet. So does Anushka Sharma. In one of the opening scenes, she actually has upper lip hair. And then there is Karan Johar's upper lip act that breaks into a hearty, uncontrollable laugh at such a forced joke that I couldn't quite decide what was more contrived: the joke or KJo's acting.
Anurag Kashyap, who has cried small budget all his life, seems to have raided even his producers' children's piggy banks. You can see huge sums have been well spent to create the '60s era. The sets are gorgeous, the costumes are elaborate and the pitch perfect art direction pays a beautiful ode to old Bombay, exactly how Special 26 did to old Delhi and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy to Kolkata. But something felt amiss.
You see, I tried liking this film. I really did. So when the movie opened with a young boy landing in Bombay with his bechari maa, I could see him slip into the underworld, the mother being sold to prostitute and all those things that happen in Hindi films that made people in the theatre go, "So dark, man. So hard-hitting." I wanted to hand each one of them a DVD of Being Cyrus or even a Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron because dark doesn't mean KJo's half smirks.
But it's an Anurag Kashyap film, with Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma, so I was like, let me not be too quick to judge. But then I lost all my patience when I saw Remo Fernandez. You will NOT believe, he plays a singer, from GOA! KIIILLL MEEE GENTTTLLYYY!!!! I bet Emraan Hashmi hasn't kissed in as many films as Remo has played a singer' from Goa' in Hindi films.
There was also a double role, a photograph's negative and my favourite- purani mill ke bechare workers, who --- hold your breath for this one --- are all ready to go for some strike/protest/rally!! I still tried my best to like the film and not complain, but the makers dropped a property scam that was so difficult to decipher that Chemistry's periodic table in Class XII seemed like a cakewalk.
Balraj (Ranbir-papa-trending-on-Twitter-Kapoor) is a street thug who is ambitious and wants to be a big shot'. His ambitions are used by Khambatta (Karan-darrrllingg-bana-dark-Johar) who runs a newspaper and is at loggerheads with Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chaudhary), an editor of a rival newspaper. The real estate scam is a tussle between the capitalists and socialists is clear but what the deal is, what the stakes are, remain unexplored.
The film, though, is written well. There is an interesting scene where Anushka Sharma is lying to the cops and, in return, the cops sing Jaane kya tune kahi, jaane kya maine suni.' That brought a smile on my face. Also, the music by Amit Trivedi and Amitabh Battacharya is interestingly jazzy, becomes a part of the narrative but slows the film down to a turtle's.
Ranbir Kapoor is as confident and Anushka as natural. Karan Johar tries hard, gets a few notes right, but is mostly unimpressive and unconvincing. The characters didn't engage me. I neither felt their pain, struggles or moments of joy.
I couldn't quite understand the purpose of the film. While Piku explored parents-children relationship and Dum Laga Ke Haisha the love story of a fat lady married to a tenth fail man, Bombay Velvet didn't do much to me. What was the idea of Bombay Velvet, I couldn't quite understand. It remained a story of a young ambitious man, his love story with the jazz singer and his ups and downs in the underworld.
Bombay Velvet is beautifully shot, beautifully acted, beautifully edited but remained beautifully boring!! Watch it if you are a Ranbir-Anushka fan.
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