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So then there was Ranbir Kapoor - the most convincing human replica of a cupcake - in a mean black suit, his hair disheveled like potted plants in a sloppy gardener's balcony, his face scrunched in deep agony, charging at you with two machine guns blazing. If there was anything in the Bombay Velvet trailer, which was worth spilling your coffee over, this was it.
The idea was unsettling for some of us, perhaps as strange as Quentin Tarantino casting Po from Kung Fu Panda as the lead in one of his films.
Kapoor, who has an entire generation's women and some men, daydreaming about him more than their own partners, has so far played a textbook lover-boy. The one who makes everything from breaking a glorious tower of champagne glasses to twerking pant-less inside the shower legitimate acts in the business of being entirely too adorable. If there has been one human reaction that seems to have been set apart exclusively to qualify Kapoor, it is 'aww'. (You may add an extra 'w' depending on which film we are talking about in a scale of Sawaariya to Barfi!).
So when the Tarantino, oops, Anurag Kashyap-version of Kapoor greeted us in the Bombay Velvet trailer, it felt as if you were to meet someone on a blind date. You would either want to spend your life with a cat after it, or just kidnap the man because that's completely practical when it comes to a few great men.
But Johnny Balraj (Kapoor's character) in Kashyap's lavish film, leaves you slightly flummoxed. Kapoor is a fabulous actor, so you can't dislike him. And the script backing him is so self-indulgent, that you can't like him completely either. So Balraj ends up being the nice guy date - whose only talent is killing people with boredom.
Balraj is a street fighter in Bombay of the '60s. Like several Bollywood hero characters before him, he migrated to Bombay after the partition and was consumed by the exercise of surviving. His mother turns into a prostitute and Balraj grows up in a brothel. There are some sketchy snatches of incidents like his mother getting beaten up and running into street-fights as a child that signal Balraj is going to grow up into a thug. While working for a smuggler, Balraj runs into Rosie (Anushka Sharma) in a bar and instantly falls in love. Let's assume that it is plausible, since humans have been known to fall for Nutella too in the very first encounter.
Rosie, however, has no patience for a penniless thug and instead hooks up with Jamshed Mistry, a wealthy, middle-aged business man who runs a newspaper. Since Balraj is an anti-misogynist, so he is not really upset that Rosie chooses a man who looks like an expensive cupboard compared to him only because he has money. He decides he has to make money to get the girl and decides to rob a rich person from a bank.
Despite having been a thug all his life and worked with a smuggler, Balraj has the creativity of Cinderella. So he walks up behind a rich man leaving a bank, his hand covered with a handkerchief, assuming that the victim will mistake it for a gun. He says, "Bag de do" to the victim with the same intensity with which you ask for an extra sookha puri from thepaani puri vendor. The victim, understandably, is not terrified. More so because he is supposed to be the villain of this piece Kaizad Khambatta - Karan Johar with cat goggles, a cross between 'Loin' Ajit and south Bombay page 3 regular.
Khambatta is a real estate shark, who wants to change how Bombay looks. After several incidents, Balraj finds himself at odds with his godfather Khambatta and aspires to become a 'big shot' by himself, which is when things go downhill for him.
Oh, and yes, Khambatta opens a gorgeous bar called Bombay Velvet, where Rosie is hired as a singer and Balraj is the manager. No, since there was no Facebook then, Rosie couldn't have come running to Balraj figuring he has 'checked in to Bombay Velvet' and must be a man of some means now. Her earlier beau Mistry, sends her as a spy to snoop on Khambatta.
In this pool of swirling sub-plots, one thing that had the power to hold all of it together and make it engaging, was Balraj. However, it seems like Kashyap plunged into the aesthetic detailing of the period with so much passion that he forgot his characters wouldn't be beautiful just because he put them in scrupulously tailored suits that screams retro.
Now who is Johnny Balraj? A man who kills with the same ease that we take selfies? A man who loves Rosie almost petulantly? A man who is spurred by infinite ambition? Kashyap, makes him a chaat of a character, with no distinct texture, nothing that will crackle in your mouth or singe your tongue. Balraj is the alpha male in the tradition of a Chulbul Pandey, larger than life, for the greater half of the movie. What puts the fire in his belly? Or his heart? No one knows. Kashyap doesn't let any of the relationships in the films simmer long enough to develop a flavour. There is more chemistry between Rosie and her gowns than there is between her and Balraj.
Kahsyap spends most of the film establishing Balraj as the egotistic, pompous man, exuding the kind of machismo that is staple in Bollywood - the man who can shoot and sing with the same ease. What would have made Balraj's character fetching would be the treatment of his vulnerabilities and that's where Kashyap falters and expects us to get distracted by the gorgeous jazz music. What he can't make his character convince us, he wants the clever lyrics of his songs to. And that doesn't work.
The belief that Johnny Balraj is meant to be a posterboy of testosterone is further deepened by the fact that Rosie (played by Sharma) is reduced a being a beautiful prop, like the glittering chandeliers and rich wall-paper of Bombay Velvet. The Sharma of NH10 turns into a Snow White who needs to be zealously loved and saved from evil humans. All she does is to exist and look stunning, so that the hero's obsession with her can be explained. Bollywood much? Surely.
What makes Balraj a cliched Bollywood hero, instead of an engaging character, is the near absence of fear or anxiety. Have you ever seen the Singhams and Dabanggs of our tinsel world exude fear? Nope. Balraj, therefore, is the same, staggeringly impressive male whose is angry, when he is not busy obsessing about the woman he loves. He maybe gorgeous till the end, but he is hardly memorable. He is not human the way we know them to be.
Kapoor tries his best, but with skeletal writing to back him, he has to switch on and off Rockstar-mode to keep us engaged. And Karan Johar is entirely too busy being Karan Johar to make Khambatta seem like a villain.
And the catch here is, we don't watch a Dabangg wanting Chulbul Pandey to make sense. We, however, wanted Johnny Balraj to speak to us. And he merely whimpered.
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By Gayatri Gauri
There are two shootout sequences in Bombay Velvet. One of them starts with a wonderful drum roll. The camera is on Ranbir Kapoor's face, which wears the most anticipated expression of determined revenge. Then we see his back as he rises from the floor, armed with a tommy gun in each hand. This is the Scarface moment, the dream action scene every actor loves to play and every Tarantino-struck director loves to shoot.
Kapoor and director Anurag Kashyap are no exceptions. So much so that, Kapoor forgets he is Johnny Balraj here and Kashyap was probably too trigger happy to have his Gangs of Wasseypur moment to care about the timing of the sequence. And so, the only dramatic scene in the movie ends like a gun with a silencer that misfires. The following climax involving Karan Johar, is a unintentionally hilarious version of Gabbar saying, "naach Basanti" in Sholay.
Bombay Velvet follows Balraj (Kapoor) and Rosie's(Anushka Sharma) stories. She is a nightclub singer and he is a streetfighter turned henchman. Rosie has suffered abuse since she was a little girl and Johnny has survived poverty. He is in a hurry to become a "big shot" and gets picked up by journalist and businessman Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar introduced in a yellow jacket). Khambatta sets up a nightclub called Bombay Velvet, where he can entertain clients who need persuasion and where liquor flows despite prohibition. Johnny and his friend Chimman are given the task of running Bombay Velvet.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chowdhary), Khambatta's childhood friend, current friend and editor of "Glitz", makes Rosie his mistress. He then sends her to Bombay Velvet to do some digging about Khambatta. She's supposed to seduce Johnny for information and she does, only to fall in love with him in earnest. And so begins a love story full of betrayals and danger. (That Mistry conveniently disappears later in the plot is another matter).
Consider the elements that Bombay Velvet has been trumpeting (pun intended). It's supposed to be an epic love story mounted on a grand, lavish scale set in the Bombay of '50s and '60s. The sensational promise of jazz, cabaret, nightclubs; a distressed, heavily made up singer with heavy gowns and big red flower bows in coiffured hair; a perpetually beaten up boxer, madly in love with her; a sly Shylock. The big appeal is the backdrop " the city's post-independence history of mill strikes, rooted in a non-fiction book, Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash.
Sadly, the backdrop is also the biggest sham about the film. Bombay Velvet pretends to show a real Bombay, but is actually as pretty and artificial as a Sanjay Leela Bhansali set, only in lovely sepia tones. Real facts are just touched upon and relegated to a few lines at the end of the film. The song "Sylvia" nods at the infamous Nanavati scandal, but the film doesn't talk about it. There's banter that could have been meaningful, but doesn't end up to be. For instance Khambata calls Mistry "Russia ka tutoo", and Mistry in turn calls Khambata "American agent". Had their rivalry been developed, it would have made Bombay Velvet a more interesting film and a better testament to the city's history than Rosie and Johnny's love story is.
Instead we get passing references to mill strikes, a reference to Russi Karanjia's Blitz which is Glitz in the film, named after the real publication-Blitz. Manish Chaudhary plays Jimmy Mistry, clearly modelled upon Karanjia. Only, Chowdhary does not come across even remotely as a Parsi, which is something we're reminded of each time Johnny calls him "Bawa".
There has been much talk about the use of jazz in the soundtrack. Apparently, there were live recordings by musicians brought in from Prague, England, Chennai and Mumbai. Music director Amit Trivedi also reworked the famous song from CID, sung by Geeta Dutt, "Jaata kahan hai deewane...". Back when CID was released, the censor board did not allow the picturised song as it imagined a word "fiffy' to have a "double meaning". Trivedi's revamped "Fiffy" brings back the original song, but jazzed' up, it loses half its charm.
Bombay Velvet boasts of 13 months of editing, two edits (Thelma Schoonmaker, Prerna Saigal ), one year of pre-production, 25,000 kilos of costumes and eight years of research. Mumbai was recreated in Sri Lanka, which is quite a feat for the art director and despite the challenging camera work by Rajeev Ravi, it doesn't quite bring alive the magic of Marine Lines or Colaba.
The backdrop and jazz paraphernalia charm and seduce initially, but quickly becomes tiresome. Balraj and Rosie's love story is predictable and cliched, but despite all the show of passion " tempers flying, slapping, kissing, bathtub scenes et al " there's little emotional connect between the audience and the couple. The scenes don't flow smoothly and the intercrossing cuts serve to disconnect rather than involve. This is particularly disappointing, as the edit does not reflect the craftsmanship expected of a Hollywood editor who has worked with Martin Scorsese.
Sharma and Hapoor try their intense best and manage to sustain interest, to some extent. Sharma's expressions in the song "Dhadaam" will tug at your heartstrings and Johar's private moment of sneaky laughter is delightful. Kapoor, in contrast, is like an injured boxer who does not belong in the ring. His Balraj flounders and crumbles. Raveena Tandon Thadani makes a worthy special appearance in one song, with a giant purple peacock feather as her crowning glory. Satyadeep Misra as Johnny's loyal friend Chimman and Kay Kay Menon as the Bollywood-loving cop do their part with panache.
Yet, all this isn't enough to redeem Bombay Velvet, which tries too hard to be a Taj Mahal. Ultimately, though, it just ends up feeling like monumental vanity.
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